Police still don’t know where a rural Ontario man who murdered three former intimate partners on the same day in 2015 got the gun he used to commit two of the killings, or why he was carrying a firearms licence card in his wallet despite having been banned for life from owning weapons of any kind, an inquest into the triple femicide heard on Thursday.
The man, Basil Borutski, used a shotgun to kill Nathalie Warmerdam and Anastasia Kuzyk. He told police after his arrest that he had found the weapon under the floorboards of a motor home in a junkyard. Mr. Borutski used a cord to strangle his third victim, Carol Culleton.
Sergeant Matt Storey, a firearms officer with the province’s Chief Firearms Office, told the inquest that the elimination of Canada’s long-gun registry in 2011 makes this claim about the gun’s origins impossible to verify. If the registry still existed, he said, investigators might have been able to use it to learn whether a friend had helped Mr. Borutski evade the ban.
All authorities know when it comes to long guns is whether someone is a licence holder or not, Sgt. Storey said. “We don’t know if they have any non-restricted weapons; only restricted or prohibited.”
“You could have 100 firearms that are non-restricted, and we wouldn’t know if you have one or not.”
Canada’s long-gun registry was introduced in 1995 by Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, and scrapped by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The current Liberal government recently introduced gun-control legislation that wouldn’t revive the registry, but would freeze the import, sale and transfer of handguns. It would also allow for the automatic removal of gun licences from people who have committed domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking.
Even before the killings, Mr. Borutski – who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 2017 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder – had a long criminal history of intimate partner violence. He had several flags on his police file, and multiple police assessments had deemed him high risk.
The inquest has heard several anecdotes about him and guns.
An Ontario Provincial Police officer testified on Wednesday that, in 2012, police were obligated to return guns they had previously seized from Mr. Borutski, after charges against him were stayed. When he went to an OPP station to retrieve those guns – which included rifles, a shotgun, a compound bow and a crossbow – officers were worried enough to pull aside Ms. Warmerdam, who had accompanied him, to share their concerns.
After he was charged later that same year with assaulting Ms. Warmerdam, he was put under a 10-year weapons prohibition. In 2014, after he was charged with assaulting Ms. Kuzyk, police found a crossbow hanging on his living room wall that contravened that prohibition order. After his conviction in that case, his prohibition order was made permanent.
Even after the ban, the inquest heard on Thursday, Mr. Borutski somehow managed to keep his Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) card, which appeared valid and might have enabled him to buy a gun.
Prabhu Rajan, chief counsel to the Chief Coroner for Ontario, asked Sgt. Storey if it would be helpful in cases like these if the Chief Firearms Office were staffed 24 hours a day. (The office phone line, which people can call with concerns about gun licence holders, is only staffed during business hours.) Sgt. Storey agreed that such a change would be worthwhile, and that it would be helpful for the province to draft standardized policies for intimate partner violence cases, which it does not currently have.
Ms. Warmerdam’s daughter Valerie, who has legal standing in the inquest that allows her to question witnesses, asked Sgt. Storey to clarify whether a PAL holder has the right to a firearm in Canada.
“It’s not a right,” he said. “It’s completely a privilege in Canada, and that privilege can be reviewed like anything – like a driver’s licence.”
The inquest has heard that Ms. Warmerdam was so afraid of Mr. Borutski after he was released from custody in late 2014 that she slept with a shotgun in her bedroom, and a personal alarm on the pillow next to her.
The alarm was found in her house after she was killed.
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