On September 22, 2015, a gunman went on a rampage and killed three women—Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, and Carol Culleton, 66—in Wilno, Ontario, a rural community in the Ottawa Valley.
It was the worst-ever case of intimate-partner violence in Ontario, and one of the worst in Canadian history.
This week, the pre-trial began for suspect Basil Borutski, 59, who is facing three counts of first-degree murder. Currently, Borutski has no attorney; his proceedings were moved to Ottawa to ensure that he receives a "fair trial."
Both Kuzyk and Warmerdam had been in relationships with Borutski and Culleton knew him as well. All three victims were killed in separate locations, roughly 25 kilometres from each other. In Wilno the ripple effects of the tragedy remain.
Advocates working on the ground in the community have told VICE the case hasn't received the kind of public response they think it deserves, something they say isn't out of character for situations allegedly involving domestic violence. And they believe there are lessons to be learned from the Wilno murders that show these women's deaths could have been prevented by a system that failed.
Borutski is a known abuser of women. His ex-wife accused him of domestic assault—and during their divorce their daughters described him "violent, easily agitated and tyrannical toward his family members." A judge overseeing their divorce described their relationship as "wretched." Months before the Wilno murders he had been released from jail on an assault conviction against Kuzyk. According to CBC News, he was meant to serve 17 months but ended up being released after five. He was under a lifetime weapons ban. Upon release, he reportedly refused to sign an order barring him from contacting Kuzyk, but was still let go.
He was also accused of assaulting Warmerdam. Because of him, Warmerdam carried with her a personal alarm and tracking device that connected her directly to police, her son told the Ottawa Citizen.
"These women didn't have to die," said Julie Lalonde, an Ottawa-based sexual violence educator who was coincidentally in Wilno the day the shootings took place. "If someone is refusing (to sign) a no communicate order, that's obviously a sign that that person is of a high risk."
A fifth estate investigation also found that Borutski drove despite being ordered to give up his license (he allegedly borrowed a car to carry out the shootings) and that after a prior jail stint involving abuse against Warmerdam, he didn't show up for probation-mandated anger management classes. In other words—he was openly flouting his probation conditions.
Lalonde said the fact that these red flags went unnoticed—and that Borutski was allegedly able to get his hands on a gun—point to "huge systemic problems" that would be easy to fix.
JoAnne Brooks, director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, which covers Wilno, told VICE that Kuzyk and Warmerdam would have had the opportunity to create safety plans regarding Borutski because they reported him for abuse. But, she said, those plans are difficult to uphold when something like this happens.
"Someone chooses to come to your property and kill you."
In Canada, a woman is killed due to intimate partner violence once every six days. Other high profile cases in which there were warning signs include the murder of Dr. Elana Fric, who was allegedly killed by her husband after she filed for divorce.
Brooks said there are particular risks in rural communities, where it may take cops a long time to reach and neighbours tend to be spread out. She said the Wilno murders have driven that point home.
"I think all women are impacted in the way that they know the potential is they can be murdered in their own communities and nothing can really help."
Lalonde told VICE she doesn't think the average person realizes that domestic violence can be lethal.
"The idea that women whose husbands slap them around live in fear that they're going to be murdered—I don't think that's taken seriously. I think people think that's very, very rare," she said.
Both women pointed out that politically, condemnation of the murders on a local, provincial, and federal level, has been absent.
"I think by ignoring that or not drawing attention to that, I think it's a missed opportunity to educate the public about violence against women," said Brooks. "If a police officer was gunned down in Renfrew County, I think there would be a lot more (of a) response by public officials."
From prison, Borutski told CBC he thinks there should be an investigation as to why cops didn't protect his "rights as a human being." "Maybe then we can get to the point of why I'm frustrated and why all of this happened."
His trial will begin in September.
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