FILE - Police tape at the scene of an alleged hit and run in Whitehorse on Feb. 8, 2018. Researchers suggested Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 that Canada’s efforts to address intimate partner violence and its impacts have failed to make an appreciable dent in the country’s domestic homicide rates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

FILE - Police tape at the scene of an alleged hit and run in Whitehorse on Feb. 8, 2018. Researchers suggested Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 that Canada’s efforts to address intimate partner violence and its impacts have failed to make an appreciable dent in the country’s domestic homicide rates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

No shift in domestic homicide rates in spite of efforts, new research finds

Researchers called for a more nuanced national conversation on the issue

Canada’s efforts to address intimate partner violence and its impacts have failed to make any appreciable dent in the country’s domestic homicide rates, researchers suggested Wednesday as they called for a more nuanced national conversation on the issue.

Every trend that emerged when the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative began examining domestic homicide rates between 2010 and 2015 remained virtually unchanged when research was expanded to include data from the last three years, according to the latest numbers from the multi-year project.

The vast majority of such cases target women or girls, with risks increasing for those who belong to vulnerable demographics such as residents of rural or remote areas and those of Indigenous heritage.

Women made up 76 per cent of all adult domestic homicide victims between 2010 and 2015, according to the team’s research. That number climbed to 80 per cent when factoring in cases from 2016 through 2018. The latest data suggest 59 per cent of child victims are girls.

Of the 662 domestic homicides the study recorded over the nine-year stretch, 52 per cent of them involved victims belonging to at least one of four vulnerable groups identified by researchers — those with an Indigenous background, new immigrants or refugees, northern or rural residents and children. That figure stood at 53 per cent in cases logged between 2010 and 2015.

READ MORE: Women in vulnerable demographics most at risk of domestic homicide, study finds

Initiative Co-Director and University of Guelph Professor Myrna Dawson said the static numbers suggest formal channels meant to tackle domestic violence appear to have a limited impact.

She said the data should spark a conversation focusing less on individual circumstances and more on the way intimate partner violence is viewed in society at large.

“Unless we focus on attitudes and beliefs with the people responding, whether it be the service sector, whether it be the public, unless you address those attitudes that often get in the way of adequate responses, anything we implement formally is probably going to miss its mark,” Dawson said in a telephone interview.

Dawson said several provinces have long established specific domestic violence courts staffed with professionals trained to address the complexities of such situations.

But the latest data suggests jurisdictions with such courts available still see high homicide rates that have not budged over time.

Manitoba, which has operated a domestic violence court for years, had one of the three highest domestic homicide rates in the country according to data collected by the initiative.

Dawson said rates were similarly high in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, a fact she said highlights the additional risks faced by women living in remote communities.

Although the initiative’s research largely focuses on four specific vulnerable groups, Dawson said data so far suggests there are others in need of more academic and public attention. She said women with disabilities as well as senior citizens have also emerged as particularly at risk in all research conducted to date.

Dawson said society needs to fundamentally change the way it views and responds to domestic violence, starting with the assumption that strife between intimate partners is a private matter that’s best ignored.

“These can’t be private because there’s public impacts of primarily women and children living with violence in the home,” she said. “…It is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.”

Changing this fundamental approach, she said, could open the door for more widespread understanding of domestic violence and a broader capacity to recognize warning signs and sound alarms if needed.

That broader understanding may have made a difference in the 2014 murder of Shirley Parkinson, according to one of her closest relatives.

Her sister Mariann Rich said friends and coworkers may have been able to pick up on subtle red flags over time as Parkinson’s relationship with her husband deteriorated.

But when the well-known local nurse was found dead on her family farm, the news came as a complete shock to most who knew her, including some close relatives. Parkinson’s husband was also found dead on the rural property near Unity, Sask., and his death has been ruled a suicide.

Rich said her sister’s silence was largely driven by a powerful stigma and culture of privacy that prevails in the sort of small, close-knit community she called home for decades.

Rich said many such areas lack sufficient resources for women in need of help, but said the problem is compounded by a poor understanding of exactly what potentially deadly domestic violence looks like.

“Everyone’s still looking for bruises, they’re looking for physical injuries,” Rich said. “It’s also ridicule. It’s also putdowns. It’s also isolating them from family and friends. It’s the constant blaming. Society in general needs to become more aware of that.”

Dawson said the next phase of the initiative’s research, announced Wednesday in Fredericton, will focus on hearing the experiences of people who have lost a friend or relative to domestic homicide, as well as those who have survived severe intimate partner violence themselves.

Cathy Holtmann, director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research at the University of New Brunswick, is a co-investigator for the study.

She said research into domestic homicide is particularly important “for those who experience social inequalities based on their age, ethnic or racial identity, immigrant status, or because they live in rural areas.”

Holtmann said researchers hope by gathering the information they can learn how the tragedies can be prevented, and how survivors, friends and family of victims of domestic violence can best be supported.

— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Experts — Society has a role in trying to prevent domestic violence

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recovery will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Image curtesy Metro Creative Connection
County of Wetaskiwin addresses unpaid oil and gas taxes

The County of Wetaskiwin is addressing unpaid oil and gas taxes and… Continue reading

Caitlin Kraft, the sister of Jeffery Kraft, stands third from the left, holding a sign calling for the maximum sentence for Campbell, who is charged with manslaughter. (Photo by Paul Cowley)
UPDATED: Judge again rejects submission of 7-year sentence for slaying of Kraft

Tyler John Campbell charged with second-degree murder for December 2019 homicide

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is suspending all of the licences held by an oil and gas producer with more than 2,200 wells and 2,100 pipelines after it failed to bring its operations into compliance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Energy Regulator suspends licences of oil and gas producer that owes $67M

The company is being asked to comply with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Seniors in the 65-unit Piper Creek Lodge are among those waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta senior lodges anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

“Should be at the front of the line, not the back of the line”

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Most Read