Eight women were killed in 2020 in spousal murders Get breaking news alerts from Le Devoir

Eight women lost their lives at the hands of a violent spouse or ex-spouse in 2020, according to a review carried out by Le Devoir as part of its spousal murder watch. Some dramas were widely publicized, while others quickly faded into oblivion. They have in common to be rooted in a cycle of violence, committed behind closed doors, the outcome of which could sometimes have been avoided thanks to a better assessment of the risks.

Despite an increase and escalation in violence during the lockdown, the feared effect of the pandemic on the rise in spousal murders has not materialized. About ten feminicides committed by a spouse, an ex-spouse, a close friend or an ex-close friend are deplored each year in Quebec.

Our monitoring of spousal murders in Quebec

"Many women told us that the violence was more serious and more severe, even for their children, during the first wave, says Louise Riendeau, responsible for political files at the Regroupement des maisons for women victims of domestic violence. But spousal homicides often occur at the time of the breakup. »

How do you leave a violent spouse when visits to rental accommodations were almost impossible, job losses were piling up, schools and daycare centers were closed and loved ones were now so far away? Not to mention the difficulty of organizing a departure or even asking for help when the spouse was at home at all times.

“COVID-19 has added even more uncertainty and insecurity to the difficult decision to leave a spouse,” analyzes Claudine Thibaudeau, head of clinical support for the organization SOS Violence conjugale.

A reality that was also reflected during the first confinement by a drop in requests for accommodation in homes for women victims of domestic violence, before they started to rise again in recent months.

Conversely, requests for help or information made electronically — whether by text message or chat, more discreet means — have seen a significant increase. “We are heading for a record year,” said Claudine Thibaudeau.

Every year, around 30,000 requests for information, help or support are received by SOS Violence conjugale; nearly 80% of these come from victims and 20% from relatives, police or health care workers.

Eight women were killed in 2020 in of domestic murders Get breaking news alerts from Le Devoir

According to a survey of 87 women between July and November by the Regroupement des centers pour femmes victims de violence conjugale, 42% of women questioned said they had experienced more serious violence (regardless of its form) during confinement and 43.5% of them claimed to have experienced more frequent violence. And 51% of women reported more serious and frequent violence against their children.

Avoidable tragedies?

One constant that emerges from the majority of spousal murders is that they were preceded by warning signs. "Often, in deaths, the risk factors have been underestimated", explained at the beginning of December Me Stéphanie Gamache, interim president of the new Committee for the review of deaths linked to domestic violence created by the coroner's office.

Red lights, "clearly identifiable signs" — such as a recent separation, a loss of control over the victim, harassment or even a history of violence — which absolutely must be better detected to reduce the sad toll of spousal murders, the committee pointed out when it tabled its first report.

It also concluded that there was a need for better sharing of confidential information when people's safety is at stake. A recommendation that particularly affects Marie*, whose violent ex-spouse was convicted of assault on her place and place of her child a few years ago. The man has since left the country. But it was impossible for Marie or for the DPJ to be informed of a possible return to Canada of the father.

“I live in fear that he will return. I find it horrible to let us live in this anxiety and this apprehension, that we cannot be notified when a violent person who has threatened our safety returns to the country, ”she denounces. “My children walk to school, it would be enough once that he is in the corner… and that he takes them. »

A more attentive ear

For several months now, the issue of domestic violence has had a more attentive ear in Quebec. On average in the province, a quarter of crimes against the person are committed in the context of spousal violence. “And we know that everything related to domestic violence is underestimated,” recalls Claudine Thibaudeau.

In 2019-2020, i.e. before the start of the pandemic, the 43 shelters that were part of the Grouping of shelters for women victims of conjugal violence managed to accommodate 2,500 women, but had to refuse 3,500 requests. To unlock these closed doors, Quebec pledged in March to release 14 million recurring dollars for shelters. Non-recurring sums of 8.7 million had also been added, explains Louise Riendeau.

A breath of fresh air, which is however far from meeting the needs, in particular for more beds, for more external services or to counter the labor shortage that is hitting shelters hard, where the CISSSs and CIUSSSs have been actively recruiting staff since the start of the pandemic. “We would need 38 million for the 110 houses funded [which also include resources for women living in situations of homelessness and for those suffering from mental health issues]. »

Along with this financial effort, an encouraging wind also seems to be blowing on the key recommendation of the report of the Committee of Experts on Support for Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, also tabled in December. Two weeks ago, the Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, announced the creation of a working group to examine the possibility of creating a specialized court to deal with cases of sexual assault and domestic violence. A request, repeated over the years, which would improve the handling of complaints and support for victims.

But no women's group sits on this committee, which is made up of representatives from the Ministries of Justice and Public Security, the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP), the Legal Services Commission and the Court of Justice. Quebec. “[The minister] wants to check for the moment if it is administratively possible to move forward, supports Louise Riendeau. But if this is the case, women's groups must then be present to ensure that what is going to be put in place really meets the needs of victims. “A possibility that Minister Jolin-Barrette “does not exclude”, indicates his press secretary.

* An alias is used to protect the identity of the victim.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can contact SOS Violence conjugale at 1 800 363-9010.

The spousal murders of 2020

Jaël Cantin, 33 years old, Mascouche, January 16Annie Koneak, 30 years old, Kuujjuaq, January 18Marylène Lévesque, 22 years old, Quebec City, January 22Identity unknown, 55 years old, Gatineau, January 25Johanne Corriveau, 53, Montreal, May 23 Identity unknown, 61, Montreal, October 10Mary Saviadjuk, 37, Salluit, November 1Françoise Côté, 74, Laval, December 4

Other cases of spousal murder may be added based on the findings of the coroner's reports.

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