THE NATION’S BUSINESS

The federalists face a lose-lose situation

PETER C. NEWMAN October 30 1995
THE NATION’S BUSINESS

The federalists face a lose-lose situation

PETER C. NEWMAN October 30 1995

The scourge of wife abuse

LIFE

Looking into Betty Moore’s smiling, unlined face, it is difficult to see any shadow of the battered wife she once was. But as she recalls the past, Moore’s voice takes on a steely edge. She tells of visits to her doctor, where she would lie about the bruises on her torso, and the years pretending to family and friends that nothing was wrong. To Moore, the prospect of leaving her husband seemed even more terrifying than the brutal physical and verbal abuse she endured at home. She was unable to support her three children, then five, three and one, on her salary as a part-time bus driver—and her husband had threatened to kill her if she left him. Finally, last fall, a social worker helped Moore find sanctuary at the Quetzal Family Home, a residential shelter for battered women in Simcoe, Ont., about 140 km southwest of Toronto. Now, after months of counselling by Quetzal staff—and with her husband on probation following a conviction for assaulting her—Moore says she feels confident enough to start building a new life in the prosperous farming community. “If he wants to come after me, he can come after me,” she said last week. “I’m not running any more.”

Too often a hidden crime, domestic violence has been splashed across front pages

from Los Angeles to Toronto over the past two months. The shocking case of Paul Bernardo, convicted in the sex slayings of two Ontario teenagers in September, included testimony describing his brutal assaults on his former wife, Karla Homolka. Barely a month later, the acquittal of football leg-

WARNING SIGNS

Indicators that an abuser may become a killer:

• A pattern of repeated assaults • Inordinate jealousy • Threats to use a weapon • The partners are separated

end O. J. Simpson in the stabbing death of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, devastated many American women who believed that the verdict failed to reflect Simpson’s history of battering Nicole. And over a twoweek period earlier this month, at least 10 people, including two children, were killed in Canada as a result of domestic violence.

Most Canadian experts believe there is no direct connection between the court cases and the slew of killings. But those who work with battered women say that the Bernardo and Simpson cases, as well as the recent murders, have made many assaulted women even more frustrated, angry—and fearful. “There is definitely a greater level of anxiety because of these cases,” says Maria Rossetti, executive coordinator of the Assaulted Women’s Helpline in Toronto. “On the day of the Simpson verdict, a woman told us her partner threatened to ‘O. J.’ her.” Behind such high-profile trials are numbers that are even more sobering. Statistics Canada reported in 1993 that nearly 30 per cent of women who are or have been married or living common-law have suffered at least one incident of assault by a partner. And according to 1994 statistics, in 47 per cent of cases where a woman’s murderer is known, the crime was committed by a spouse, former spouse or another sexual intimate.

But while the federal government and most of the provinces have made concerted efforts to improve support for battered women over the past five years, there has been no significant decline in the number of assaults. In fact, some observers believe

LIFE

that the nature of the violence may be escalating, perhaps egged on by graphic TV and movie images. Worse, many women are still too frightened to leave spouses who batter, partly because abusive men are far more likely to kill their spouses after they have left the relationship—a statistical fact raised by the prosecution in the Simpson case. “In most of these homicides, there is a clear pattern of abuse leading up to the murder,” says psychologist Peter Jaffe, director of the London, Ont., Family Court Clinic. “The research shows that the risk for battered women increases by a factor of five after they leave. Friends and family who try to help are also at risk.”

According to Donald Dutton, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied wife assault for two decades and is the author of The Batterer: A Psychological Profile (1995), two per cent of Canadian men—about 165,000 people—are “serial batterers” who have the potential to kill their partners. “One of the things we are not doing properly is increasing the penalties for these kinds of repeat assaults,” says Dutton. “Locking them up is the best thing to do—some of these men just can’t be treated. The police should also put a much greater priority on enforcing restraining orders.”

A handful of recent cases have brought that point home with horrifying force. Early this month in Abbotsford, B.C.,

65 km southeast of Vancouver,

Guy Fournier, 40, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder after his estranged wife, Miriam Fournier, 24, and her boyfriend, Robert VaughnHulbert, 20, were stabbed to æ death in the family home while g the woman’s three young children slept upstairs. In a separate case less than a week later in Coquitlam, 25 km east of Vancouver, Celine Roufosse, 60, and Henry Roufosse, 63, were murdered as they were leaving their church after the Thanksgiving mass. Their seven-year-old grandson, Andrew Roufosse, witnessed the attack but was unharmed. Moments later, their daughter, Annette Roufosse, 29, was stabbed to death outside her parents’ nearby home. Darcy Richard Bertrand, 29, Roufosse’s estranged husband, surrendered to police at his mother’s house in Burnaby, where he was found with the couple’s two other children, aged three and one. He was later charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Both accused men had been under restraining orders not to go near their wives or children. In late June, however, Miriam Fournier complained that her former husband had not only defied the restraining order but assaulted her twice. Her brother, Mitch Schoften, later said that his sister had talked to many of her friends about the fear she was living with. She told him, he says,

that her calls to police had led nowhere.

