Advocates criticize the time it took to confirm that a mother and two children from Harrow, Ontario, died from intimate partner violence

WARNING: This story contains discussions of intimate partner violence and suicide.

Advocates working to raise awareness about domestic violence say they are devastated to learn that the deaths of a family in their Harrow, Ontario, home last month were the result of intimate partner violence.

On Saturday, police confirmed that Carly Walsh and her two children were fatally shot and that her husband, Steve, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Their bodies were found on June 20.

Fartumo Kusow called the incident a tragedy. Her daughter, Sahra Bulle, was murdered a year ago and her estranged husband were arrested, although the charges have not yet been proven in court.

Kusow spoke to CBC’s Windsor Morning presenter Amy Dodge on her feelings when she heard about the circumstances surrounding the Walshes’ deaths.

“It was this gut feeling that this, like all other tragedies, [of intimate partner violence]could have been avoided,” Kusow said.

Carly, 41, Madison, 13, and Hunter, 8, died of gunshot wounds, Sgt. Ed Sanchuk said in a video posted on Ontario Provincial Police West Region’s social media accounts. Steve, the children’s father, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Sanchuk said.

LISTEN | Fartumo Kusow talks about domestic violence and its link to the deaths in Harrow:

Windsor Morning7:56Fartumo Kusow on domestic violence and the death of the Walsh family

OPP say the deaths of a woman and her two children near Harrow, Ont., last month were a case of intimate partner violence. Fartumo Kusow, whose daughter was killed last year, says domestic violence is widespread but preventable.

The deaths remind Kusow of the extent of intimate partner violence in Ontario.

“The challenge is that these are ubiquitous events. These are not one-time events and we know that.”

In Ontario, advocates have called for domestic violence to be declared an epidemic; members of provincial parliament (MPPs) also voted in favor of the declaration.

Between November 2023 and May 2024 there were 25 murders of womenaccording to the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH). Since 2018, the number of murdered women in the province has jumped by 68 percent according to EED.

“It’s really a wake-up call, I think, for everyone to pay attention to [to intimate partner violence]”, says Sylvie Guenther, director of Hiatus House, an emergency shelter in Windsor that provides support to women and their families experiencing intimate partner violence.

Recognizing that this kind of violence ‘should have happened a long time ago’

Julie Lalonde, a women’s rights advocate in Ottawa, said the police’s acknowledgement of intimate partner violence in the Harrow case was “long overdue,” as it took 16 days for police to make that information public.

“It was absolutely, absolutely frustrating to see that the police were really hesitant to address what the community already knew,” Lalonde said. “When the police aren’t even willing to address that reality, they reinforce the idea that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.”

In their video announcing the Walshes’ cause of death, officers encouraged anyone experiencing intimate partner violence to contact Ontario Victims Services.

But Lalonde said they missed an opportunity to raise awareness about intimate partner violence and how to get help by waiting to label this case as such.

Detectives in white overalls at a house in the countryside.
Forensic investigators at the Walsh family home at 1200 County Road 13, near Harrow, on June 20. (Dalson Chen/CBC)

Guenther said talking about intimate partner violence is an important part of stopping the problem. Women are often told to keep family matters private, which prevents them from telling others about the abuse they are experiencing and seeking help before a tragedy strikes, Guenther said.

“We want to put an end to that and make sure people can talk about it so we can intervene more quickly before it gets out of hand. [to] the extreme case where there is loss of life.”

24-hour crisis line available for assistance

For anyone in Windsor-Essex experiencing intimate partner violence, Guenther said, Hiatus House has a 24-hour crisis line for victims or people who know someone who is experiencing abuse. Staff who answer calls can help identify an abusive situation, what the person’s options are for getting out, and how to stay safe while trying to leave an abusive relationship.

Hiatus House also has 42 shelter beds for women and families who need a temporary place to stay to leave an abusive home.

Before you leave such a situation, Lalonde said, safety planning is crucial. That includes having cash on hand so an abusive partner can’t block payments made with money from a shared account, or switching to an independent phone plan instead of a shared one so the abusive partner can’t get in touch.

Lalonde also said there needs to be a cultural shift around men’s mental health.

“We need to talk about the mental health crisis in this country, and in particular the way men are discouraged from seeking help.”

She said men who are feeling mentally unwell should seek help. She also encourages loved ones to be on the lookout for men who are acting “unpredictably” in their relationships and to call out behavior that seems “strange” before it escalates into violence.

When there is intimate partner violence, Kusow says, more support is needed from the government for survivors like herself. If people know someone who has lost a loved one to intimate partner violence, it is best to offer support.

“It’s about finding support for the family, walking with them and telling them: [saying] “We see you, we hear you,” Kusow said.

Support is available for anyone experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence via crisis lines and local support servicesIf you are in immediate danger or are concerned about your safety or that of others around you, call 112.

If you or someone you know is struggling with this, here’s where you can get help:

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