Abused women around the world suffering horrifically from our planet’s worst pandemic
The name Madam Justice Lesley Baldwin should resonate with Ontarians.
She was a prosecutor in the most infamous murder trial in our country’s history (the sadist’s name deserves no further attention).
Two decades ago she advocated to create and chaired Ontario’s Joint Committee on Domestic Violence, which probed events surrounding the 1998 coroner’s inquest and murder of Arlene May of Collingwood, who was executed by her boyfriend, whose name also will not be published.
It was a disturbing period in Canada’s history, when policing, the criminal justice system and widespread societal attitudes had not yet been confronted by the powerful force since created by women leading the charge for change.
Justice Lesley Baldwin
Following a series of horrific high-profile domestic violence cases, Statistics Canada had published a report that revealed from 1994 to 1999, 1.2 million Canadians were victims of spousal violence. Women suffered brutal physical attacks at the hands of their male partners: chokings, beatings, sexual assaults and threats with weapons.
In 53 percent of cases female victims reported they feared for their lives. Almost 90 percent of incidents occurred within residential dwellings, where women were trapped like prisoners.
Baldwin took a leave from her court duties to chair the committee which sent recommendations to the province’s attorney-general at the time, Jim Flaherty.
In 2000, a year after the findings and guidance were sent to him, she wrote a letter advising the province’s top justice official that the committee’s work had not resulted in any noticeable change in the way lawyers in her courtroom dealt with domestic violence cases.
Widespread apathy within mostly male-dominated institutions such as policing, the court system and mainstream media was programmed into organizational DNA and would only be altered by reengineering conventions. This was not going to be done by those whose thinking had already been coded.
Repeat offenders enjoyed the unintended complicity and monstrous consequences of the criminal justice system.
Jean-Guy Tremblay was one of thousands of examples of the abusers enabled by one side of society’s collective shrug of the shoulders.
In June of 2000, a hearing to determine whether he would be formally designated a dangerous offender, revealed to many shocked observers that Tremblay had been convicted 14 times for violence against a total of six women. The hearing also included another six female witnesses who were too scared to pursue charges but eventually came forward with their own life-shattering stories.
Tremblay’s predation, like a deadly virus, had the same predictable pattern, but it was similarly, and remarkably, difficult to prevent, even though he lurked right under society’s nose.
He would meet a woman, quickly move in with her and start taking control of her life. First, he would isolate her from family and friends, then force her to stop using birth control. Violence quickly escalated from shoving and smacking to strangulation and, at least once, dragging a victim down an entire flight of stairs.
Even common sense could tell a layperson that Tremblay had to be caged in a cell for a long time.
But lawyers and judges repeatedly failed to connect the dots in his psychopathic pattern, and he was sent out into the world again and again, emboldened to repeat his marauding game as soon as Tremblay hunted down his next prey.
The 12 victims involved in the hearing likely represented only a portion of those he had serially attacked.
In Peel and across the province, elected officials did little to address the staggering magnitude of violence being inflicted upon women. Shelter support and other assistance for these victims, even today, is woefully underfunded by our MPPs and Peel Regional councillors, who year after year during budget time largely ignore such issues that many of the homogenous members, who live outside the social conditions connected to much of the violence, can’t relate to.
In 2017, almost two decades after Baldwin’s work on domestic abuse, the Globe and Mail published results of a freedom of information investigation into the priority police forces around the country place on sexual assault. It found that police (within an internal culture dominated by men) dismiss about one in every five complaints, describing them as “unfounded”, often with little to no evidence that abuse has not occurred.
Baldwin’s deep dive into domestic assault was a seminal moment in Ontario’s history. The statistics were startling, the anecdotes horrific, and the conclusion quite clear: the world of domestic violence is swaddled in lies, silences, and injustice.
This form of criminality was unreported or under-reported or often ignored even when reported. Despite heinous abuse, and the death of women like May, the public, the courts, and even the police simply move on.
But abused women don’t move on. They walk dangerously, trapped in a minefield within their own homes, they bristle when he has another drink, they wear sunglasses inside a store, so no one stares at their badly bruised face. Her kids are the collateral damage in this acrid war, with their internal hurts well hidden from their school-teacher’s eye.
