Survivor of intimate partner violence lobbies for change

Warning: this article contains details of intimate partner violence.

FERGUS – Three years ago Cait Alexander was beaten and left for dead by her boyfriend. 

Now she’s on a mission to change legislation around victims’ rights as opposed to the accused’s right to a speedy trial, and to have Ontario recognize intimate partner violence as an epidemic.

On July 21, 2021, Alexander’s then boyfriend beat her with a rolling pin for four and a half hours, among other acts of violence, until she was unconscious. 

He then took her cellphone and left her to die.

Alexander was able to drag herself to her computer and send a message on WhatsApp. 

“Please help,” was all she was able to type before she collapsed.

It was enough for some in her circle to notice and notify police, who sent a SWAT team to investigate. They found her alone in her Toronto apartment, unconscious in a pool of blood.

Her boyfriend was found and charged with eight offences – three federal and five provincial – and then released on $500 bail.

But because of court backlogs and laws guaranteeing the right to a speedy trial, his charges were stayed and he’s now out in society.

“He’s out free and hurting other people,” Alexander said in a phone interview.

Born in Guelph, Alexander lived in Fergus until she moved to Toronto at 17 to pursue an acting career.

She thought her boyfriend was wonderful until his little angry outbursts became more frequent, more violent and lasted longer. 

She had borne the brunt of his violent outbursts before, but on that day in 2021, he was out of control like she’d never seen. 

“I was begging for my life, and he wouldn’t stop,” she said. “He’d say he was sorry and then start doing it again. I was sure he was going to kill me.” 

It took six months for Alexander to recover physically but the mental healing has taken much longer. In that time, she moved to L.A. to get away from him. 

“I’ve been so angry and scared and traumatized,” she said, adding she underwent extensive therapy during the Screen Actors Guild strike since she couldn’t work. 

Therapy has been a help, she said. And so has her advocacy work. 

“If something good can come out of this, I’d like to see that,” she said. 

Alexander has become vocal about her experience and the court system that failed her. 

“There is no contest here about what happened,” she said of the evidence in her case. 

“And this is not a policing problem. It’s the prosecutor, he dropped the ball – twice.” 

Chapter 11B of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms entitles anyone charged with a crime the right to be heard in court within a reasonable time. If there is an “unreasonable delay,” an application can be made for a constitutional remedy.

Alexander said she reached out to the prosecutor and detective in 2022, reminding them the deadline was fast approaching. 

“I was ignored,” she said. “They didn’t listen.”

The maximum time for provincial offences for serious crimes to go to trial is 18 months; for federal offences it’s 30 months.

It took more than two and a half years for Alexander’s abuser’s case to get to trial. And because of that the case was stayed, meaning the guilt or innocence of the accused is never proven in court.

Because of court backlogs, the number of stayed cases is growing.

“It’s essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Alexander said, adding her ex is now living free, without a record and without any consequence for his violence.

“I didn’t get my day in court. I have the right as a victim to a fair trial. But his rights took precedence, despite all the evidence and the witnesses,” she said.

Alexander returned to Toronto on April 10 to be at Queen’s Park when Bill 173, the Intimate Partner Violence Epidemic Act, was introduced in the Ontario legislature.

The Ontario Conservatives rejected the NDP bill in June 2023 saying intimate partner violence is not contagious in a medical sense and therefore cannot be declared an epidemic.

But on April 10 this year, the Conservatives said they would back the bill, although they sent it to the standing committee on justice policy for review and did not pass it that day.

“They surprised us,” Alexander said. “This is a complete turnaround.”

Recognizing intimate partner violence is an epidemic in Ontario is the first of 86 recommendations to come out of the Renfrew inquest.

The inquest looked at the 2015 murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuryk and Nathalie Warmerdam in Renfrew County. 

All three were murdered by the same man on the same day. He’d had relationships with each of them and had previously been convicted of intimate partner violence with two of them.

The declaration is meaningful if the other recommendations are also followed, Alexander said.

“It means there are more channels to act quickly. It sets the tone and lays the groundwork.”

Cindy McMann, public educator at Women in Crisis Guelph-Wellington, said she hopes making the declaration means there will be further action.

“We definitely don’t need to study [intimate partner violence] more,” she said. 

“We have decades of research, decades of survivor stories, decades of information from frontline organizations. We have an excellent idea of the dynamics of violence. We need to move the needle forward.”

And she doesn’t understand why any government would be reluctant to recognize intimate partner violence is an epidemic.

“Why be afraid to try to lower rates of violence?” McMann asked. “I don’t see a downside.”

The recommendations from the Renfrew inquiry are the roadmap and the first is to recognize intimate partner violence is an epidemic.

“It’s slow work and unfortunately it will be too slow for a lot of people,” McMann acknowledged. “But we need to start proactive programs instead of reacting when it’s too late.”

For her part, Alexander said she is gaining strength and purpose from her advocacy work, which helps to edge out the fear and anxiety that still remain.

“I couldn’t live with myself if something happens to someone else and I could have done something about it,” she said.

A declaration is also a call to action, she added.

“Pass the bill. It’s very simple. People’s lives are on the line this very day.

“And Chapter 11B of the Charter – that’s what needs to change. Because right now, people can get away with attempted murder.”