Team approach to preventing domestic violence tragedies

A domestic violence initiative is being established in Smithers and New Hazelton in a dedicated effort to save lives.

A domestic violence initiative which has been successful in other parts of British Columbia is being established in Smithers and New Hazelton in a dedicated effort to prevent tragedies.

Facilitated by the RCMP, Integrated Case Assessment Teams (ICATs) work as an information-sharing system to stop victims slipping through gaps which can occur when agencies fail to collaborate.

The system is dedicated exclusively to cases where there is a high risk that a victim could be killed or seriously injured.

Relevant community service groups can refer cases of extreme concern to the ICAT, which is a core team of social support and criminal justice agencies.

Housing, probation and parole, drug and alcohol addictions, victim support and outreach services are usually among the sectors represented by agencies on the team.

If the ICAT determines there is a high risk of a death or serious injury occurring, and Crown counsel approves, it sets about creating an extensive safety plan with the victim.

RCMP officers in Smithers have already received specialized training to establish the system and officers at the Hazelton detachment are set to undergo training early next year.

Smithers Staff Sgt. Kirsten Marshall said ICAT would offer a more effective, interagency approach to supporting or protecting victims.

“Every once in a while there are cases that are to the extreme of the domestic violence scale and where there is a concern that the normal provisions that may be in place may not be enough,” Marshall said.

“It’s an opportunity for multiple community agencies to come together and say ‘can we come up with other ways to help mitigate the risk in this case?’ because it’s a risk that is to the high or extreme level.”

RCMP New Hazelton Const. Cam Thompson has been working towards establishing an ICAT system in the Hazeltons for about a year.

He said responding to domestic violence was a big part of policing in the Hazeltons.

The ICAT system would allow the RCMP to approach the problem from new angles.

“There is the straight Criminal Code enforcement way of combating [violence in relationships], working against the offences,” said Thompson.

“And there are other ways, including this ICAT system, to sort of work with the people involved on a non-criminal basis to alter the attitudes and the relationships so that these things don’t persist.”

The ICAT model originated in Vernon, where the system has been in place since 2010.

Vernon RCMP Const. Lisa McMullin, who is now co-chair of the North Okanagan ICAT, had just started working in the Domestic Violence Unit when it started in 2010.

She said the creation of the ICAT model was linked to a murder-suicide on Vancouver Island in 2007, in which Peter Lee killed his five-year-old son Christian Lee, his wife Sunny Park and her parents, Kum Lea Chun and Moon Kyu Park before he killed himself.

The case highlighted deficiencies in the way agencies were sharing information.

“There was information the different agencies had but there was not a lot of information sharing at the time and it come out of that there should be better communication (between agencies),” she said.

In December 2009, the Coroner’s Inquiry into the Lee case recommended that “Special Domestic Violence Units be set up regionally and coordinated with all stakeholders”.

The findings strengthened the argument that a program like ICAT was needed.

By January 2010, co-founders Debby Hamilton, who was director of the Vernon Women’s Transition House, and RCMP Sgt Rob Daly, had launched an ICAT system.

About 100 cases have since been handled by the North Okanagan ICAT, which has also developed a best-practice guide to help other communities implementing the system.

Const. McMullin, who co-chairs the team with the current transition house director Brooke McLardy, said the model had been extremely successful.

She said victims were receiving much more extensive support, citing an example where there was concern about the safety of a victim when an offender was being released from prison.

The team worked with the victim to provide a safe living arrangement, and with the offender’s family to ensure the man would not come into contact with the victim.

Prior to the introduction of ICAT, she said organizing such a plan would have been a “nightmare”.

She said the system, which won a Premier’s award in September, had been one of the most rewarding experiences of her career.

“It’s opened up the doors, it’s just been amazing, the relationships that have developed within the agencies and a lot of partnerships have grown from this,” she said.

“Everyone is very invested in it here, we really believe in it, it works really well.”

Morgen Baldwin is the Terrace-based regional coordinator for the Ending Violence Association, which works with the RCMP and other agencies to provide ICAT training and development support.

She said although agencies in Smithers and the Hazeltons already work collaboratively, ICAT provides a structured approach and formalized training in risk assessment and information-sharing.

“What communities have been telling us are the benefits to them are that they can learn about what North Okanagan did and other communities around the province from us because we’re supporting those communities,” Baldwin said.

The first interagency meeting to discuss how an ICAT system might work in Smithers will be held in January.

Smithers-based Northern Society for Domestic Peace executive director Carol Seychuk is supportive of the ICAT concept.

“Any idea that’s going to reduce risks is a good idea,” she said.

“To have something in place to deal with high risk cases [would be] amazing.”