After May died, a coroner’s jury called for tougher sentences for people who breach court orders and wanted to give less leeway to police when they decide if charges should be laid. Baldwin endorsed the committee's requests but expressed concern twenty years ago that little was changing.
When she followed up with Flaherty, expressing her worry, it put Baldwin in the line of fire and betrayed the fundamental flaw in any society whose misguided legal system creates normative behaviour so obviously at odds with the public good. Lawyers representing those accused of crimes asked that the female judge either be censured or removed from the bench.
Her subtle complaint that the province wasn’t quick-stepping reform drew a counter complaint to the Ontario Judicial Council. By speaking out, by chairing the committee, by calling for a summit on spousal abuse, Baldwin showed herself incapable of approaching these cases with neutrality. If she wanted to speak out, do so on her own time and dime, they said. Don’t express views from a judge's platform, and don’t write cover letters to the attorney general on court letterhead voicing concern that “lawyers” in her presence were ignoring recommendations to keep fellow-citizens safe.
The Criminal Lawyers' Association, one of the bastions of male-dominated legal enterprise, and others who complained with macho bravado didn’t want this female judge to set a dangerous legalistic precedent, after decades of rulings by male judges whose blind spots and decision-making based on archaic precedents mouthed by criminal lawyers had contributed to the institutionalized victimization of women.
How could she be impartial in domestic-abuse trials, they said, after aligning herself with a group of anti-abuse activists? Her lack of bias was being questioned by a group operating within the justice system whose members are paid to be biased.
While impartiality is important, judges are also human, said former supreme court justice John Sopinka almost a decade earlier, and furthermore, they don’t have to wear the cloak of a monk. Eventually, Baldwin was cleared of any wrongdoing and continued her exemplary judicial career.
But all of the mixed messaging and failure to act showed Canada still had hurdles to clear when it came to confronting and solving the issue of domestic abuse.
This was made eminently clear on July 8, 1982, 35 years before the Globe’s series, when the House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion that Parliament encourage all Canadian police forces to establish a practice of having them regularly lay charges in instances of “wife beating”, as they are inclined to do with any other case of common assault.
Yet, according to Hansard, the motion was initially greeted with “laughter and jeers” inside the velvet-lined male clubhouse called Parliament.
Those jeers turned to cheers for many women as the Solicitor General wrote a letter to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police asking for their co-operation in addressing spousal abuse. It strongly encouraged them to lay charges in wife assault cases.
And so began the tumultuous “criminalization of family violence” in Canada.
We quickly jumped to the front of the world when it came to confronting domestic violence, in principle. But when policy isn’t met with cultural change within those institutions responsible for implementation, there rises an equally dangerous dynamic: the appearance of progress, putting society at ease, while little change actually takes shape.
In 1993, Statistics Canada, on behalf of Health Canada, conducted the first ever national Violence against Women (VAW) Survey. About 12,300 women were randomly selected and interviewed via telephone about their experiences of physical and sexual violence and sexual harassment since the age of 16. The survey collected victim characteristics, violence experienced by strangers, intimate partners or others, feelings of personal safety, and levels of injury. What were their perceptions of personal safety? The questions on spousal violence were placed in another document, the General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization.
One in four women reported both unwanted sexual touching and violent sexual attacks. The survey also covered the role of alcohol in women's experience of violence, and the physical and emotional effects of victimization.
Baldwin’s report, and the sustained reality captured in data from Stats Canada and police forces across the country cleared a path for others seeking redress to go down, and it might be argued this led in a perfect linear line to an embrace of the #MeToo movement.
But violence against women and families still hasn’t stopped. Far from it. Editors continue to pump up their front pages with disheartening recent headlines, especially in this region: Domestic violence numbers rising across the GTA; Nearly half of all Peel Region homicides to date in 2019 were domestic-related.
All this history now acts as prologue to the harsh reality settling in on this year.
As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the planet, and stay-at-home directives close schools, businesses and interrupt our domestic lives, the seeds are being sown for more in-house violence.
Heidi Illingworth, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, picked mid-May to shoot off a letter to Dr. Theresa Tam, our chief public health officer. She talked about the “massive problem” of violence against women and pointed out that in just 36 days of lock-down, eight women and one girl have died via lethal force.
