SALT SPRING ISLAND (NEWS 1130) — The surviving family of Jennifer Quesnel is describing her killing by John Quesnel –the husband she recently left– as “a selfish act by a coward and a bully” who “couldn’t stand to see her happy.”
Police have not confirmed the identities of the two people who died Monday, and have not reported or confirmed it as a case of murder-suicide perpetrated by an estranged husband with a history of abuse.
RCMP put out a release saying police were investigating a serious incident and two unexpected deaths and that the public was not at risk.
But the family wants everyone to know “what truly happened.”
In a statement released to the media, the family says Jennifer Quesnel, a 41-year-old mother of three, went to the family home on Fulford Ganges Road to pick up some of her things, and to feed her horse.
John had agreed to stay away, and Jennifer was further “reassured” that it would be safe because his guns had been confiscated and his car was not in the driveway.
“Unknown to Jennifer, John had parked in a secluded area nearby and hid himself from view armed,” the statement reads.
“He ambushed her without warning, shooting her twice and then turning the gun on himself. She passed away en route to the hospital and fought hard for her life.”
The family says Jennifer was subjected to “abusive and controlling behaviour” throughout the 18-year marriage, and had recently left to stay with her brother.
“She had finally made the choice to leave and it was the happiest she had ever been, being away from him,” the family writes.
“He couldn’t stand to see her happy and if he couldn’t be happy, neither could she. It was a selfish act by a coward and bully and committed in the most cruel and premeditated way.”
‘The ultimate expression of power and control is lethal violence’
Statistics show, and advocates affirm that the risk of a woman being killed by an abusive partner increases when she leaves, or she is planning to leave.
“We have to understand that violence in relationships is 100 per cent about power and control,” says Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services.
“When a woman leaves an abusive relationship she is taking back power in a very profound way– and the ultimate expression of power and control is lethal violence.”
Between 2003 and 2018 two-thirds of domestic homicide cases “involved a couple with an actual or pending separation,” according to Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Panel.
MacDougall says women continue to bravely leave violent men, often with the help of community-based services, but too often people dismiss the risks associated with leaving.
“In general people tend to ask: Why doesn’t the woman leave? Why does she stay?” MacDougall explains.
“Fear is a huge part of why it’s difficult to leave: fear of being killed, fear of retaliation, fear of an abusive partner hurting loved ones.”
A woman in Canada is murdered by her current or former partner every six days in Canada, and MacDougall says cases of lethal domestic violence have spiked amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
She points out that isolating victims is one way that abusers gain power, and increased isolation is what she describes as “the shadow side of social distancing.”
Transition houses for battered women were already turning hundreds of women and children away each day. Families are staying longer, and requirements for social distancing mean space has become more scarce in some shelters amid the pandemic.
Prevention is not possible without adequate information, and she says the lack of details from police in Jennifer Quesnel’s case, and similar cases of murder-suicide, is a problem.
“Their investigation virtually stops. It doesn’t pursue the line of investigative inquiry that we would want as an organization that wants to illuminate how endemic, and how much of an epidemic, domestic violence is–in these cases, to lethal effect.”
She says most women decide not to report abuse to the police, and when they do advocates need to apply pressure for them to properly follow through.
“The police have historically failed miserably in their response to domestic violence, patrol has routinely not followed their own policies on investigations,” MacDougall says.
“A huge part of our job is just getting them to complete their investigation, to do their job.”
Reluctance to speak out about cases like Quesnel’s, and the lack of accountability for abusers are problems MacDougall says do not only plague police.
“These are very deep-seated social problems, the police agencies are not much different than the broader society in their own failings in getting at the roots of why domestic violence continues to be an epidemic, and now a pandemic within a pandemic.”
With files from Kareem Gouda and Bethlehem Mariam