'Their stories need to be told': Advocates want police to release names of women killed by domestic violence

Original Article: CBC News  |  January 2, 2019

'We should not be covering up, silencing the death of women who have been killed by their partners'

Women's shelter directors from across Alberta want police to improve the way they communicate about cases of domestic violence. 

Three days after Christmas, 53-year-old Wen Zhou Zhang allegedly killed a woman in the west Edmonton home they shared. Police did not release the victim's name. 

It was Edmonton's 28th homicide of the year — and the sixth time a female was the victim. In five of those cases, police did not release the victim's name.

Court records show Zhang is accused of killing Wen Lan Bu, who is listed as a co-owner of the home in the Breckenridge Greens neighbourhood. Police have described the case as a "domestic violence incident." Autopsy results released Wednesday confirmed Bu died as a result of of a gunshot wound. 

Zhang is also charged with possessing a firearm for a dangerous purpose.

In 2018, police did not release the names of victims in 11 of the city's 28 homicide cases — or about 40 per cent of the time. It's an approach incoming Edmonton police chief Dale McFee has pledged to review.

It's also an issue the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters will raise in its meetings with the new chief, said Jan Reimer, the organization's executive director.

'Their stories need to be told'

Shelter directors from across the province discussed the issue of naming women killed in domestic violence at a meeting last month.

"It was unequivocal that we should not be covering up, silencing, or minimizing the death of women who have been killed by their partners, and that their stories need to be told," Reimer said.

"They count and they're important in the community."

"We should not be covering up, silencing, or minimizing the death of women who have been killed by their partners … their stories need to be told."
Jan Reimer , Alberta Council of Women's Shelters

Reimer said she is pleased to see police refer to cases as involving "domestic violence," rather than referring to two people who were simply "known to each other."

"Words matter," Reimer said.

The council will be discussing various issues with the new chief, including the rise in cases where women are considered to be at "serious or extreme level of danger." Cases are evaluated using a tool known as a danger assessment, which helps to determine the level of danger an abused woman has of being killed by her intimate partner. 

"We're seeing an increase in a likelihood of [women] being threatened with a gun or subjected to strangulation. Those are two very serious warning signs of femicide and we're seeing increases in those areas," Reimer said.

About 54 per cent of Alberta cases assessed in 2011-12 were put into the category of "serious or extreme level of danger." That increased to 65 per cent for 2017-18. 

There are 20 factors considered in a danger assessment, which also include whether a woman is pregnant and whether there is a child in the relationship who is not biologically related to the man.

"Pregnancy means he's losing control and domestic violence is always about power and control … and during pregnancy that control is seen to be lessening," Reimer said.

Last year, the council of women's shelters recommended that the Court of Queen's Bench consider danger assessments when determining things like restraining orders and child custody orders. 

Back in court this week

Zhang made a brief court appearance on Wednesday. A Mandarin interpreter had been requested for his bail hearing but none was present, so the matter was put over until Friday.