She said these femicides are preventable. She thinks the $50 million allotted to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres at the pandemic’s onset is an okay start, but as the crisis drags on, and tempers ratchet up, there needs to be more money “to stop this violence.”
Anyone familiar with Peel’s embarrassing shelter support system, will instantly question how approximately $1.5 million, based on a per capita allotment of the federal funding, could effectively help with increased demand, when more than double that amount is needed just to fill gaps that existed prior to the pandemic.
Last year the Region of Peel spent $2.55 million on hotel and motel rooms, because its shelter system was overflowing, operating beyond capacity since 2016.
Now, trapped inside with their abusers, with nowhere to go, largely isolated from the outside world, what exactly is happening inside homes across Canada in this time of chaos demands a collective response, similar to that confronting the other contagion tearing through society.
We need a “Violence Prevention Strategy” said Illingworth, then added that resources have to be directed to prevent intimate partner violence, sexual violence and child abuse. Yes, this family of horrors might come in one tight package.
One resource is the simple cellphone, a critical lifeline for women in crisis. Rogers has stepped up to provide phones and six months of free voice and data to help victims of violence in B.C. The pandemic has fully exposed the needs of at-risk members of society.
Having access to a phone is key to safety and belonging, said Kate Gibson, acting executive director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver.
If you thought being isolated with an abuser was a double jeopardy, imagine being without access to an outside safety network?
In the pre-pandemic days of mid-February, Sharon Mayne Devine of the Catholic Family Services of Dufferin-Peel was already warning our regional councillors that more resources were needed for women and children when it comes to domestic violence.
She urged them to “get the word out” for more assistance, and council voted unanimously to do just that. It vowed to work with the region’s two cities and the Town of Caledon, plus Peel Police and the OPP, and Victim Services of Peel to heighten awareness. Little did anyone know an oncoming pandemic would make the issue more acute, and even more difficult to pull off.
The numbers in Brampton and Mississauga are a reminder that domestic violence continues to spread, adding menace and mayhem. There were 31 homicides in these two cities in 2019, and 13 were from domestic violence. Interim Place Peel recorded 1,388 crisis calls and 147 women and children experienced violence last year. Peel Children’s Aid saw about 13,000 referrals from family violence, and this cascading problem meant Safe Centre Peel recorded 3,375 direct contacts from women having problems with their “intimate partner.”
While frontline workers, especially our nurses and doctors are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in our ICUs from an onslaught of Covid-19 cases, the PTSD faced by abused women every minute of the day is overwhelming.
While Canada continues to address its wide-ranging domestic abuse problems it has become one of the world-leaders in combating in-house violence against women and children. Peel region is a virtual landing pad for immigrants with an entirely unique set of problematic realities, especially pronounced within the huge South Asian-Canadian community from countries like India.
The United Nations estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. Some national studies put the figure at 70 percent.
The World Health Organization said in 2018, one in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. This makes it the most widespread, and least reported of all the human rights abuses.
It is this planet’s worst pandemic.
It is prevalent during times of peace and stability, but the risks escalate during a crisis. While the WHO admits that data is scarce, studies indicate that gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies is likely to be more common.
A UN report said a woman’s body often becomes a battlefield, with violence used to humiliate and oppress. Uprooting the victim from their home, and separating her from her usual support networks, are tools used by perpetrators, often masquerading as husbands in countries like India. Not unlike the monsters in our midst, like Jean-Guy Tremblay.
With Covid-19 spreading through countries and continents at different rates, it’s unclear how forcing women into isolation will impact on domestic abuse. If past is prologue, the results could be catastrophic.
In India, the raping of a woman is reported every 16 minutes, and the number of rapes in 2018 was significantly higher than in 2012. In 2014 The Lancet reported 27.5 million women were victims of sexual violence, but because only 1 percent of women report abuse to police, it’s impossible to know just how deeply woven it is into the cultural, social and political fabric. The same study revealed 10 percent of married women in the country report being sexually abused by their husbands, but, again, with such a tiny fraction of women coming forward it remains difficult to comprehend just how deep this destructive behaviour runs.
According to data compiled by the United Nations Global Database on Violence Against Women, almost 29 percent of Indian females will experience intimate-partner violence in their lifetime.
