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Domestic Violence protocol to stave off the likelihood of horrific murders in Kelowna

Some of the worst cases of inter-agency miscommunication on domestic violence cases have inspired a new protocol for sharing life-saving information in Kelowna.

Monday morning, representatives from six agencies, including the RCMP, signed an agreement to follow a specific protocol on cases where there is reason to believe a life is at risk.

"What was going on in the past was a very ad hoc approach," said Supt. Bill McKinnon, who stressed the information-sharing is only for those cases deemed the highest risk.

Amy Thompson, of Kelowna's Elizabeth Fry Society, pointed to the Allan Schoenborn case in Merritt, where the father of three brutally murdered his own children despite involvement of multiple agencies aware of his violent and threatening behaviour, as impetus for the initiative.

She also noted the group was heavily influence by the Lee Park case in Victoria where similar red flags were raised before Park killed his wife and her family.

"This has been a very positive experience for us," Thompson said as she opened her remarks at a press conference held in the Kelowna RCMP detachment.

The coroners inquest into how Lee Park was allowed to repeatedly threaten to kill his wife, and then follow through, ended in August, and recommended a provincial domestic violence unit be developed.

At this point, these cases are all handled by one officer in Kelowna. This targeted domestic violence officer has been in place for three years and the Superintendent was clear her caseload demands another officer.

The position costs $140,000 annually and, thus far, that second body has not made it to the top of the priority list, but the volume of work is indisputable.

The RCMP detachment receives 1200 domestic violence calls annually, amounting to roughly four calls per day, and the Elizabeth Fry Society receives roughly 1000 calls for women in crisis in the same period.

"Which I would suggest is pretty significant considering these are some of the most difficult calls we deal with," said the Superintendent.

The protocol lays out a course of action for the Kelowna RCMP, Community Corrections, the Ministry of Children and Family, Elizabeth Fry Society, Central Okanagan RCMP Victim Services and the Kelowna Women's Shelter whereby case workers will first identify these high-risk cases, then follow the necessary information-sharing steps, overstep privacy boundaries where necessary.

That assessment includes identifying markers in the relationship history—like stalking, threats or forced sex— the complainant's perception of the risks involved, the suspect's history and access to weapons.

The information sharing is meant to help assist Crown Counsel in identifying appropriate conditions to seek a bail order, assist workers in developing a suitable safety plan, inform corrections staff for supervision and monitoring activities and assist child welfare workers in making their safety assessments.

The protocol was developed as a result of a Civil Forfeiture Crime Prevention Grant for just $5000 and inspired by similar work done in Vernon.

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