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Police search a taxi in Montreal where a man and woman were found dead on Friday, March 19, 2021.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Groups that help victims of domestic violence expressed concern Saturday about a recent spate of femicides in Quebec that they say could be a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocates have identified at least a half-dozen cases so far this year, an alarming number given Quebec usually counts about 12 such slayings each calendar year.

On Saturday, Montreal police confirmed two people found dead in a taxi cab in the northeastern borough of St-Leonard on Friday was a murder-suicide linked to conjugal violence.

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Police said autopsies and more work needs to be done to fully understand the circumstances of the slaying. Investigators believe a 52-year-old man stabbed his 40-year-old spouse before taking his own life.

Those who work in the field said the situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sadly, I’d predicted in February when it started that we would see an increase in femicides in the context of conjugal violence. It was foreseeable,” said Manon Monastesse of Quebec’s Federation of Women’s Shelters.

“During the pandemic, it has permitted for violent partners to have full control as everyone was confined,” she said, adding that this coincided with fewer women seeking support from shelters.

Claudine Thibaudeau, a social worker with at SOS Violence conjugale, a bilingual referral and emergency helpline, said as perpetrators gained more control, some victims put off breakups.

She fears an escalation as workplaces begin to reopen, a fear that Monastesse echoed as abusers could lash out to reassert that control.

“We’re very worried because it’s only March,” Monastesse said.

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In December, Quebec announced an action plan to fight domestic violence, but advocates are asking the government to strengthen supports and accommodations like shelters for victims fleeing abuse.

Monastesse said another thing that works is having male allies speak out to send “a clear message that for them, violence against women is also unacceptable.”

She said men are more likely to listen to other men, and if allies have women facing abuse in their entourage, to make it clear to abusers it’s not acceptable.

Earlier this month, Premier Francois Legault spoke out against men after the slayings of two women in Ste-Sophie, in the Laurentians region northwest of Montreal.

“I want to talk to men, man to man, there is nothing masculine, there is nothing manly in being violent with a woman,” Legault said. “On the contrary, I find it cowardly.”

According to a report published this week by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability at the University of Guelph, 160 women and girls were killed by violence in Canada in 2020 and in 90 per cent of cases, it was a male accused.

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But the report said understanding the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders of those numbers will require an assessment of long-term trends.

In another incident, Montreal police were investigating another suspected case of domestic violence Saturday in the Montreal borough of LaSalle that left a 29-year-old woman in hospital in critical condition.

Police say her 32-year-old boyfriend was arrested after police responded to a 911 call at about 6:50 a.m.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante condemned the two cases of gender-motivated violence in the past two days in her city.

“It has to stop. This violence against women is unacceptable,” Plante wrote on Twitter.

Also Saturday, Isabelle Charest, Quebec’s minister responsible for the status of women, reacted to the latest cases, calling the unacceptable, tragic and worrying, while urging women to seek help when needed.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2021.

With files from Michel Saba in Montreal.

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