Effective information sharing and collaboration across justice agencies and support services are key to protecting victims of gender-based and intimate partner violence, a coroner’s inquest heard Tuesday.
The inquest is examining the deaths of three women killed by their former partners in the Ottawa Valley on Sept. 22, 2015 — Carol Culleton, Nathalie Warmerdam and Anastasia Kuzyk. It is also considering ways to protect victims of intimate partner violence, particularly in rural communities.
Deepa Mattoo is a lawyer and executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which provides legal, counselling and cultural interpretation services for survivors of gender-based violence.
Mattoo told the inquest that there needs to be better information sharing among the numerous agencies and support services involved in such cases. This includes police, judges, probation offices, correctional officers, lawyers and community service providers.
“Each of these systems and agencies have valuable information on the survivors and perpetrators of gender-based violence that can indicate the potential for redress or further harm (posed by a perpetrator),” Mattoo said.
“However, in our experience with many survivors we work with, there are inconsistencies related to the practice of communication between these systems and agencies, resulting in a failure to implement effective and accurate risk assessment and safety planning strategies.”
Mattoo said effective information would reduce the “fragmentation of knowledge” that exists in the criminal justice system, often contributing to confusion.
“Court officials don’t have access to information regarding concurrent proceedings or even pre-existing orders among the same parties or different parties,” she said.
“The more information available to each court, (it) is less likely that there will be inconsistent orders.”
Sharing information among agencies and services also provides a “fuller picture” of each case, which can lead to a more informed and complete safety plan for a victim, Mattoo added — especially if the risk a perpetrator presents is evolving.
“Ongoing risk assessment or case management is really, really the key for making sure that the survivors actually remain safe,” she said.
Mattoo also urged a multidisciplinary collaborative approach among different agencies and support services in cases of gender-based and intimate partner violence.
She added that there is a need for a user-friendly information sharing platform featuring timely disclosures about cases to allow collaboration to happen seamlessly.
Joshua Hopkins, Warmerdam’s brother, also appeared before the inquest Tuesday.
Hopkins said he’s still grappling with the loss of his “beloved” and “supportive” big sister.
“It still feels unreal to me that my sister Nathalie was murdered. I think there’s still shock left in my system even though it has been almost seven years,” he told the inquest.
Hopkins also shared details about his passion project dubbed Songs for Murdered Sisters, which is a set of eight songs created with composer Jake Heggie and author Margaret Atwood. He called the work of art deeply meaningful, transforming his grief into “something palpable.”
The songs were written to honour Warmerdam, Culleton and Kuzyk and other victims and to “wake people up to the global epidemic of gender-based violence,” he said.
“If this set of songs can motivate someone to do their part, to take action, and perhaps save someone from a similar plight, then I may truly hope to honour my sister’s memory,” Hopkins said.
But he told the inquest that there is a lot more that needs to be done to tackle gender-based and intimate partner violence.
“Artists can be bridges between the cruel reality of life and the hope of what can be better, but there is only so much an artistic response such as Songs for Murdered Sisters can accomplish,” Hopkins said.
“We need real systemic change in place to prevent future tragedies.”
The inquest is set to resume Wednesday.
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