Report of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee

The College receives information from the Office of the Chief Coroner reporting on the results of reviews conducted by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) when the review makes recommendations relevant to members of the College of Psychologists. The letter accompanying the Report states that:

The purpose of this Committee is to assist the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation and review of deaths of persons that occur as result of domestic violence, and to make recommendations to help prevent such deaths in similar circumstances.

By conducting a thorough and detailed examination and analysis of facts within individual cases, the DVDRC strives to develop a comprehensive understanding of why domestic homicides occur and how they might be prevented. Information considered within this examination includes the history, circumstances and conduct of the abusers/perpetrators, the victims and their respective families. Community and systemic responses are examined to determine primary risk factors and  to identify possible points of intervention that could assist in the prevention of similar deaths in the future.

On August 30, 2021 the College received a Report on the matter of the death of (name redacted) which occurred in April 2018. A copy of this Report is reproduced below.

The Report contains four recommendations directed to the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, Canadian Addiction Counsellor Certification Federation, Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and College of Psychologists of Ontario. The recommendations state that:

  • Given the high co-occurrence between addictions and intimate partner violence, it is recommended that there be more education and training for counsellors who work with clients with addiction problems and who may disclose intimate partner violence.
  • It is recommended that there be routine screening in every case where there are indicators of intimate partner violence. This would include a thorough assessment of risk and risk management of the case.

Committee comments: The perpetrator regularly saw a counsellor who was aware of his addiction issues and his disclosures of intimate partner violence. The perpetrator also had involvement with a substance abuse treatment program. No risk assessment was completed with the perpetrator which may have helped to identify risk of lethality and a risk management plan.

  • When a counsellor is not trained in risk assessment or does not have the time to complete a thorough risk assessment due to high caseload or lack of resources, the counsellor should refer the client to agencies that specialize in intimate partner violence risk assessment and risk management (e.g., victim services).

Committee comments: Addiction counsellors are not expected to become experts in intimate partner violence work, but it is recommended that they collaborate closely with the violence against women (VAW) and the victim services sector in their community.

  • Counsellors are encouraged to speak with couples separately to assess risk for intimate partner violence prior to seeing the couple together for couples’ therapy. This ensures that an appropriate and thorough risk assessment can be conducted where the individuals can be honest and open and where safety is a priority.

Committee comments: The victim was encouraged to seek counselling for anger management after she was arrested for intimate partner violence. The victim saw a counsellor and spoke about her anger and resentment towards the perpetrator specifically around his drinking. The counsellor saw the couple together on a few occasions without assessing for intimate partner violence and risk with both parties. Information shared or discussed in therapy with the couple together may put the victim at more risk from the perpetrator and/or both parties may not be open and honest about the violence because the other partner is present.

In keeping with these recommendations, and the Committee Comments, the College of Psychologists is providing a copy of the Report to all members. In doing so, we wish to remind members of their obligation to provide services only within their authorized areas of practice and within the boundaries of their competence.  As well, it is necessary for members to ensure ongoing maintenance of competence and continuing professional development in areas in which they provide services.

Members working in the areas addressed by the attached Report especially should ensure they are familiar with and up to date on relevant and recent information related risk assessments, risk management and safety planning.

Rick Morris, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Registrar & Executive Director