More women are strangled, attacked with weapons in domestic violence, Peel police say. ‘Something has changed’

Peel Regional Police are reporting an increase in the number of women who are strangled and attacked with weapons by their intimate partners, offenses they say are often predecessors of even more violent behavior.

Peel police deputy chief Nick Milinovich says the rise in those charges “informs us that something has changed,” suggesting the pandemic, and the financial, social and mental stress caused by months in confinement, played a role.

“It’s entirely possible, the pressures and the forced isolation create a scenario where people react more violently,” Milinovich said, adding that there are a host of factors for the rise in allegations including a recent change in how investigations are conducted.

Between January and September, there were 395 cases of assault causing bodily injury and assault done with a weapon, compared to 283 during the same period in 2020 and 285 the year before.

“Injuries are sustained and they are more than transient injuries,” Milinovich said.

Over the same time frame, this year, police placed 295 intimate partner attacks where strangulation was involved, compared to 252 such offenses at the same time last year.

Choking, suffocation or strangulation were added as a subfield to attacks causing bodily harm under legislated changes that took effect in September 2019.

“We identify those offenses, more often, because people are more comfortable providing us with that information,” Milinovich added, highlighting the efforts of its new intimate partner violence unit launched this year.

Milinovich said frequent acts of strangulation or use of a weapon in domestic attacks correlate with continued escalation to even more violent behavior.

This escalation was evident in a 2018 report of domestic violence deaths by the office of Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist. Of 470 deaths across Ontario between 2003 and 2018, the review found that 71 per cent of cases had a history of domestic violence.

The forensic pathologist’s review shows that in 67 percent of the cases, the couple had an actual or expected separation.

Milinovich added that the increase in cases in 2021 comes after 18 intimate partner murders since 2018, where women were the victims.

Those cases included the Brampton murders of Baljit Thandi, 32, and her 60-year-old mother, Avtar Kaur, at the hands of Thandi’s husband, Dalwinder Singh, in January 2018.

Singh was accused of assaulting his wife the previous summer. At that time, Singh was ordered by the courts to stay away from the marriage residence and not communicating with his wife.

On October 15, Singh was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of probation for 25 years.

Milinovich said offenders keep in touch with an abused wife and in some cases attacking them again is not uncommon. In April, Peel police partnered with Peel area social service providers to form a new unit intended to combat those fault lines.

He said the intimate partner violence (IPV) unit is better able to keep an eye on those accused of assaulting a partner who have been released on bail.

According to Peel Regional Police, the number of calls to police related to intimate partner violence rose from 5,107 in 2014 to 10,818 in 2019. There were 10,495 calls to police in 2020, and five of the region’s 16 homicides were linked to intimate partner violence.

Sharon Mayne Devine, CEO of Catholic Family Services Peel-Dufferin and head of Peel’s Brampton-based Security Center, where the IPV unit is now housed, says “experiencing strangulation as part of the attack highly correlates with death at some point in the future. ”

Devine says she felt a “heartache” for Thandi and Kaur when she heard about the murder of the mother and daughter the day after it happened.

“The system failed that mother and daughter,” Devine told the Star recently. “We have to do better.”

She said that case sparked a sense of urgency and planted the early seeds of the IPV partnership with Peel police.

Although Singh was banned from their homes and communicating with his wife, the court heard how Thandi succumbed to family pressure to take him back into the home despite the court.

“We have a problem with viewers in our community,” Devine said. “Her family members pressured her to take him back.”

Milinovich said the IPV unit is working to counter such pressures. After a specialized investigator from the approximately 50-officer unit puts intimate partner charges, officers from the unit make reference to a social services provider to “hopefully counteract issues like family pressure (on a victim) to take a defendant back.”

Having cases of violence from intimate partners centrally managed by the unit allows for earlier detection of risk factors, he said, because “there are more services available and they are more coordinated.”

Police have also stepped up reach in other languages, such as Punjabi, Urdu, Mandarin and Arabic.

There has also been an increase in the number of women seeking services since the IPV unit was launched. Between April and August, there were about 780 referrals per service, compared to 73 during the same time frame in 2020 and 157 in 2019.

Devine attributes some of that increase to women feeling more comfortable seeking help from police in an environment where providers are literally a few steps away.

On average, about 500 women use the Security Center each year.

“We’re on track to look at nearly tripling our numbers if the trends continue,” she said.

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. Get it by email: jasonmiller@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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