Alberta has come a long way fighting domestic violence, fatality inquiry finds

EDMONTON – Alberta police have made major inroads in responding to domestic violence complaints, but national domestic violence policies are still needed, a report into a 2005 homicide says.

Brenda Mary Moreside, 44, was stabbed to death Feb. 13, 2005, shortly after she called 911 to complain about her violent common-law husband, who had broken into her home. The case drew attention after an internal RCMP review of the mishandled 911 call was leaked following her death.

Moreside’s killer, Stanley Willier, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in June 2011 and was sentenced to 13-1/2 years.

A weeklong fatality inquiry into the case took place in Edmonton in November 2013.

In his five-page report released online, Alberta Provincial Court Judge Leo Burgess noted the unusual eight-year gap before the inquiry — due to appeals in Willier’s case — and pointed to remarkable changes in police responses to domestic violence since then.

“Much thought and policy work has been done over the past 13 years into the problems created by domestic and family violence,� Burgess writes in the Dec. 4 report.

The inquiry heard that a severely intoxicated Moreside called 911 that morning, reaching a civilian operator in Edmonton, after she found Willier had broken a window to enter her home after a night of drinking. She didn’t want Willier arrested, but asked for police to come and take him away.

The operator mislabelled the call as vandalism. RCMP officials testified the operator was condescending and unprofessional.

“Are you just pissed off because he broke the window or what, Brenda?� the operator asked.

After the first call, an RCMP officer in High Prairie called Moreside. She told the officer she didn’t want Willier arrested, just removed. The officer suggested the couple get some sleep and deal with the situation in the morning.

Moreside’s home was a two-minute drive from the RCMP detachment. The officer testified he should have gone to the home, admitting he failed to check Willier’s violent criminal record, which included a domestic violence complaint by Moreside six months earlier, and failed to ask if Moreside wanted to go to a women’s shelter.

Police found Moreside’s body 12 days after they believe she was killed. An autopsy found defensive wounds. Willier later claimed he repeatedly stabbed her after she came toward him with a knife.

Fatality inquiries recommend changes to procedures and policies, but don’t assign blame or criminal responsibility.

Training in responding to domestic violence has advanced since Moreside’s death, the inquiry heard. Civilian operators are now more educated and there is a “rigorous regime,� to check their responses, Burgess wrote.

While noting progress, Burgess also makes seven recommendations, including that operators and police recruits should receive domestic-violence and risk assessment training. Police agencies should monitor the progress of new recruits in their handling of domestic violence cases, he wrote. Police should work together to create a domestic violence policy “on a national, regional and local basis,� and standard procedures should be put into place for the use of diagnostic tools and risk assessments, he said. Finally, he said, the province should continue funding risk assessment programming and a new program to review all deaths caused by domestic violence.

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