In a unanimous vote, City Council Monday declared intimate partner violence (IPV) in the Sault Ste. Marie to be an epidemic.
The motion, which also encompasses gender-based violence (GBV) was brought by Ward 3 Coun. Angela Caputo and seconded by Ward 2 Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen. Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth was added later to form a collective of women councillors bringing the motion forward, as the issue, said Mayor Matthew Shoemaker, has a far greater impact on women in the community.
The Sault joins more than 60 regions and municipalities in Ontario to make the declaration. Toronto made its declaration in July. At the time, there were 30 communities who had declared an IPV epidemic.
Advocates say the declarations are symbolic but raise the profile of a fast-growing problem.
Shoemaker took a few moments to address the Oct. 11 tragedy, which saw a 41-year-old woman and three children murdered.
He said the past week in Sault Ste. Marie was one of the most challenging and heart-breaking weeks in the city’s history, which “added to the heart- break our community has felt from events over the last several months.” The Mayor said the Renfrew County inquest and the coroner’s 86 recommendations arising out of it were a suitable starting point to discuss the motion.
That inquest probed the murders of three women in the Renfrew County area in 2015. Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were all murdered by the same man, Basil Borutski, who repeatedly defied his probation order and had served time for assaulting a police officer. Borutski is currently in prison after his conviction on three counts of murder.
The Mayor said he received a request from Brian Sweeney and Dan Jennings over the weekend to speak to council on the motion. He praised Sweeney at the meeting for showing incredible courage after losing his
Sweeney’s daughter Angie was murdered Oct. 11. Three children, ages 6, 7 and 12, also lost their lives to the same shooter that day. The gunman later took his own life.
Jennings’ daughter Caitlin, 22, was murdered by her intimate partner in London, Ont., in July of this year.
Council doesn’t typically allow delegations to speak on council motions, but Shoemaker made an exception.
“This IPV scenario we’re dealing with is definitely an epidemic in my eyes,” Sweeney told council. “It’s been going on and on and on and no one seems to be paying real attention. From what I see, you’d have to be both blind and totally uneducated to not realize (that’s) what it is,” Sweeney said.
“It happens everywhere,” he continued. “Every nationality, to the Newcomers, to the natives. Everyone. Everyone suffers with this. But not enough is being done instantaneously. Everything is pushed down the
road so that maybe sooner or later we can get to it. Well, we don’t have time for that anymore. Things have to be instantaneous.
There’s gotta be a new way for police to handle these type of scenarios so that it never happens again,” Sweeney continued. “The pain is so overwhelming, I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.”
He recommended all cities and communities across Ontario make similar declarations to pressure the Premier Doug Ford’s government to address the IPV issue head on.
The Ford government doesn’t support the use of the word epidemic as a descriptor for the rising incidents of IPV, saying the word is too closely associated with diseases.
“You gotta remember that they’re supposed to be working for us. Not us begging for them to possibly do something that we want to happen. No, this is going to be an order.”
After Sweeney spoke, Renee Buczel, a longtime friend of Angie, addressed council. Through tears, she said, “I had the pleasure of calling Angie one of my best friends. I could read you a novel about the type of person Angie was.
Angie was the best damn mom. The most loving daughter and sister. She was the type of friend that every girl deserves. She was authentic, genuine and kind. I was blessed to have her by my side the last 20 years, through motherhood, marriage and everything in between.”
On IPV, Buczel said it’s clearly on the rise.
As of September, she said, 46 people in the province have died as the result of intimate partner violence. There were 52 Ontario deaths from IPV last year “and it looks like we’re going to break that record” this year, said Buczel, adding 63 communities and regions in the province have declared IPV an epidemic.
“My question is, why hasn’t all of Ontario and Canada? We are averaging more than one femicide a week in Ontario, and that sounds like an epidemic to me.”
On losing her friend Angie to IPV, Buczel said, “What we’re trying to understand is how does a man, with a history of intimate partner violence, assaulting a police officer and substance abuse, lawfully be allowed to
own a firearm? Furthermore, when a call is received by local authorities of a violent act against a woman, why isn’t more serious action taken?” Buczel suggested a 48-hour mandatory hold, with no access to weapons of any kind, and after the hold, a mandatory check-in with authorities every 24 hours.
“Something needs to change, because we as a community have experienced the horrifying results of nothing being done,” said Buczel, “and it has forever changed the people of Sault Ste. Marie. Our only hope, as family and friends who are painfully grieving the loss of our beloved Angie and three innocent souls, is that this brings about the change that this province and country desperately needs regarding intimate partner violence.”
Jennings, with his fiancee, Michelle, at his side, told council of how he re-connected with his daughter. His first marriage broke up and he and his daughter didn’t see one another for a few years.
“I missed her teenage, formative years,” he said, solemnly. His daughter saw a posting online of his second wife’s passing and reached out to him on Father’s Day, 2022. “She wanted to make things right between us. You can only imagine the joy I felt,” said Jennings.
In September, he met his daughter in Strathroy. He said at the time, she was living with her partner, who was 50, adding he had issues with that, but with re-connecting, he wanted to try to keep an open mind.
Jennings said he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary when he was with the couple, who moved back to London in March of this year. But between March and July of this year, there were seven police visits to their home for violence.
The number one recommendation in the coroner’s report was to formally declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.
“There were times she was living in shelters,” Jennings said. “She didn’t open up to how bad things were, to me. I got text messages from her friends…that ‘you have to get away, this guy is going to end up killing
The police and laws failed my daughter. There’s no reason with that many calls in that short amount of time, and things were let go.” Jennings wants IPV to be a felony in the Criminal Code. “Im not looking for vengeance, I’m looking for justice,” he said. “That’s what Caitlin deserved.”
Coun. Caputo pointed out there were 1,351 calls to Sault Police Services regarding intimate partner violence in the city in 2022. Caputo adds Statistics Canada estimates 80 per cent of IPV incidents go unreported, meaning it’s possible there were close to 6,700 incidents in the city in 2022.
“Angie Sweeney deserved better. Those three innocent children, deserved better. Women in this province, deserve better.”
Caputo says beyond the motion calling IPV an epidemic, she would like Premier Ford to recognize “our community is shattered.” She urged the entire community to call out atrocities against women, girls and gender- diverse people.
“We don’t need a society where we are protected by men. We need a society where we do not require protection from men.”