One of the ways to try to stop domestic homicide is to study the deaths that have occurred, says an RNC officer who has delved into the rates over the past 10 years.
“Unfortunately, the way to try to figure out domestic violence prevalence and the severity of it, what it looks like in a jurisdiction, we look at homicides because you have the constant factor of death in an intimate partner relationship,” said Const. Suzanne FitzGerald, the police force’s domestic violence co-ordinator.
This is the first time the RNC has dedicated a full-time officer to the position — part of its initiative to put more resources and effort into addressing domestic violence, an issue the World Health Organization has referred to as a global pandemic.
FitzGerald gets involved in high-risk cases where there is a perceived danger the relationship could end tragically.
FitzGerald analyses referrals and calls for service and, using a policing danger assessment tool, applies risk markers to the relationship. She told The Telegram this week she has 50 of those files on her radar.
Earlier this year, FitzGerald compiled a report for the RNC and Chief Robert Johnston which included a review of the homicides the RNC investigated from 2002-11. There were 15.
“So, of the 15 homicides, I then wanted to know how many were domestic, familial-related, and how many were intimate partner violence ,and out of the 15, 10 of them — 66 per cent — were domestic homicides,” she said.
“And I went even further and I looked at first-degree murder. We’re really interested in first-degree murder because it is so different from the (other) homicides in that it has the element of premeditation — if he’s thinking about it, if he’s intending on doing it, if he’s planning on doing it, then there’s possibly clues along the way you can pick up on, there may be indicators and ways to identify somebody who’s planning on committing a homicide,” FitzGerald said.
She found that of the 10 domestic homicides, six were first-degree murder investigations and all involved women murdered by their male partners.
“For second-degree it was 43 per cent, manslaughter it was 50 per cent. So when you have such a significant portion of the most serious types of investigations being predominantly about intimate partner violence and domestic violence, you need to have a very clear understanding of the complexities of domestic violence, of the risk markers that are there, and that is why we implemented (Family Violence Investigative Report),” she said.
FVIR is the 19-point case-management tool FitzGerald uses to determine an abuser’s potential to kill his intimate partner.
According to the most recent Statistics Canada report pertaining to domestic homicide, “while the overall number of intimate partner homicides was stable between 2010 and 2011, there were some differences by gender. The inherent and historically gendered nature of these crimes must be acknowledged and considered when assessing the policing issue.”
It says the rate of intimate partner homicides committed against women increased by 19 per cent, the third increase in four years, while the rate for male victims declined by almost half.
FitzGerald said the same report showed that in 2011, Newfoundland and Labrador was found to have one of the lowest homicide rates in Canada.
“However, since 2001, 23 of the 45 homicide victims in the province were female, the only province where the number of female victims exceeded the number of male victims,” she said, reading from the report.
“So the numbers are declining — yes, that’s great — but we are still the only province in this country to have the number of female victims exceed the number of male victims. So when you have 66 per cent of your homicides being domestic violence and 100 per cent of the first-degree murder victims being female, murdered by their male intimate partners, that is profound and indicative of a significant problem,” FitzGerald said.
There have been several recent high-profile cases in the RNC’s jurisdiction where women have died at the hands of partners, estranged partners or former partners, such as David Folker, who was convicted Nov. 8 of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Ann Marie Shirran, the mother of his son.
There are others before the courts, and there have been at least three murder-suicides — one in St. John’s, one double murder-suicide in Conception Bay South and one murder-suicide on the province’s west coast.
Most recently, on Oct. 15, Brian Dawe shot and killed Julianne Hibbs and her fiancé, Vince Dillon, at Villa Nova Plaza in Conception Bay South. Dawe subsequently shot himself in the Anglican Cemetery on Kenmount Road.
Some of the domestic homicides over the past several years:
• Cecil Joseph Pendergast was sentenced to life in prison April 19, 2002 with no eligibility to apply for parole for 15 years in connection with the shooting death of Brenda Gillingham, a 39-year-old single mother of three. He had originally been charged with first-degree murder after Gillingham succumbed to her injuries June 28, 2000. However, Pendergast pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before the trial began. They were broken up at the time of the incident, having been in an on-again, off-again relationship for five years.
• Kirk Pynn pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with a January 2001 incident in which a woman was attacked with an axe and her daughter was sexually assaulted. He was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 18 years for the brutal murder of a 56-year-old woman and the rape and torture of her daughter. His admitted plan was to seriously injure or kill the woman’s daughter, who Pynn had been dating for about six months, because he had learned that she spent the night of Jan. 30, 2001 with an ex-boyfriend.
• Warren White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and performing an indignity to a dead human body in connection with the death of Amanda Power, who was strangled May 30, 2008, at the couple’s apartment. He was sentenced to life in prison, with no parole eligibility for 17 years. White kept Power’s body in the apartment for several days before dragging it to the bathtub and dismembering it, using a hack saw and a knife. A few days later, he disposed of most of the body parts.
• Scott Gauthier was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder for strangling Mary Susan Evans-Harlick at his Portugal Cove Road apartment on the night of Dec. 11, 2002. He then stuffed her body into a sleeping bag and hid it in a basement crawl space. He was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility of parole for 17 years.