Sask. Domestic Violence Death Review calls for broad-based strategies to address high violence rates

Original Article: David Baxter, Global News | May 24, 2018

More than a year after releasing its interim report, the final report of Saskatchewan’s Domestic Violence Death Review Panel was released May 24. The full report was originally scheduled to be released in late 2017.

This report takes an in-depth look at six homicide cases related to domestic violence, and contains 19 recommendations for the provincial government. The province says these recommendations will be used to guide specific action and consultation on domestic violence.

“I thank the members of the Domestic Violence Death Review Panel for their hard work over the last two years,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said in a statement. “Their findings will now serve as the cornerstone of our efforts to reduce domestic violence in Saskatchewan.”

Saskatchewan has the highest rate police-reported intimate partner violence out of all the provinces. The report focuses on the time frame between 2005 and 2013. Those years saw 48 domestic homicides in Saskatchewan and nine associated suicides. The majority of victims were female, while perpetrators were mostly male. One-third of the victims were under 21-years-old. Two-thirds of the victims were attacked in their homes.

This high rate of intimate partner violence carries not just a heavy community and social burden, but has a tangible economic impact. A 2016 study from The Circle Project estimates a cost of $112,000 per domestic violence incident, spread across justice, health and social services. Annually, that racks up to $450 million in service costs.

The panel highlighted a series of overall themes in the studied cases. They are:

  • Escalation
  • Mental health and substance abuse issues
  • A history of violence, particularly domestic violence
  • Multiple system failures
  • Awareness by family and friends about existing domestic violence between the victim and perpetrator
  • Lack of education on prevention and intervention
  • Financial issues
  • Impact of colonization and residential schools in cases where Indigenous people are involved.

The Recommendations

The 19 recommendations coming from the panel are broken into four categories: awareness and education, assessment and intervention, children in domestic violence situations, and resources.

Among the education recommendations is a call to educate employers about the need for employees to have training to recognize suspected domestic violence. It also calls for providing supports for victims, allowing them time to heal, protection and understanding of the situation.

Provincial Association of Transition Houses (PATHS) CEO Jo-Ann Dusel previously told Global News that work is often seen as a safe place for victims of domestic violence because it is a place they can go every day without their partner being suspicious. Dusel also served as one of the panelists in this review.

The review also recommends workplace supports for perpetrators, allowing them to access domestic violence prevention supports and addictions counselling.

Other items in the education section, the area with the most recommendations, include educating front-line service providers about domestic violence, encourage local leaders to take an action-oriented stand against domestic violence and develop a comprehensive program that focuses on building education and awareness about what is a healthy relationship.

On the assessment and intervention front, the report calls on the formation of first responder teams in all communities with expertise in domestic violence, make programs focused on domestic and family violence available in all communities and establish a central call line that provides information and supports for victims and perpetrators.

There are three recommendations that focus on children. This includes mandating that parents involved in domestic violence situations and child custody or access cases attend parent education courses before being allowed to access their children again.

The other two child focused recommendations are to improve communication and disclosure between provincial and family courts in domestic violence and custody cases, plus improving the oversight of programs for children in care on reserve.

For tangible resources, the panel calls on the province funding and providing personnel for prevention and intervention services being made available in all communities, establish an outside governance body to oversee actions taken to reduce domestic violence and investigate ways to reduce financial stress on families.

The report acknowledges that implementing some of these recommendations would come at a public cost, but encourages them to be viewed as investments in the future.

The Starting Point

The province says the following actions will be a starting point in their response to this report.

  • Domestic Violence Disclosure process – Adapted from Clare’s Law in England, the goal for this process is to establish a way for police to disclose information about previous violent behaviour by a potentially violent individual to their partner. Morgan has previously said they will have to contend with existing privacy laws.
  • Kids on the Block/Kids Matter northern expansion – Put on by government community partners, these programs focus on educational programs for school aged children about family and domestic violence. Additional funds will be provided to expand these programs in northern Saskatchewan.
  • Additional crisis workers – Two additional crisis workers will be hired, one in northern Saskatchewan and one in the rural south. The province will provide the funding.
  • Expand the Children Exposed to Violence Program – This program works with children who have been exposed to domestic violence with supports designed to reduce their risk of becoming a victim or offender.

The province says the report will continue to be used to inform ongoing strategies and programs aimed at curbing domestic violence.

This year’s provincial budget is providing $19.5 million for community-based organizations that deliver domestic violence supports and prevention programs. ​Last year’s budget saw $18 million go toward these supports.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the above paragraph indicated $15 million was being spent on community supports this year. That was due to a typo in the government’s initial press release.