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B.C. announces measures to reduce domestic violence

VICTORIA, BC (September 5, 2007) - One of the five bodies is removed from the house at 310 King George Terrace in Oak Bay where five people died in a murder/suicide.

Deddeda Stemler/Deddeda Stemler/The Globe and Mail

The British Columbia government has announced a series of initiatives designed to reduce domestic violence today, a response to the mass murder of an Oak Bay family more than two years ago.

B.C. Solicitor-General Kash Heed, who has taken responsibility for domestic-violence policy and programs across government, promised more resources, uniform policies and an expert panel to review homicides due to violence in relationships.

Mr. Heed said his government will:

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* Support the establishment of a domestic violence unit in the Victoria area where the Lee family was killed, with funding for a victim service worker and child services worker who will be dedicated to the unit.

* Appoint a death review panel by mid-March to look at cases between 1995 and 2009. The panel's task will be to provide advice to B.C.'s chief coroner on what can be done to help prevent such deaths in the future.

* Establish a uniform policy for investigations of all instances of domestic violence.

* Take steps to ensure that all reported instances of domestic violence are flagged as such in the provincial police data base so that it is clear to all service providers that the file is a domestic violence case requiring special attention.

* Work to better identify high-risk offenders with a standard checklist of factors such as past violent behaviour and family dynamics that may indicate a suspect is high risk.

As well, a team of senior bureaucrats across government will review how the province handles domestic violence and devise a plan to address the cracks in the system. They have 60 days to report back.

There are an estimated 10,000 domestic-violence complaints made each year in B.C. and, on average, 13 such homicides each year.

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But it took the Peter Lee killings in Oak Bay, a suburb of Victoria, to expose significant gaps in the province's policing, prosecution and child protection services.

Early on Sept. 4, 2007, Mr. Lee broke into the family home and stabbed to death his six-year-old son, Christian Lee; his estranged wife, Sunny Park; her mother, Kum Lea Chun, and her father, Moon Kyu Park. He then killed himself with the same military-style knife.

Ms. Park, who was seeking a divorce following years of physical abuse, had told police just weeks earlier that Mr. Lee had threatened to kill her and the rest of the family. At the time of the murders, he was facing charges following an alleged attempt to kill Ms. Park. A restraining order was supposed to protect her.

A coroner's inquest into those deaths wrapped up last month. The inquest heard there were clear warning signs that Mr. Lee posed a lethal threat, but there was no comprehensive system in place to put the information together and assess the escalating danger once he lost his home, his job and his family.

The coroner's jury recommended a provincewide domestic-violence unit and consistent training in threat assessment across the criminal-justice system to prevent another tragedy on that scale. It will be up to government bureaucrats to evaluate those proposals.

Those bureaucrats will also look at recommendations from the province's representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

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The watchdog investigated Christian Lee's death and produced a scathing report last fall. Ms. Turpel-Lafond concluded the province failed to protect the little boy because of a fractured and incoherent system of support.

"Christian's murder was not inevitable," she said then, noting that the boy had been repeatedly exposed to domestic violence and that his mother had reached out to police, lawyers, social workers and therapists for help.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report was released just as the provincial government was under fire for budget cuts to domestic-violence programs. The government later backed down on some of the cuts but today's announcement is the first visible step toward responding to the watchdog's findings.

In her report, Ms. Turpel-Lafond called for the creation of domestic-violence courts, and consistent training and policies for police, prosecutors and social workers. She has given the government until April 30 to respond.

The death-review panel has been recommended by victims' services organizations in B.C.

The model is based on Ontario, which allows police, lawyers, coroners and academics to come together to identify trends, risks and patterns – with a goal of helping prevent domestic-related killings. The Ontario death-review panel has developed risk-assessment tools to help spot potentially lethal cases of domestic violence before it's too late – a tool that is now being used as a training model for police in B.C.

However, the Ontario coroner's panel produces annual reports and continues to monitor successes and failures. The B.C. panel will look at a set of data already collected by the B.C. Coroners Service.

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