“You have a very big job, and that’s an understatement.” So said presiding officer Leslie Reaume on June 6th at the opening of the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastastia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam. She was addressing the three men and two women who will act as the jurors tasked with making recommendations arising from what has been described as Canada’s worst domestic violence incident. Basil Borutski is serving a sentence of life imprisonment for murdering the three women at various locations in Renfrew County on September 22, 2015.
Reaume was referring to the far-reaching scope of the inquest. The Inquest Counsel, Prabhu Rajan, enlarged on this by saying that it will largely focus on the systemic issues raised by the “terror-filled” day of the murders against the background of intimate partner violence. “If this inquest can improve even one woman’s life, it will be worth it,” said Rajan. He advised that evidence will be led about the issues faced by victims in reporting violence, the role of firearms access in rural homicides of female partners, and warning flags about Borutski.
The first witness was Valerie Warmerdam, daughter of Nathalie Warmerdam. She summarized an overriding concern she had by saying, “Don’t be afraid to help perpetrators.” She described the threat of prison as a “band aid solution” aimed at protecting victims, but which is ineffective especially when perpetrators don’t place much value on their lives outside of jail and aren’t capable of considering and accepting the consequences of their actions. She elaborated by noting that restraining orders and strict bail conditions, which Borutski was subject to, are aimed to protect victims of abuse after the fact but don’t prevent perpetrators from going out and finding other people to hurt. She told the jury, “I want to be very clear. What we want out of this is recommendations that make people the safest, everybody the safest. Even if that might mean less harm coming to perpetrators, the best option is the one where the most people are the safest.”
Warmerdam also described living with Borutski, who she said was an alcoholic, at her mother’s farmhouse from 2010 to 2012. She said it wasn’t all bad as he taught her how to pluck chickens, and told her boyfriends to have her home by 10 p.m. and “treat her right or else.”
She said she hopes to get more information about something that she has been greatly concerned about in the years since the murders – why police did not warn her mother of the danger after one of the other victims, Anastasia Kuzyk, was killed. Kuzyk’s sister had called 9-1-1 moments after Borutski showed up. She pointed out that “It’s a long drive from Killaloe to Mom’s place.”
At least thirty witnesses are expected to give evidence over the three weeks set aside for the inquest.