When a woman is stabbed repeatedly, doused with a flammable liquid and set aflame, allegedly by a former intimate partner who had been in the hands of the justice system and set free, it is not a time to throw up our hands and say nothing can be done. If we have learned anything from such horrors, it is that they are preventable.
Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, a 30-year-old charged with first-degree murder in the death of Bridget Takyi, 27, of Toronto, should be presumed innocent. But it is important to ask questions while the memory is fresh. It is important to express outrage at yet another brutal death that didn’t need to happen.
How is it that Mr. Owusu-Ansah was free on bail when he was accused of killing Ms. Takyi, a mother of two? On Dec. 5, he was accused of committing a great deal of violence against her. There were three counts of assault. There were two counts of assault with a weapon. There were another two counts of possessing a weapon dangerous to the public peace. And there was a single count of threatening death.
What sort of risk assessment was done before he was granted bail? He was out on house arrest – a strange compromise in a case that would have raised red flags. A bail condition is not punishment; it’s meant to ensure that the public is safe and that the accused person shows up for trial. House arrest as a bail condition suggests that the court recognized a risk. (The judge’s reasons for granting bail in this case are covered by a publication ban.) Is house arrest the court’s attempt at wishful thinking in such situations?
This chain of events calls to mind the justice system’s failure in British Columbia in 2007 to prevent Peter Lee from stabbing to death his son, his wife, her mother and her father before killing himself. The police told the Crown he was a bad risk for bail; the Crown didn’t seek to deny him bail, and said later the police offered a weak case to deny bail. The province later accepted an inquest’s recommendation to improve risk assessment for the police and Crown attorneys.
Faced with repeated acts of alleged violence, including the use of a weapon and a threat of death, the justice system in Toronto failed to protect a young mother of two small children from a horrific death. We need to know why.
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