With yet another shocking and tragic murder in Saskatchewan, this time a mother of two, we feel it necessary to again address the practice of child custody arrangements in Saskatchewan
During what was reported to be a routine custody handover in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, while their children were nearby, Stacey Lewis’s ex-husband allegedly shot and killed her. While there has been nothing in the media regarding their relationship, we cannot help but wonder if there was previous domestic violence. This, again, begs the questions posed in our last newsletter: should this man have had access to his children? Could this murder have been prevented if Stacey Lewis did not have to have contact with her ex-husband? Why is the history of the perpetrator of violence not being taking into consideration when making decisions on custody?
Currently in Saskatchewan, custody decisions are up to the discretion of the court, with the legislation clearly stating:
The court shall: 8 (b) not take into consideration the past conduct of any person unless the conduct is relevant to the ability of that person to act as a parent of a child 1
While Saskatchewan’s language leaves it up to the court’s discretion whether or not the person’s previous history of domestic violence will affect their parenting, Ontario legislation clearly states that a history of perpetrating domestic violence is relevant to a person’s ability to parent a child/children.
24(4) In assessing a person's ability to act as a parent, the court shall consider whether the person has at any time committed violence or abuse against
- his or her spouse;
- a parent of the child to whom the application relates;
- a member of the person's household; or
- any child 2
In a UK study titled Nineteen Child Homicides researchers looked at the stories of 19 children who were killed by a parent who was a perpetrator of domestic violence relating to child contact. 19 children in 12 families were killed, all by men who were fathers to the children, were known perpetrators of domestic violence, and all had formal or informal access to their children3. Through studying these stories the researchers determined 5 key themes:
1. The importance of recognizing domestic abuse as harm to children.
2. Professional understanding of the power and control dynamics of domestic abuse.
3. Understanding parental separation as a risk factor.
4. The way in which statutory agencies interact with families where there is domestic abuse.
5. Supporting non-abusive parents and challenging abusive parents is necessary. 3
Seemingly, in Saskatchewan, the best interests of the abusive parent take priority over those of the child; if a child is being placed with a parent who has been the perpetrator of domestic violence it is certainly not in the best interest of the child or the non-abusive parent to have contact with them.
From our last newsletter we know that one of the most dangerous times for women is when they are leaving; we also know that abusers will use children in many ways to retain the power and control in the relationship. Studies show it is not safe for children or non-abusers for there to be contact with the perpetrator of violence:
How many more children and mothers need to be killed in Saskatchewan for our laws to be changed?
2 Government of Ontario, 2016. The Children’s Law Reform Act (1990). Retrieved from https://ontario.ca/laws
1 Government of Saskatchewan, 2015. The Children’s Law Act (1997). Queens Printer. Retrieved from http://www.qp.gov.sk.ca/documents
3 Bristol, 2016. Nineteen Child Homicides. Women’s Aid