Behind closed doors: Domestic violence in Saskatchewan

  • February 20, 2018
  • Carly Romanow

Saskatchewan is known for its flat landscape, fields of wheat and “dry cold” winters. It is the home to more than 100,000 lakes, it produces more NHL players per capita than any other province and it is the only federal constituency in Canada to have had three prime ministers represent it (Sir Wilfred Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and John Diefenbaker).Footnote1However, Saskatchewan also has the highest rate of police-reported interpersonal and domestic violence among all Canadian provinces.Footnote2 Of every 100,000 people in Saskatchewan, 489.4 are affected by family violence. This number is double the Canadian average and nearly three times higher than Ontario’s, which has a significantly larger population but the lowest provincial rate of reported domestic violence.

In response to a public outcry following the 2015 murders of Latasha Gosling and her three children at the hands of her partner, who then killed himself, the province established a pilot project to review domestic violence deaths. In May 2017, the Saskatchewan Domestic Violence Death Review Panel released an interim report.

The report provides information about domestic homicides in Saskatchewan from 2005 to 2014. “In that time frame Saskatchewan had 48 domestic-related homicides with nine related suicides,” the report says. “The majority of the victims were female; the majority of the perpetrators were male. Over one-third of the victims were under age 21 and almost two-thirds of the victims were attacked in their own home.”Footnote3 Of the individuals surveyed for the report, 70 per cent indicated that police were never contacted; instead, victims would turn to their friends and family and community supports such as shelters or social workers.Footnote4

The following numbers from Statistics Canada 2015 point to the disproportionate impact of domestic violence on women:  

  • Women  are murdered at a rate four times greater than men
  • Female victims represent more than 75 per cent of the attempted murders
  • Female victims are 83 per cent of the intimate partner violence
  • From 2004 to 2014, women aged 25-29 were at the highest risk of intimate-partner homicide, followed by women aged 35-39
  • Female victims 15-19 were more than 13 times more likely to be victims of intimate-partner homicide than males in the same age range
  • Six of the 10 communities in Canada with the highest rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls are in northern SaskatchewanFootnote5

Not only is there a personal and community toll of interpersonal and domestic violence, but it also comes with a price tag. In Regina alone, the estimated financial cost of one domestic violence incident, taking into account justice, social services, health systems and the victim’s costs, was $112,000. Annually, the cost is approximately $450 million across systems and individuals in Saskatchewan.Footnote6

Since the report was issued, the Government of Saskatchewan has amended The Saskatchewan Employment Act to allow for ten days of unpaid leave from work to survivors of intimate partner violence. However, advocacy groups urge that this is not enough to support survivors. The Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 has also been amended to allow for a survivor of intimate violence to break a lease early. A private member’s bill which included five days of paid leave, a further period of unpaid leave up to 17 weeks;  and set out an employer’s duty, if they suspect that a worker is experiencing violence at home, to protect the workers and allow post-traumatic stress disorder as a reason for leave,Footnote7was not passed.

Despite the downward trend of violent offence rates overall, interpersonal and domestic violence is a silent and deadly plague affecting Saskatchewan. Our friends, families, clients and communities are affected by the repercussions of this violence. We have a duty to become aware of the situation, educate ourselves about the issue and be vocal in promoting the eradication of this violence in our communities.

Carly Romanow is Executive Director and staff lawyer with Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan