A woman pays her respects at a roadside memorial on Portapique Road in Portapique, N.S. on Friday, April 24, 2020. At least 22 people are dead after a man, who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A woman pays her respects at a roadside memorial on Portapique Road in Portapique, N.S. on Friday, April 24, 2020. At least 22 people are dead after a man, who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Nova Scotia mass murder shows the public threat of domestic violence, say experts

The agency recorded 945 intimate partner homicides between 2008 and 2018

Before blazing a trail of carnage across Nova Scotia, the man behind one of Canada’s worst mass killings attacked his longtime girlfriend — a story domestic violence experts say is eerily familiar.

Police say this assault was potentially the “catalyst” for the horrific murder spree that claimed 22 victims last week.

Many mass killings begin with abuse of the people closest to home, say researchers and advocates. To prevent future tragedy, they say authorities need to recognize the threat domestic violence poses to the public.

“When women are in danger in our community, all men, women and children are in danger,” said Peter Jaffe, a psychologist who has studied violence against women and children for 40 years.

“It’s not just an issue of violence against women. It usually suggests a much broader pattern of concern about the perpetrator.”

The Western University professor co-authored a study for the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative that analysed 418 cases of domestic homicide in Canada between 2010 and 2015. Researchers found 13 per cent of cases involved the homicide of third parties, including family members, new partners and bystanders.

A recent report by American non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety also indicates that in more than half of U.S. mass shootings between 2009 and 2018, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia RCMP say shooter acted alone

Some of Canada’s deadliest mass murders fit that pattern, said Jaffe.

In Edmonton, a man suspected of domestic violence shot and killed six adults and two young children before killing himself in 2014, marking the worst mass shooting in the city’s history.

In 1996, a man enraged by his wife’s divorce action killed her and eight of her family members then shot himself in Vernon, B.C.

Jaffe noted that the gunman who killed 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 had experienced violence in the home as a child. This suggests the cycle of abuse can have far-reaching — and sometimes fatal — consequences across generations, he said.

In many cases, Jaffe said, law enforcement or community members are aware of a perpetrator’s domestic abuse before the broader bloodshed begins.

He said reports indicate that may have been the case for the 51-year-old shooter and his longtime girlfriend. But it’s unclear whether anyone tried to intervene before the domestic assault that set him off on a shooting and arson spree across Nova Scotia last week.

One neighbour in the coastal town of Portapique said the shooter was openly controlling and jealous of his partner, but he never saw the couple’s fights come to blows.

At some point last Saturday night, the woman was beaten and allegedly bound, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Police said the woman managed to escape their home and hid in the woods overnight. When she emerged at daybreak, she called 911 and provided authorities information about the suspect.

Meanwhile, the gunman was passing through rural communities disguised as an RCMP officer, shooting people and setting houses ablaze. After a 13-hour manhunt, he was fatally shot by police Sunday at a gas station in Enfield, about 90 kilometres south of Portapique.

Julie Lalonde, an Ottawa-based women’s rights advocate, said victims of domestic violence often stay with their abusers because they’re scared that leaving could put others at risk.

Lalonde is concerned police are reinforcing those worst fears by framing the killer’s attack on his girlfriend as the potential “catalyst” for the slayings.

She believes RCMP never intended to “blame the woman.” In fact, they’ve called the woman a “key witness” in their investigation.

But Lalonde said these beliefs are so insidious they’re embedded in our language about domestic abuse.

She said society looks down on women who stay with their abusers, then holds victims who fight back responsible for other casualities of the violence they’ve suffered behind closed doors.

“(This woman) has to live in a world in which this messaging is out there that maybe if she hadn’t resisted, that she would have been the only one killed that night.”

More than 99,000 Canadians aged 15 to 89 were victims of intimate partner violence in 2018, representing nearly a third of violent crimes reported to police, according to Statistics Canada.

The agency also recorded 945 intimate partner homicides between 2008 and 2018, nearly 80 per cent involving female victims.

Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, communications and development manager for Women’s Shelters Canada, said the role of gender in mass shootings often isn’t talked about, even though misogyny seems to have been a motivator in two of the deadliest massacres in Canada’s history.

Marc Lepine, the perpetrator of the Polytechnique killings, said he was “fighting against feminists” he blamed for his troubles.

Alek Minassian told police he drove a van along a crowded Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others, in retribution for years of sexual rejection and ridicule by women. The overseeing the first-degree murder trial said the case will turn on his state of mind at the time of the attack, not whether he did it.

There’s no evidence that Lepine or Minassian had a histories of domestic violence, nor have police indicated that last weekend’s killings were fuelled by sexism.

READ MORE: Mourners struggle to grieve Nova Scotia mass-murder victims during pandemic

Geiger-Bardswich acknowledgeds that there’s a difference between hurting individual women and hating women writ large.

But she said domestic abuse and misogyny-driven murder are part of the spectrum of violence against women that puts everyone at risk.

“If we address domestic violence and violence against women as a whole, we can better stop the killings that target men and women.”

For that to happen, authorities must take robust action to address domestic violence, said Nancy Ross, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s school of social work.

Ross said this need has become more pressing as police forces and women’s shelters have seen a surge in domestic violence reports since COVID-19 forced victims to stay home with their abusers.

Canada’s approach to domestic abuse has been defined by a lack of resources and fragmentation, said Ross. It shouldn’t take a mass murder and pandemic to change that, she said, but the issue can no longer stay in the shadows.

“This interpersonal violence, all forms of it thrives in silence,” said Ross. “If anything, this mass shooting insists upon further resources and attention.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

domestic violenceMass shootingsNova ScotiaRCMPShooting

Just Posted

Asia Youngman (right) is pictured shooting another short film she wrote and directed titled Hatha. (Luba Popovic)
Peachland set to star in fantasy thriller film about N’xaxaitk’w — a.k.a. the Ogopogo

The film will follow an Indigenous teen as she navigates peer pressure, bullying and identity

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Earls On Top at 211 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna. (Google Maps photo)
Downtown Kelowna’s Earls ordered closed after COVID-19 transmission

Earls on Top on Bernard Avenue will be closed from June 18 to June 27

Danny Fulton receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 27. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Drop-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic planned for Kelowna

Clinic at Kelowna Secondary School from June 22 to 24 from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Dereck Donald Sears. (Contributed/Crimestoppers)
Murder charge laid in relation to suspicious Kelowna death

Dereck Donald Sears is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Darren Middleton

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Jeanette Megens
KCR: Volunteering is sharing your story

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(File photo)
Penticton not holding Canada Day activities out of respect for Indigenous people

Cities across B.C. are cancelling the holiday after an increased spotlight on Canada’s dark history

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Most Read