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Protection orders in spotlight

Court-imposed decrees often breached by abusive partners, advocates say after killing

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/11/2015 (653 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Support agencies are raising questions about the effectiveness of civil protection orders after a Winnipeg woman was shot dead despite having an order in place against her estranged husband.

It's common for abusive partners to violate or skirt the rules set out in court-imposed protection orders, particularly during the volatile time just after a breakup, say several anti-family-violence advocates.

Kevin and Camille Runke

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Kevin and Camille Runke

Police block a road at Highway 59 during their search for Kevin Runke near St. Malo Monday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Police block a road at Highway 59 during their search for Kevin Runke near St. Malo Monday.

"I know a lot of the shelters have had issues where the clients have gotten the protection order... but the male has breached the order numerous times. The woman keeps calling the RCMP or Winnipeg police, and they don't respond," said Deena Brock, provincial co-ordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters.

Camille Runke, 49, was shot dead outside her St. Boniface workplace Oct. 30. She was granted a protection order in July against her husband, Kevin Runke, who fatally shot himself Nov. 2 during a police pursuit in St. Malo, about an hour south of Winnipeg.

Camille Runke called police 22 times from July to October to report incidents ranging from property damage to harassment and expressed fear of what he would do next. A week before Camille Runke was killed, police were preparing to charge Kevin with criminal harassment and had submitted their case to the Crown. Police arrested him Oct. 23 for breaching the conditions of the protection order after he failed to report a change of address when he moved to St. Malo.

'If they would have seized his gun, who knows if this would have been prevented?'

Kevin Runke had a rifle, as his estranged wife noted on her protection-order application, but the protection order did not appear to require him to turn over his weapons.

Robynne Kazina, a family lawyer at Taylor McCaffrey, said it's possible for protection orders to include conditions that would have allowed authorities to seize Runke's weapons.

"If they would have seized his gun, who knows if this would have been prevented?" she said.

Protection orders are meant to protect victims of stalking or abuse and must be granted by a magistrate in court. Victims must apply for protection orders and convince the court they are in danger. Those named in a protection order have 20 days to challenge it.

It's a criminal offence to breach conditions of a protection order, and that's enough of a deterrent to some, but "There's only so much a piece of paper can do if the violent offender is intent on breaching it," said Kazina.

Kim Storeshaw, director of family violence services at A Woman's Place at the Nor'West Community Health Centre, said staff there and at many other support agencies act as protection-order designates to help victims through the process and develop a safety plan.

"It's a daunting process. We have support workers here that will actually take them to court and sit in the courtroom with them because it is a terrifying experience. And if you've been denied the protection order, which so many women are, you don't feel like you've been validated; you don't feel like you've been believed."

Still, she said, whether a protection order is denied -- as it was in the case of 20-year-old Selena Keeper, who was allegedly beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend in Winnipeg last month -- largely depends on the magistrate hearing the application, which leads to inconsistencies in how protection orders are granted.

In light of Keeper's death, the provincial government is considering updating Manitoba's Domestic Violence and Stalking Act and is collecting feedback via an online survey until Nov. 27 from people who have applied for protection orders.

Anna Pazdzierski, executive director of the Nova House shelter in Selkirk, said there should be a system in place to flag individuals who have had multiple protection orders filed against them.

Three women, including Camille Runke, had applied for protection orders against Kevin Runke, and two of the orders were granted.

"We need to learn that when there are multiple protection orders, those should be flagged and that police should be responding and taking seriously any breaches of those protection orders. We also need to learn to believe women," Pazdzierski said.

The Winnipeg Police Service has said there was nothing else Camille Runke could have done to protect herself. During a news conference Tuesday, Deputy Chief Danny Smyth suggested police might consider working more closely with the province's domestic violence support service in the future.

A team of 11 counsellors with the service is notified every time Winnipeg police are called to a domestic disturbance that doesn't result in criminal charges. They offer their services to the family involved and help with safety planning and protection orders.

Janelle Braun, executive director of Manitoba Justice victims' services, couldn't speak specifically about Camille Runke's slaying, but said her death is a "truly awful" tragedy.

"My heart does go out to the family," she said.

"There are things we can always learn from every case," Braun said. "We do have strong connections with police and strong connections with other community service providers as well, who are also key to providing ongoing support. But again, there's always things that you can look at for improvement and changes."

Last year, the domestic violence support service was involved in 9,503 domestic disturbances in which no charges were laid and 5,498 cases involving criminal charges.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Katie May.

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