The Ontario Correctional Service says the high-risk abuser of intimate partners, who overturned his probation and went on to murder two former partners and a stalking victim, should have been considered for more intensive supervision.
James Pearson, a quality assurance manager on probation, admitted Thursday while cross-examining during his third day of testimony at a coroner’s inquiry investigating the killings of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam.
On September 22, 2015, a man with a known history of gender-based violence murdered all three women in and around Renfrew County after repeatedly fails to participate in a program designed to treat an intimate partnerbusere.
Basil Borutski was convicted of three counts of murder in a jury trial and is in jail.
Jury members who hear from experts and first-hand witnesses in the case are tasked with recommending changes to policies and protocols to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural areas.
On Thursday, Kirsten Mercer, the attorney for End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, a local coalition that questions witnesses in the investigation, grilled Pearson at length about the Department of Corrections’ handling of the case. Pearson was not directly involved, but reviewed case files.
Mercer withdrew from an internal probation review written just over a month after the murders were entered into the investigation protocol.
It found that probation officers missed opportunities to reprimand and more closely monitor Borutski, including gathering more information about him from other contacts, such as victims.
There’s a hole there.– James Pearson, quality assurance employee during the probationary period
The report said that given his violent history – including convictions for threats against Warmerdam’s son and brutal beatings on Kuzyk – and his continued denial of responsibility, “it would have been fair to have him considered a potential intensive surveillance criminal.”
“I agree, yes,” Pearson said when asked if he agreed.
Mercer also referred an email from December 2014 from an institutional detainee to the probation service. It was sent shortly before Borutski was to be released from prison following his sentence for assaulting Kuzyk.
“It is my opinion that the victims are in danger from this person,” the officer wrote, according to the information read aloud by Mercer. “It’s been my experience with addicts like this … that he will not comply at all. You’ll have to break, break, break and break him forever.”
“If you got that kind of email from someone who had had some contact with the perpetrator while he was in jail,” Mercer then told Pearson, “it would give your assessment of how to treat him when he start wiggling demands? “
I think we have admitted that we would have liked to have seen further guidance, further enforcement protocols in place.– James Pearson, quality assurance employee during the probationary period
“I think it would, yes,” Pearson replied.
He said he did not know why the probation officers involved in the case did not testify at the inquest.
A ‘hole’ in enforcement
At one point in his cross-examination, Mercer focused on the seven-month period from February 2015 – where Borutski was considered a high risk of committing violence in intimate partnership – and the killings.
This was the period when he pursued Culleton without the police knowing.
That was also when he continued to make excuses for not participating in a court-mandated program that dealt with men abusing their partners. He had originally been ordered to do so more than two years earlier.
The investigation has heard that probation officers encouraged him to attend, but never charged him with violating the terms of his probation, prompting Mercer to ask why no more enforcement action was taken.
“In this case, I think we have admitted that we would have liked to have seen further guidelines given, additional enforcement protocols put in place as it pertains to the perpetrator’s presence. There is a gap there,” Pearson said.
Not so subtle signs of danger ignored, lawyer says
The internal penitentiary review concluded that if the penitentiary officers had collected more security information about Borutski from personal contacts and police, “subtle indications of deviation … could have been made clearer.”
But the signs were anything but subtle, Mercer told Pearson.
“Much of it was not,” Pearson agreed.
Mercer pointed to one of Borutski’s first encounters with a detective in January 2013, when he was released from prison following his Warmerdam conviction. He was ordered to stay away from her upon release.
“He’s talking about how he has the right to show up … on the edge of her property and hang out there,” Mercer said, again referring to notes in the case.
Victims expressing concern would be a red flag, yes.– James Pearson, quality assurance employee during the probationary period
The probation service “abused” him the idea, Mercer added, before asking Pearson if it sounded like someone who wanted to push the boundaries of his probation.
“I would consider it an indication of someone’s willingness to comply with the condition,” Pearson replied.
The killer’s feature ‘a red flag’
Mercer then shifted focus to May 2013, when Warmerdam, Crown’s lawyers and police expressed a “flood” of concerns that he had moved to a place closer to Warmerdam following his verdict in relation to her.
Pearson said the probation department spoke to Warmerdam about the possibility of serving him with a peace bond, but she did not do so because “she did not want to bring herself back into the perpetrator’s focus.”
“So she was afraid to antagonize him, is that right?” Mercer clarified.
“That’s how I would interpret it, yes,” Pearson said.
“Does it look like a red flag at all?” Mercer pressed on.
“Ore expressing concern would be a red flag, yes,” he replied.
Borutski was allowed to stay at his new location after the move was backed by a judge.
Closing arguments come Friday
The investigation heard from its last witness later Thursday.
Pamela Cross, an attorney and women’s attorney, went through the systemic changes that Renfrew County residents signaled they would like to see made in the wake of the killings.
The ability of police to pass on information about addicts to current partners and alliances between law enforcement agencies and community groups to help keep track of addicts was just two of them.
On Friday afternoon, parties with standing, including Stop Violence Against Women Renfrew County and Nathalie Warmerdam’s daughter, will present their concluding arguments and outline what recommendations they believe the jury should make.
The jury will then retire to consider their recommendations.
Leslie Reaume, chair of the investigation, said she expected their deliberations to continue until Monday and that the recommendations would be published on Tuesday.