Inquest into deaths of three women made recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence; why are the PCs dragging their feet?
Lisa Gretzky/X

Inquest into deaths of three women made recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence; why are the PCs dragging their feet?

At Queen’s Park last month the PC government made yet another policy flip-flop that left opposition MPPs perplexed and frustrated. 

The NDP had been gearing up for a fight, only to have the PCs do something that is rare at Queen’s Park. Instead of shooting down a resolution from the other side of the aisle, which Doug Ford has directed his MPPs to do without exception, regardless of how important an opposition proposal is to the well being of Ontario residents, the majority PC government supported the action.  

Early on April 10th, NDP MPPs, advocates, and survivors of intimate partner violence gathered inside the Queen’s Park media studio. They were there to announce a Bill to be introduced in the legislature later that day calling for the PC government to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic, something it has repeatedly refused to do. 

Nearly 100 municipalities have made the declaration, as rates of violence against women and gender-diverse individuals by intimate partners have increased annually over much of the last decade, more often with fatal results. Data from the Government of Canada estimates that a woman is killed every six days by an intimate partner. 

Making this official declaration was the first of 86 recommendations to come out of a Coroner’s Inquest into the murder of three women in Renfrew County. Carol Culleton, 66; Anastasia Kuzyk, 36; and Nathalie Warmerdam, 48; were murdered on September 22, 2015 by Basil Borutski. He had previously been charged with intimate partner violence against both Kuzyk and Warmerdam and appeared to be threatening and harassing Culleton.

“If we do not name it, we can not treat it,” Fartumo Kusow said during the press conference. Kusow is the mother of Sahra Bulle, who was killed last year. Bulle’s estranged husband has been charged with first-degree murder in the case. 

Kusow talked about the wound her daughter's murder has gouged into her family’s life. Her empty seat at the dinner table is a daily reminder of a tragic end; her untouched bedroom remains ready to welcome her back at any moment—which will never come.  

She shared the traumatic details of the days and weeks leading up to her daughter’s death; how the family had become frustrated with her for refusing to leave the relationship. 

“We could all see the train my daughter was on,” she said. 

Then there was relief when she finally broke things off with her husband. But it was brief. Sarah disappeared from Hiatus House, a women’s shelter in Windsor not long after.  

“Three weeks later…I was collecting my daughter in a body bag.”

Kusow said she is confused about why the PCs have steadfastly refused to admit that intimate partner violence is reaching epidemic proportions in Ontario. 


Fartumo Kusow shared the tragic story of losing her daughter, and her confusion around why the PC government refuses to take action on intimate partner violence.



When asked, Premier Doug Ford has deflected and refused to make the declaration officially despite the disturbing evidence of rising rates of violence and death. 

In October, following a tragic killing spree in Sault Ste. Marie that left Angie Sweeney and three children, ages 12, seven and six, dead; Ford was asked again whether he would finally make the declaration. He waffled. 

“How many more lives must be taken before the Ontario government recognizes the epidemic proportions of this violence,” Erin Lee, the executive director of Lanark County Interval House and Community Support said during the April 10th press conference. Lee was part of the Renfrew inquest, offering testimony that informed the 86 recommendations— 80 percent of which fall under provincial jurisdiction. 

The lack of action spits in the face of anyone involved with the Renfrew inquest, said NDP MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam. 

“What they’re saying to us is this issue is not a priority for them,” they said. “They can continue to do absolutely nothing by saying absolutely nothing.”

In December, a collective of over 100 social service organizations wrote to Premier Ford, urging him to finally make the declaration after a year that saw 62 women violently killed in Ontario. It points out how shelters are packed to the brim nightly across Canada forcing many women to remain in the same house with a dangerous partner. Data from the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network show 699 women and 236 accompanying children are turned away from shelters in Canada every day. 

When reaching the point of seeking shelter elsewhere, a woman has entered the most deadly phase of fleeing a violent relationship. Data from Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review committee has found that of the 329 cases reviewed by the committee between 2003 and 2018, 67 percent of the homicides took place while the couple had an actual or pending separation. This means if a woman is turned away from a shelter at this stage, they are left to choose between a night on the street, or returning to an abusive situation. 

“By taking action today and naming this violence for what it is, an epidemic, you would not only be acknowledging the gravity of this violence, but also demonstrating leadership that can save lives across the province,” the letter reads. “We urge you to make this vital commitment to the safety and wellbeing of women, gender diverse people and children.”

