Newfoundland and Labrador has a culture of violence, says the executive director of a St. John’s women’s centre.
© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary release the crime scene in Conception Bay South where two people were murdered Tuesday evening.
Following the shooting deaths in Manuels earlier this week of Julianne Hibbs and Vince Dillon by Hibbs’ former boyfriend, who police say then killed himself, Leslie MacLeod of Marguerite’s Place said Thursday the province is no stranger to domestic violence.
“We have a culture of violence in this province,” said MacLeod. “It’s a global issue, and it’s very present in our province.”
MacLeod said she doesn’t think the problem of violence is worsening, although improvements in combatting it are hard to quantify.
What has changed in recent years is the attention paid to the problem, she said.
“It was hidden before. It was hidden in the home. You didn’t air your dirty laundry in public. You didn’t let anybody know that you were being hurt.”
Murder-suicides have been happening in the province “forever,” said MacLeod, but until 2006, the norm was for police to not report it publicly as a murder-suicide.
“It was felt to be more respectful to the families to simply say that there were two deaths, and there was no active investigation,” she said.
But keeping it hidden only made it harder to fight, said MacLeod, who noted that sometimes the deaths cluster together, as in three recent cases.
“We had a woman from the Philippines murdered in a cabin in Stephenville in September. We had a woman snatched off the street in Sheshatshiu and murdered in the woods in June, and we had this woman murdered here this week,” she said.
MacLeod pointed out that two cases before St. John’s courts are centred on women — Ann Marie Shirran and Triffie Wadman — whose former boyfriends have been charged with their murders.
MacLeod added that the province has been averaging at least one murder-suicide per year since she’s started tracking them.
The good news, said MacLeod, is that a lot has changed in the fight against domestic violence: attitudes are changing, and resources are deployed to help people.
“We have services available. Women do have places to go to,” she said.
There are about 10 women’s shelters around the province.
“We have some programs for men around anger. We have police laying charges. At lot has changed since the ’70s and ’80s, but there’s still a very clear culture of violence, just a great deal of violence.”
This week, Hibbs’ new boyfriend, Dillon, was also a victim, but MacLeod said it’s important to note Hibbs was the primary target of Brian Dawe, who killed his former girlfriend and Dillon before turning the gun on himself.
“The roots of this are in the violent relationship he had with her,” MacLeod said of Dawe.
Linda Ross, president of the provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, agreed.
“There’s no denying that domestic violence happens against men, but we know that if you look at any of the statistics, it’s predominantly women who are the victims of violence,” Ross said.
The RNC last year created the domestic violence co-ordinator position, noted MacLeod, another positive step from a much more enlightened police force, she added.
RNC Const. Suzanne FitzGerald’s job is to identify and help people in abusive relationships.
From a statistical standpoint, domestic homicides haven’t been happening more often over the last several years, FitzGerald said.
“When we look at domestic homicide, we’re fairly consistent over the past 10 years in relation to the number on an annual basis,” she said. “There’s anywhere from one to two domestic homicides on an annual basis in an RNC jurisdiction. That’s not the entire province, but RNC jurisdiction.”
FitzGerald said she recently studied homicides over a 10-year period.
Of the 15 that happened over that time, two-thirds were familial domestic cases.
“That’s 67 per cent of all your homicides in a 10-year time frame being familial or domestic violence.”
The domestic violence unit works to identify high-risk potential victims for homicide, intervene in those cases and employ strategies to prevent homicides.
“That’s where the RNC is. We’re trying to do proactive identification right now, as opposed to just responding to a domestic disturbance and trying to figure out what to do in a particular instance. We’re actually using all of our information that we have and trying to proactively identify them before homicides occur,” said FitzGerald.
Ross said it’s good that domestic violence is more openly discussed, but there’s still much work to be done.
“We’ve certainly got a long ways to go, because the truth is there’s still a lot of it happening behind closed doors.”
The first step is to talk about it, said MacLeod.
“We do need to do the work. We need to have the conversations,” she said. “People need to talk to each other. Everywhere I’ve been this week, the conversation has been about this.”
Ross said changing attitudes needs to start with educating children on how to interact with each other, teaching them that pushing and hitting is wrong.
She also said cultural attitudes need to change.
“Look at what people are exposed to in music, in videos, in the social media, in movies,” she said, adding that people need to stop consuming pop culture that promotes violence and rape. “It’s the kind of age-old objectification of women. This stuff is becoming more violent.”
Ross said it’s important for women in abusive relationships to seek help, whether from police or women’s shelters.
“It’s important that whatever a woman does, she knows that she can get support, she can get the help to get out of that situation. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.”
And family members need to not be afraid to speak to a loved one who they fear is being abused, she said.
“Family members can talk to the person that they’re worried about, and encourage them to (go), or go together, to seek the help that’s necessary.”
FitzGerald praised the work done to help women by women’s centres such as Marguerite’s Place and Iris Kirby House. She said a recent study in Ontario found that about 75 per cent of domestic homicide victims had a family member who knew the victim needed help.
“That’s incredible, when you think about the fact that 75 per cent of these domestic homicides could have been preventable if somebody had come forward. I think that people need to stop looking at domestic violence as a personal, private matter. It’s a public-safety issue.”
* Note: this article is a corrected version.