Sixteen years ago, a public inquiry into the 1995 murder of 22-year-old Rhonda Lavoie recommended police officers carry cameras to document injuries when they respond to domestic-violence cases. Lavoie was killed by her husband, Roy, who was facing charges of sexually and physically assaulting her.
Police should "routinely take photographs of the scene and the victim" and videotape statements, the inquiry found. In 1997, the inquiry's implementation committee bought several cameras and donated them to the police service.
In 1999, Winnipeg sisters Corrine McKeown and Doreen Leclair were stabbed to death by McKeown's boyfriend. The women called 911 five times over the course of eight hours. Police responded to only the first and final calls. An inquest into the women's deaths led to a re-examination of the Lavoie recommendations, including the value of police carrying cameras.
In January, the newly formed Manitoba Domestic Violence Death Review Committee completed its first report and issued a series of recommendations to the province. Among them? That all police officers have direct access to cameras while responding to domestic-violence calls to photograph victims.
Prof. Jane Ursel chaired the Lavoie implementation committee and sits on the new death review committee's advisory panel. Ursel said she and her fellow committee members met with then-police chief David Cassels and his staff in 1997 to discuss the recommendations. This was before most people had cellphones, she said in an interview Wednesday, so video cameras were purchased for police use.
Why is the same recommendation being made again 16 years later? "Because the police never did it," Ursel said. "The province implemented the (73 out of 91) recommendations made to the province. That's how far it went. As for the police, we had no official authority with them. I don't think they acted on those recommendations."
A police spokesman said Tuesday officers are not provided with a camera for taking injury photos.
"If the injuries are minor in nature, the victim would be transported (with their permission) to the identification unit where their injuries would be photographed," he said in an email. "Should the injuries be more serious, a member of the identification unit would attend to their location (again with their permission), be it hospital or residence to document the injuries."
The WPS domestic-violence co-ordinator was not available for an interview Wednesday. In a statement, she said: "While we are aware of the recommendations, there is no firm plan to equip officers with cameras."
The death review committee also recommended requiring ongoing domestic-violence training for medical professionals and police agencies. The WPS spokesman said domestic violence "is part of the training syllabus that both police officers and members of the Auxiliary Cadet Program receive at the Winnipeg Police Service training academy.
"Subsequent training is offered in our Winnipeg Police Service senior investigators course. Other external training opportunities are sometimes available to members as well."
Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Wednesday the use of cameras by law enforcement is "best practice" and assists in the prosecution of offenders. He said his department has a good working relationship with police across the province.
The RCMP, being the provincial police force, will have to comply with the recommendations. City police, Swan admitted, don't fall under his jurisdiction. He expects to be asked to pay for cameras.
The death review committee hopes to examine between two and four domestic cases annually. It looks at crimes that have made their way through the court system. The province refused to release details of the committee's first report, citing confidentiality. Among its other recommendations is that an awareness program be targeted at youth. That's underway. The report also suggested information be shared with animal welfare services because domestic violence is often linked to cases involving animal cruelty.
The Winnipeg Police Service takes domestic abuse cases seriously. They certainly respond to enough of them. It's a mystery why they're still not following a 16-year-old recommendation to help prosecutors make their cases.