In the seven years since a man with a history of violence against women murdered three women — his former partners Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, and a woman who rejected him, Carol Culleton — in one day in rural Eastern Ontario, more than 280 women have been killed by their intimate partners in Canada.

In just the last three weeks, during which a landmark inquest considered what could have prevented the triple-murder and future murders, two more Toronto-area women were killed and their former intimate partners charged.

Henrietta Viski, a 37-year-old mother of three, was allegedly set on fire by her former spouse after he repeatedly threatened to kill her and breached court orders not to contact her.

Vanessa Virgioni, a 28-year-old mother of a seven-year-old boy, was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, who was convicted of assaulting her in 2019.

“It is overwhelmingly sad. We have a lot of work to do,” said Pamela Cross, legal director at Luke’s Place, a Durham-based organization that provides family law support for abused women. “That means all of the systems, but also we as a society and as a community.”

The inquest into the Renfrew County triple murder has heard about the many system failures that preceded Basil Borutski’s killing spree on Sept. 22, 2015, including that he could have been far more carefully supervised by probation officers, and held accountable for failing to comply with probation conditions.

By the time he was first convicted of assaulting Warmerdam in 2012, Borutski had faced several intimate-partner violence charges involving his now ex-wife, who was not part of the inquest, but all were dropped.

He once told Warmerdam that if his ex-wife sent him to jail, “all I’ll be thinking about is killing my ex-wife. When I get out, I’ll kill her and go back to jail but that will be OK because justice will have been done.”

He was convicted in 2014 for assaulting Kuzyk but defied several orders to attend a partner assault response program without any reprimand or being charged for breaching a court order. An expert witness told the jury that failing to hold an abuser accountable for breaching with court conditions can embolden him to continue doing so or escalate his behaviour.

Shortly before Borutski was released from custody in 2014, a rehabilitation officer at the jail emailed the probation service to say they believed his victims were at risk.

“It has been my experience with abusers such as this one … that he will not comply at all. You will have to breach, breach, breach and breach him forever,” the email said, according to a CBC news report.

In a shocking oversight, while Borutski was banned from being in the vicinity of Warmerdam — who lived in fear of him — the partner assault response program he was required to attend was located across the street where she worked.

In 2013, a court and his probation officer allowed Borutski to move 21 kilometres away from Warmerdam over the protests of the local police, prosecutors and victim support services.

And while the three women said he became violent when drunk, he was not referred for substance-abuse counselling and his probation officer “missed numerous opportunities to engage (him) in motivational and counselling discussions,” said an internal review of the probation response filed at the inquest.

Though he was considered a high-risk to reoffend by 2015, there was a drop in contact with his probation officer preceding the murders, CBC reported the inquest heard. At the time, unbeknownst to authorities, he was harassing Culleton who had repeatedly asked him to stop contacting her.

“When everything is considered in its entirety, such as the extreme number of withdrawn or stayed charges for violent related offences, the escalating pattern of domestic violence, his efforts to deny any wrongdoing and minimize his own responsibility along with his continued blaming of the victims and his clear disdain for the criminal justice system and his attempts to manipulate, it would have been reasonable to have him considered as a potential Intensive Supervision Offender,” the probation review report said.

On Sept. 22, 2015, Borutski first strangled 66-year-old Culleton to death at her cottage. He then stole her car and drove to 36-year-old Kuzyk’s house, where he shot her to death as her sister ran for her life. From there, Borutski drove to 48-year-old Warmerdam’s home and shot her to death as her son fled.

In 2017, Borutski, then 60, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder.

The inquest heard about the specific challenges faced by domestic violence survivors in rural areas like Renfrew County, northwest of Ottawa, including a lack of privacy in a small community, limited transport options, limited services and the prevalence of guns.

Borutski had threatened his ex-wife with a gun before and had been banned from having a gun in 2012 but still had a shotgun that he used in the murders — one of his brothers told police many people hid guns away rather than registering them, in case guns were taken away in the future, according to a detailed case review prepared for the inquest.

Research shows that domestic homicides involving a firearm are twice as common in rural communities compared to urban areas, the inquest heard.

The inquest also heard that police were unable to find out where the shotgun came from because of the destruction of the federal long-gun registry, and that there continues to be a gap in tracking guns and in ensuring people with a history of domestic violence do not have access to firearms.

On Friday, the jury of five community members was presented with 72 suggested recommendations developed by some or all of the parties: the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, Warmerdam’s daughter Valerie on behalf of the victims, End Violence Against Women Renfrew County and the Ontario government.

Any recommendations settled on by the jurors, likely next week, are non-binding and the process does not hold any person or agency responsible for any failures.

In her closing comments to the jury, Valerie Warmerdam stressed it is important to intervene early and provide rehabilitation options to end patterns of violence. She pointed to recommendations that include a 24-7 hotline for men who need support to prevent them from engaging in violence and funding a variety of perpetrator-targeted services that don’t require the justice system to be involved.

“Building circles of accountability and support around these perpetrators is very important. If they feel isolated, that can be a destabilizing factor,” she said. “They need a community holding them accountable.”

Some of the other key proposed recommendations include:

  • Commit to funding adequate and stable funding for all organizations providing intimate partner violence support services.
  • Create an emergency fund, such as the “She C.A.N. Fund” in honour of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, to support women living with intimate partner violence who are taking steps to seek safety. The fund could be used for small grants of up to $7000.
  • Use and build on education programs in schools and post-secondary institutions to include violence prevention, recognizing healthy and abusive relationships, identifying subtle indicators of coercive control, understanding risk factors (such as stalking, fear, strangulation, threats to kill), managing and processing feelings, dispute resolution, community and bystander obligations, the need for safety planning and risk management, and the unique experiences in rural and urban settings.
  • Provide training for justice system personnel on intimate-partner related issues and have training that happen together across sectors rather than in siloes.
  • Minimize destabilizing factors for perpetrators that increase risk, and barriers for survivors to leave violence. Specific consideration should be given to financial instability, housing insecurity, and mental health issues.
  • Expand cell service and high-speed internet in rural and remote areas of Ontario to improve safety and access to services.
  • Ensure existing policy and guidelines require probation officers to follow through on enforcement of non-compliance.
  • Study the best approach for permitting disclosure of information about a perpetrator’s history of intimate partner violence and the potential risk to new and future partners who request such information including legislation like Clare’s Law.
  • Require all police services to immediately inform the Chief Firearms Officer of intimate partner violence related charges after they are laid, and provide any relevant records.
  • Review policies on dissemination of information, including the use of emergency alerts and media releases, where the police are aware of circumstances that could put the public in danger.
  • Run public education campaigns that include rural contexts and prompting men to seek help to address their own abusive behaviours.
  • Establish an independent Intimate Partner Violence Commission that would act as a voice for survivors and victims’ families and ensure transparency and accountability of efforts by the government and others.
  • Reconvening in a year to hear the progress that has been made.

With files from The Canadian Press

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati