Backgrounder: Annual Report of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee 2010
The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) is a multi-disciplinary advisory committee of experts established in 2003 in response to recommendations stemming from inquests into the domestic homicides of Arlene May and Gillian Hadley, whose intimate partners subsequently committed suicide. Since its inception, the DVDRC has reviewed 111 cases that involved a total of 178 deaths.
The mandate of the DVDRC is to assist the Office of the Chief Coroner with the investigation and review of deaths involving domestic violence with a view to making recommendations aimed at preventing deaths in similar circumstances and reducing domestic violence in general.
Each year, the DVDRC releases an annual report that includes summaries of the cases reviewed, recommendations, general statistical analysis and the identification of trends and themes.
All domestic homicides in Ontario are reviewed by the DVDRC
The DVDRC reviews all domestic homicides and domestic homicide-suicides that take place in Ontario with a view to developing a comprehensive understanding of why domestic homicides occur and how they might be prevented. This is achieved by a thorough and detailed examination and analysis of the facts of individual cases. When necessary, the DVDRC develops recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.
There are approximately 20-30 domestic violence related homicides in Ontario each year, and it is the policy of the Office of the Chief Coroner to have all domestic violence deaths reviewed by the DVDRC.
Within the context of the DVDRC, domestic violence deaths are defined as "all homicides that involve the death of a person, and/or his/her child(ren) committed by the person's partner or ex-partner from an intimate relationship."
Recommendations from the DVDRC
One of the primary goals of the DVDRC is to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths in similar circumstances and reducing domestic violence in general.
Similar to recommendations generated through coroners inquests, the recommendations developed by the DVDRC are not legally binding and there is no obligation for agencies and organizations to implement or respond to them. However, most organizations and agencies asked to respond to recommendations from the DVDRC do so within a year of release of the review.
Scope of DVDRC Reviews
A DVDRC review involves:
- gathering information about the history, circumstances and conduct of the perpetrators, the victims and their families
- examining community and systemic responses
- determining primary risk factors and possible points of intervention that could assist with the prevention of similar deaths in the future
- identifying general trends and themes.
Limitation of DVDC Reviews
All information obtained as a result of a coroners' investigation and provided to the DVDRC is subject to confidentiality and privacy limitations imposed by the Coroners Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Individual reports, as well as other documents or reports produced by (and for) the DVDRC remain private and protected and will not be released publicly. Statistics of a general nature (i.e. without identifying factors), are collected, analyzed and reported publicly in the Annual Report of the DVDRC.
The DVDRC 2010 Annual Report contains redacted and condensed versions of the individual reviews conducted within the given year. The summaries contained within the annual report contain sufficient detail to identify significant issues, trends and themes, without contravening privacy restrictions.
Reviews conducted by the DVDRC are generally not commenced until all other investigations and proceedings - in particular criminal trials - have been completed. As such, DVDRC reviews often take place several years after the actual incident.
Summary of cases reviewed in 2010
Eighteen cases involving 36 deaths were reviewed by the DVDRC in 2010. Twenty-four of the deaths were victims of homicides and 12 of the deaths were suicides by the perpetrators.
More than half of the cases involved couples that were legally married and in a relationship for over 10 years. Half of the couples had children in common.
The DVDRC considers a death predictable, and potentially preventable, if there are seven or more risk factors present in a relationship. Of the cases reviewed in 2010, 61% had seven or more risk factors. The top risk factors were actual or pending separation, history of domestic violence, obsessive behaviour by the perpetrator and a perpetrator that was identified as being depressed.
Fourteen new recommendations towards the prevention of future deaths were made. The majority of recommendations are aimed at educating professionals and the general public on specific issues such as how victims can separate safely; the increased danger with perpetrators that have substance abuse issues and a history of domestic violence; and awareness around firearms in the home, particularly when there is the presence of depression and/or a pending or actual separation.
In addition, the committee chose to highlight three themes of interest that emerged from the death reviews: domestic violence and its impact on the workplace, the utilization of information and communication technologies to harass or stalk victims of domestic violence, and increased risks to victims while separating or ending a relationship.