Lee urged the provincial government to finally accept the difference that could be made by making the epidemic declaration. While unlocking certain types of government funding for organizations across Ontario that are desperate for help dealing with surging numbers of victims and survivors in need of help, it would also send a statement to these vulnerable individuals across the province. 

It would say “they are heard, they are believed, and they are being responded to,” Lee said. 

The same was said by NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky. For women stuck in these dangerous situations, they are often living in shame and fear. A clarion call from the provincial government, combined with the leadership being taken at the municipal level, has the potential to reach thousands, and even save lives. 

According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory, 184 women and girls were violently killed, mostly by men, in 2022. In 2023, 62 women were violently killed.

“The goal of an abuser is to silence them,” Gretzky said. “(The PCs) are just as bad as the perpetrators in my opinion.”`

With those strong words, the press conference ended. 

Then came the day’s surprise twist. 


NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky is the sponsor of Bill 173, the Intimate Partner Violence Act.



Ahead of the afternoon session, NDP MPPs got word the PCs planned to support the bill. With a caveat.

 A declaration is under consideration, but only after a thorough study at the committee level with consultations across the province. That way the government can come back with “all tools available” and recommendations on how to move forward, said PC MPP Christine Hogarth.

The PCs did not acknowledge the countless studies that have already documented the disturbing state of IPV and gender-based violence in Ontario; the data from government sources like Statistics Canada that outline how bad the situation has become; or the numerous survivors and families like Kusow’s who have shared their traumatic stories—often opening themselves to further trauma—to inform these reports and recommendations. The absurdity of the PC response to study this epidemic declaration further, is that the recommendation to declare an epidemic in the first place came from a study on intimate partner violence and how to avoid future tragedies. 

Wong-Tam pointed this out to PC MPPs. 

“Time and time again this government has offered nothing but lip service,” they said. 

The message from Opposition MPPs was that the support from Premier Doug Ford’s PCs was welcome, and their change of heart to finally declare the ongoing violence an epidemic was a great first step. But there still remained the question of when? A referral to committee and the study process could take months, perhaps longer. 

Gretzky pointed out that while the PCs spend time delaying, service providers are begging for funding and women continue to die. In 2022, 52 women lost their lives in 52 weeks in Ontario alone. 

NDP Leader Marit Stiles told The Pointer’s What’s the Point podcast she was quite surprised by the government's turnaround, and despite the delays, sees this as a significant step forward. 

“The government has the ability, and they’ve certainly done it with their own bills, to pass the whole thing in one go,” she said of the PC decision to refer the bill to the committee level. “It was a bit of mixed messaging.”

She added the NDP will work closely with anyone involved in the upcoming province-wide study to ensure it gathers the necessary facts and recommendations. 

“That is the beginning of treating this as the public health crisis that it is,” she said. “We’re going to make it really hard for the government, at the end of the day, not to make this law and also to take the next really important steps…We can’t afford to wait to fix this problem, we need urgent action and we need it right now.”

As previously reported by The Pointer, the cities of Brampton and Mississauga are among the growing number of municipalities and agencies that have declared epidemics within their own borders, and are calling for the epidemic declaration to be made by the provincial government. The motions passed have come in response to rates of violence and abuse against women and gender-diverse individuals that have been consistently increasing across Peel for years. 

Between 2015 and 2020, Peel Regional Police saw the number of domestic violence calls increase by 74 percent. In 2019, over 40 percent of homicides that year were related to family or intimate partner violence. 

According to Region of Peel data, between 2016 and 2021, there was a 3.5 percent increase in the rate of intimate partner disputes reported to Peel Regional Police. In 2021, Peel police responded to more than 17,000 incidents of family and intimate partner violence, averaging nearly 45 disputes each day or roughly two every hour. Of the charges that were laid for intimate partner violence related incidents in 2021, 78 percent of the victims were women. 

In 2022, PRP reported 9,242 reported occurrences of intimate partner disputes. This number includes interactions where criminal behaviour has likely occurred and others where abuse or harassment cannot be proven. 

“At the Safe Centre of Peel, we are seeing more and more very serious incidences of abuse,” Sharon Mayne Devine, CEO of Catholic Family Services of Peel Dufferin told Mississauga councillors in June. “I think you just have to read the news, to some of the most shocking, most difficult situations, we've had a number of them, some bold things.”

“But we are seeing, since the pandemic, much more serious forms. So we know that some of the most serious things that happen are more and more women reporting things as strangulation, and very serious, serious, serious injuries, life threatening injuries.”

To date, few details have been released by the PC government on the future consultations and review process to be carried out by the Standing Committee on Justice Policy.



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