A modified version of this text was published in the NB Telegraph Journal of Sept. 26, 2014 (without the list of murderers and victims).
We think that much has changed for battered women – and it’s true that doctors and most clergy will no longer tell her to go back home and try harder to be a good wife, and police will not rebuff her by saying her assault is a private matter. And yes, some victims can now find a refuge to run to.
But that is far from the feminist dream of ending violence. We don’t end anything by merely helping victims. Sometimes we perpetuate.
There is even a type of violence against women that remains a private matter. Murder-suicides.
New Brunswick has the worst rate of murder-suicides in Canada. If you did not know that, it’s not surprising. To know that, you would have to read news briefs, where you regularly learn that another man shot his partner – the most frequent scenario – then killed himself. Police announce they are investigating two deaths (unless there were also children killed) and that they are not looking for any suspects. A few days later, police confirm, following the autopsy, that it was a murder-suicide and that, at the request of the family, other details – names, who killed whom, history, etc. – will not be made public. Those grieving families deserve our consideration, but this is not a private crime. Public interest requires that we know that it happened, or else no one will care, no one will be outraged, nothing will change. It also requires that we know what happened in order to avoid future cases, especially if you have the worst rate of murder-suicides in the country.
There was a time when families did not want the battered wife and mother to lay a complaint. Eventually, we realized that it was in everyone’s interest, especially wives’ and mothers’, to treat assault of women as a crime.
If they could, would victims of murder-suicides say something different than grieving families say?
When a spousal murder is not followed by a suicide, we don’t worry about the fact some grieving families don’t like to see their issues in the media, because we still have to concern ourselves with justice and the public interest.
Setting aside the long list of women in New Brunswick killed by a partner who doesn’t then commit suicide, let us limit ourselves to murder-suicides in New Brunswick since 2010.
The Colfords of Doaktown, 68 and 62 years, this summer’s murder-suicide. The Leclairs of Kedgwick, 65 and 64 years, dead after he shot her then killed himself. The Haché couple of Caraquet, 62 and 65 years, dead as a result of a murder-suicide. The Moreaus of Sainte Anne du Madawaska, 63 and 64 years, dead in the same way. The Guitards of Charlo, 51 and 59 years, dead in the same way. The Tozers of Cassilis, 75 and 73 years, dead in the same way. Mr. Michaud of Saint-André, 70 years, who shot his wife then himself. Ms. Wylie of Moncton killed by a partner whose name was never given because “he then killed himself”. The woman from Clifton killed by a male friend who then killed himself. The Sharpes of Fredericton, 38 and 47 years, killed by his hand.
Worse yet is the fact that everything works to let these killings continue: the police and the coroner are silent, the media considers these cases as so ordinary that there’s nothing to report, even when we have record numbers. A perfect closed circle.
The killer has found a way to kill and keep it all quiet – commit suicide after.
In 2009, the provincial government set up a domestic violence death review committee to review the circumstances related to deaths in New Brunswick where domestic violence was involved. In 2013, three years after its formation, it released a disappointing report on domestic homicides in New Brunswick between 1998 and 2008. Since then, nothing.
That report said that better data needed to be collected. Everyone already knew that. But we also know that the files contain data about the sex of the victims and the criminal, and whether law enforcement knew whether there was violence and guns in the household. Yet this was not part of the report. As columnist Jody Dallaire said at the time, “If there is one topic where gender-based analysis is warranted, this is it. … The great majority of these cases are male violence against women and the dynamics of male and female status and relationships is relevant. If we can’t say that, if we are trying to gloss over that and call it “domestic homicides”, then are we really “studying the issue”, or “domesticating” it?”
I feel we are complicit because we let the murderer get away with hiding misdeeds. We are not addressing the continued violence against women. In any case, it is irresponsible not to take these murders seriously.