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B.C. panel reviewing domestic-violence deaths calls for more support for victims

VICTORIA — A panel that examined 100 domestic-violence deaths in British Columbia says few victims tell anyone what's happening in their lives before they're killed, and even professionals may not know how to help people.

The group of experts ranging from police and a former judge to agencies involved in family services and aboriginal health looked at 75 separate incidents between 2010 and 2015.

Its three recommendations are contained in a report released Wednesday by the BC Coroners Service.

The report said the overwhelming burden of intimate-partner violence is borne by women, mostly between the ages of 20 and 59, and that their children may endure lifelong consequences from exposure to family violence.

The report cited three examples of actual intimate-partner deaths representing many of the circumstances involved in similar fatalities.

In one case, a woman who had been in a common-law relationship for 20 years was killed as a result of blunt-force trauma.

"One month before her death, steps were being taken to dissolve the relationship, including division of common assets," the report said. "During this time, the deceased was physically assaulted for the first time by her partner. Police were not contacted."

A legal advocacy office provided her with information including pamphlets about women's rights, spousal support, ending a relationship and available shelters, the report said.

"It does not appear that the deceased attempted to contact any of the services prior to her death, and there was no evidence of a risk assessment or safety planning."

In a second case, the report identified a lack of disclosure about domestic abuse suffered by a woman who, along with her common-law spouse, had used drugs and had mental-health concerns.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development was involved, but there was no indication of any violence between the couple, who had two kids and whose file had been closed several months before the woman was shot by her partner, who then killed himself.

A third case involved a woman who was experiencing anxiety and told a mental-health specialist that her husband was very abusive and controlling. He was then charged and had a no-contact condition as part of his probation.

The couple separated but family members pressured the woman, who spoke very little English, to reconcile with her spouse, the report said.

"The deceased did mention to her mental-health specialist six months before her death that she was worried because she did not have family nearby or support from the community."

The couple with one child had resumed living together when the woman was killed, and her spouse took his own life.

"It is unknown if any of the contacts with service providers resulted in the completion of a risk assessment or safety plan."

The death-review panel called for more public awareness about intimate-partner violence, saying the provincial office of domestic violence must partner with other agencies to increase referrals to community services.

It also recommended a review by the Justice Ministry to determine the merits of early case management by a single judge in family and criminal cases.

The panel said the domestic violence office should also enhance access to data so it can be shared between service agencies to support victims and their children.

Stephanie Cadieux, minister of children and family development, said she accepted the panel's recommendations, adding there are nine domestic-violence units in police departments across the province to better respond to victims of abuse.

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