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A painful reminder

The parole last week of a Morinville man who served 10 years of a life sentence for brutally murdering his wife is a punch-in-the-gut reminder of how devastatingly difficult it is to combat domestic violence and support the victims left in its wake.

The 2009 murder of 26-year-old Jessica Martel by James Urbaniak gouged deep scars in the town of Morinville. Martel's mother, Lynne Rosychuk, created the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation in her honour; and Jessie's House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, is due to open in 2020.

Since its inception, the foundation has helped to draw awareness to the problem of domestic violence, as have other St. Albert-area groups, such as Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF). And last week's parole decision is a reminder that awareness efforts still have a long, uphill battle ahead.

According to a CBC News story, Urbaniak was found to be at moderate-high risk for domestic violence in a December 2017 psychological risk assessment. The assessment also found him to be a low-moderate risk for violence and a low risk to generally reoffend. Although the justice system hinges on the three core principles of denunciation, deterrence and rehabilitation, the decision to grant him parole calls into question whether any of those principles were truly achieved in this case.

But, despite the risk assessment’s findings, Urbaniak was granted parole last Tuesday, the first time he was eligible to apply. According to JMMF, Urbaniak's parole includes strict conditions beginning with unsupervised weekend release for three months and then he’ll be on day parole at a halfway house.

CBC's report noted he must also abstain from drugs and alcohol and immediately report all relationships with women to his parole supervisor. He's not allowed to have contact with Martel's family and is ordered to stay out of the town where his children live with Rosychuk.

While Urbaniak’s list of things he can and can’t do is long, Martel’s list ended in 2009. Her three children, who witnessed their mother's murder, were left without parents. Martel’s parents are raising them.

Martel's murder is one example of a problem that is deeply rooted in our society. According to the federal government, more than a quarter of all reported violent crime in 2016 came from domestic violence, and of that, nearly 67 per cent of victims were women and girls. Statistics Canada's 2017 report on intimate partner violence in Canada found spousal violence was less likely to result in charges than violence involving dating partners.

And while overall reported rates of domestic violence have declined since 2009, the case of Martel's killer shows we have further to go as a society if we want to truly confront this pervasive, damaging crime.

Domestic violence touches all of us, directly or indirectly. It happens to our neighbours, our friends and family members – whether we recognize it or not. Some of us are abusers; some of us are victims. The work done by organizations like SAIF and the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation are vital in keeping this issue in the public eye, where it belongs.