Pouring these statistics across white space on a computer or phone screen does little good if the figures get lost in a cloud of other people’s concerns.
The mainstream Indian media reports high-profile cases and has highlighted the recent spike in domestic violence, like other countries around the world, because of the isolating effect of the social response to the pandemic. Details such as the 50 percent decline in calls to Jagori, a Delhi-based NGO that operates helplines for victims of domestic violence, due to a lack of privacy, have been reported.
But like many corners of established Indian society, just like in Canada’s not so distant past, there is little serious, sustained effort to confront the root causes.
The evidence is painfully obvious. India’s criminal code is almost never addressed by politicians, the media or its cultural elites.
And here is the screaming headline that should launch every citizen of the country into action: Marital rape is legal in the world’s largest democracy.
The only exception to this barbaric feature of its federal law is if the wife is 15 or younger.
A street performance in Chandigarh, India depicts the normalized act of domestic abuse
In India, serial abusers don’t need a novel coronavirus to invite them to attack, the legal system has allowed them to do so with impunity for decades. It’s somewhat amazing that even one percent of women still come forward to report the degrading of their bodies by their so-called husbands.
Somewhat recent legislation can either be viewed as a small sign of change or the country’s unwillingness to take violence against women seriously.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act came into effect in 2006 and this civil law includes physical, emotional, sexual, verbal and economic abuse as domestic violence. But it cannot be used to determine criminality and is only meant for use in “protective” situations when abuse is either present or likely will be.
So, under this byzantine arrangement, a husband can be told not to go near his wife but if he rapes her anyway, there is still no criminal consequence.
The London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation said in 2018, India ranked No. 1 as the most dangerous country in the world for women. It leaned on 550 experts on women’s issues to come up with its numbers, and the dangers came not just in routine marriage but in human trafficking, sex slavery, other forms of domestic servitude, and customary practices like forced child marriage, stoning and female infanticide.
One of the darkest realities, in a country whose caste system allows those in the highest perches to judge and monitor everyone below, while they keep alive millennia-old traditions to advantage themselves, is the continued depravity within loosely institutionalized religiosity.
In 2017, the U.S. state department’s annual human rights report revealed that 450,000 young women and girls were forced into “temple-related” prostitution. Some had to enter symbolic marriages with Hindu priests and temple patrons and were subjected to constant rape under a system of supposedly legal human sex trafficking.
Many cynical Indians will read this and instinctively question anything generated by America, while that country grapples with its own problems.
Observers have pointed out the surprise addition of the United States into the Top 10 of Thompson Reuters’ bleak research came as the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns against sexual harassment and violence dominated headlines for months. “People want to think income means you’re protected from misogyny, but sadly that’s not the case,” said Cindy Southworth, executive vice-president of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence.
One of the more horrific crimes transferred to Canada from South Asia and other parts is the questionably named practice of “honour crimes.” A more apt description is “status killings”. This involves violence, even murder committed by people who want to defend the reputation of their family or community. This puts it into another domestic violence category and remains a vexing and worldwide phenomenon.
On New Years’ Day in 2009, inside a family’s grocery store in Malton, a 22-year-old woman was fatally stabbed by her father-in-law in an admitted “honour killing”.
Kamikar Singh Dhillon pleaded guilty in a Brampton courtroom and said he killed the mother of one because he believed she was leaving her son for another man.
In 2007, a shocking murder of a 16-year-old by her father and brother was done for the purpose of saving family pride and preventing embarrassment. Aqsa Parvez was strangled by her brother Waqas in Mississauga.
The statistics show that domestic or intimate partner violence is a man-made problem and the vast majority of the incidents are against women. It has also spawned an evil twin brother, the incel movement – a misogynistic ideology which has bared its blood-soaked fangs in Canada. The connecting tissue between incels and intimate partners behaving badly is a shared hatred of women.
While domestic abusers remain in the mainstream of criminality, this violent stream of misogyny (supposedly created by “involuntary celibacy” because women won’t voluntarily return their advances) has now been re-identified in a new report from our federal intelligence service (CSIS). They have given it the official seal of terrorism.
And it’s about time. Women have been terrorized by men since the dawn of time.