The killings seemed to stun even seasoned B.C. law enforcement officials. Within days, Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh announced that the province will consider electronic monitoring in an effort to keep abusive men away from their estranged wives. Critics, however, countered that the system is unlikely to be a useful substitute for better policing, since the bracelets, which carry the monitors, can be cut off. They were more positive about another govern-

Prosecution Exhibit

ment initiative, announced at the same time, of creating a new police squad that will specialize in dealing with domestic violence. The new unit links police with social workers and a special prosecutor, an integrated approach that many advocates say is vital if women are to escape abusive relationships. “More co-ordination means a better chance at getting justice,” says Carol Ward-Hall, executive director of Emily Murphy House, a transition shelter for battered women in North Vancouver. “But there is no perfect solution. If someone wants to kill you, they will kill you. There is nothing you can do.” In some provinces, officials are trying to prevent such outcomes with early intervention. Last February, Saskatchewan passed the Victims of Domestic Violence Act, which allows a justice of the peace to issue an emergency restraining order against a spouse as soon as a complaint is made. The order must be reviewed by a judge within three days. In Manitoba, a specialized court called the Family Violence Unit was established in 1992 to streamline proceedings for

victims of family violence. In addition, police must now arrest a spouse whenever a complaint is made and there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe the assault occurred; the reluctance of the victim to testify no longer halts the process. ‘This policy recognizes that spousal violence is a crime,” says Crown attorney Robin Finlayson.

Canada’s most populous province, however, is moving in the opposite direction. Earlier this month, the Ontario government announced that 22 second-stage shelters like Quetzal will lose their program funding at the end of this year. Currently, such residences provide a safe haven for up to a year for battered women who need shelter and emotional support while they look for long-term housing. Staff at crisis shelters (which offer sanctuary for up to six weeks) also say that they are experiencing cuts, as the province forges ahead with drastic reductions in services. The government has countered that battered women will be able to find similar programs at other agencies, even though the cuts are hitting many other areas at the same time, including a 21per-cent reduction in welfare.

One woman, who works part-time as a cashier, is already struggling with the implications of the looming cuts. After leaving her abusive husband last summer, she has lived at Quetzal with her two preteen children and now faces the prospect of leaving much sooner than she had expected.

“My kids carry jackknives because they are afraid of their father,” she says. “At this point, I can’t even imagine leaving.”

The danger faced by battered wives who walk out on their relationships became painfully apparent in Ontario this month. The same week that five people were murdered in British Columbia, five more died because of domestic violence in southern

While there is more attention to the problem, there has been no decrease in assaults

Ontario. In Stoney Creek, a village 80 km west of Toronto, police say that Steven Matesic, 57, shot his estranged wife Maryanne, 47, when she returned to the family home for some personal belongings. She was accompanied by her son Steven and his wife. The elder Matesic was then killed with the same gun, and Steven Matesic Jr. has been charged with seconddegree murder. In Toronto less than a week later, Douglas Dobson, 46, set fire to his

apartment, killing himself and his two children, Cassandra, 4, and Michael, 9. His wife, Doreen Dobson, 38, who had threatened earlier in the evening to leave her husband, was pounding on the apartment’s locked door when the gasoline-fuelled fire erupted.

If there is one seemingly insoluble mystery in these tragic cases, it is the emotions of the men who batter. Yet, counselling for men who assault or verbally abuse their partners also faces sharp cuts in Ontario, despite growing evidence that such programs can be effective for many men. Paul Jubenville, who has been counselling abusive men since 1988, says that when they enter the program at Changing Ways in London, they are often confused, resentful and convinced that other men are more violent than they are. Their overwhelming need for control is what most often drives them to violence, he says. Murder, he adds, is the ultimate control. “Many men who batter do not want to face up to what they have done,” Jubenville says. “Once they have faced up to it, they have to learn about equality and come to understand that their ideas about the roles of men and women need to change.” At a time when spousal abuse is making more and more headlines, that task seems more important—and more difficult—than ever.

PATRICIA CHISHOLM

DAVID THOMAS