A strategy that works

In September 2003, an enraged Josif Fekete gunned down his wife, Blagica, and their three-year-old son, Alex, in a Red Deer apartment building, before turning the shotgun on himself.

In September 2003, an enraged Josif Fekete gunned down his wife, Blagica, and their three-year-old son, Alex, in a Red Deer apartment building, before turning the shotgun on himself.

The tragedy horrified the community, but served has a stark reminder that the city is not immune to the worst kind of domestic violence.

It was as an eye-opener and Red Deer rallied to address family violence through proactive programs.

But overall in Canada, while many may think the battle against spousal abuse has gained ground, a recent report begs to differ.

A major federal investigation in 2009 said spousal violence in Canada cost society $7.4 billion, for the thousands of incidents that occurred in that year alone. And the problem is far from being addressed adequately.

The 145-page report completed this fall and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act said nearly 50,000 cases of spousal violence were reported on the police data base that year. Eighty per cent involved women; there were 65 spousal homicides — 49 of them women. The definition of spouse included married, common-law, separated, same-sex and divorced partners.

The study shows, said Vancouver academic Colleen Varcoe, that violence against women remains far too prevalent in Canada.

“There’s this ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ kind of ethos in Canada. . . . Where people have a sense that perhaps violence is lessening, perhaps it’s less of a problem, perhaps women have greater equality, and that translates into less violence,” said Varcoe. “There simply isn’t any evidence of that.”

Varcoe was lead researcher for a 2011 study that examined in detail the costs associated with a sample of 309 women who left abusive partners.

(In all fairness, however, the federal study also looked at men suffering at the hands of an abusive spouse. In those cases, it cost taxpayers $2.6 billion of the $7.4 billion total.)

“Spousal violence is a widespread and unfortunate social reality that has an effect on all Canadians,” the report stated.

“Victims of spousal abuse are susceptible to sustaining costly and long-lasting physical, emotional and financial costs. Every member of society eventually feels the impact. . . . Through the additional financial strain imposed on publicly-funded systems and services.”

A spokesperson for Justice Canada said the study “was designed to fill a knowledge gap in Canada and raise awareness and understanding on the impact of spousal violence among the public and professionals in the criminal justice, health and social services sectors, among others.”

Closer to home, an unrelated study says Alberta has an unenviable record of having the fifth highest rate of police-reported intimate partner violence and the second highest rate of self-reported spousal violence in Canada.

To that end, Red Deer deserves applause for recognizing the problem and taking action through education.

After the Fekete murder-suicide, a local domestic crime unit was established. The RCMP and the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter now work as a team under the project. A social worker from the shelter works alongside the police in dealing with spousal abuse cases — a first for Red Deer.

“In this partnership with Red Deer City RCMP, they’ve really become sensitive to the needs of the victims and we as the shelter have really become sensitive to the legal issues and the investigative issues police face,” said Ian Wheeliker, executive director of the shelter.

CAWES has also launched a unique project encouraging men to get involved against spousal violence. The shelter held an event in November called Breakfast with the Guys.

“We’re hoping men who care about this (violence), that men who have daughters, sisters, mother and wives will come out and say it’s time to step up to the plate and take a stand,” said Wheeliker.

Family violence is a community concern. A combined effort, as Red Deer has shown, is a positive step in addressing those shocking federal statistics.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.