CSIS divided extreme terrorists into three categories, and incels fit nicely on the ideological branch, under the sub-heading: “gender-driven violence.” Incels share common traits: male, involuntarily celibate, and tied to a discordant ideology scooped from the dark web. They rage against women and have a penchant for extreme violence.
Most recently, a February attack in a Toronto massage parlour, that left a 24-year-old mother dead, was last week classified by the city’s police force as an incel-related terrorism act.
The van attacker on Yonge Street in 2018 who killed 10, including eight women, was the work of another self-proclaimed incel.
The Danforth killer of two who also injured 13 before shooting himself, was a student of this so-called cause. In his teachings, he longed for authority given him in any relationship he might have had with a woman.
These men are a mutation of a virus that has been spreading across the planet – not called SARS-CoV-2.
Let’s give it this name: murderous misogyny. These social isolates tout the anthropological wants and needs of their gender. Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, the outspoken author and University of Toronto academic who lectures on gender relations and masculinity, has attributed the rise of Donald Trump and other alt-right politicians to what he says is a negative reaction to a push to “feminize” men. He further states, “If men are pushed too hard to feminize they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology.”
If the somewhat bizarre conclusion that men have very specific, pre-coded gender identities that demand a certain freedom from “feminist” desires for equality doesn’t give women pause, these stats will: they are 11 times more likely than men to be sexually victimized, three times as likely to be stalked (criminally harassed) and twice as likely to be the victim of indecent and harassing phone calls.
Peterson is probably right in some way, that various messaging, not just from conservative men like Trump, but across the vast reach of mesmerizing popular culture in countries throughout the world, continues to confuse men, and women.
The most notable Canadian example of hatred toward women was the 1989 killing of 14 female students in Montreal. This heinous act, which left another 14 people wounded (ten women), led to the creation of the “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women” which honours all women who are victims of violence – the vast majority at the hands of intimate partners.
In 2011, intimate partners, including spouses and dating partners, were the most common perpetrators in violent crime across Canada, and they represented 45 percent of all those accused of victimizing women, followed by acquaintances or friends (27 percent), strangers (16 percent) and non-spousal family members (12 percent). This contrasts with violent crimes against men, where intimate partners were among the least common perpetrators (12 percent).
The stay-at-home dictates from the federal, provincial and local governments have indeed flattened the curve in the battle against Covid-19. But it has also created a spike in abuse.
Arwa Mahdawi, a reporter with the UK Guardian, wrote that domestic hotline calls in Portland, Oregon doubled in a week.
A U.S. national domestic violence hotline says abusers are using COVID-19 to further control and isolate victims. Abusers see the threat as an opportunity to cast victims into the streets to see if they’ll get sick. They also try to withhold financial or medical assistance.
Most striking, in a public health crisis, private violence is being “deprioritized by authorities,” wrote Mahdawi. In the UK, domestic violence professionals have been left off the list of essential service providers, sparking her to ask: Violence at home isn’t a dangerous threat?
It’s only the latest evidence of the decades-long disconnect between the reality for millions of women around the world and the institutions often complicit in their harm.
In 2019, five police forces across the GTA received over 47,000 domestic violence-related calls. Some police forces point out that more women were killed by their domestic partners last year than in previous years.
Heeral Patel, 28, was found dead in Brampton on Jan. 13 – the first homicide victim of 2020 in Peel. Investigators named her ex-husband as the lone suspect and later found him dead. They said his death would not be investigated.
Near the end of 2019, another homicide took place at a home near Eagleridge Drive and Bighorn Crescent in Brampton. Police said a 35-year-old man killed a 27-year-old woman and then killed himself.
He too had an intimate relationship with her in the past, and he too murdered her before taking his own life.
These murders happened before women across our planet were forced further into their terrifying isolation by another lurking killer.
As Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
Madam Justice Lesley Baldwin listened to a discordant rhyming pattern as she prosecuted a monster and then dissected the murderous rampage that led to the death of Arlene May.
Prosecuting a child killer and leading a joint committee on domestic violence were thankless and soul-wrenching jobs, but she did them with the extreme professionalism she has shown throughout her career.
In both cases she must have asked herself, why would these men do what they did?
Each would probably answer the same way: because it was their right.
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