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Victoria police slash domestic violence unit created after Lee tragedy in 2007

Sep 14 2012
Murder victim Sunny Park, being interviewed by police on Aug. 1, 2007, about a month before she was killed by her husband. 

Murder victim Sunny Park, being interviewed by police on Aug. 1, 2007, about a month before she was killed by her husband.

Photograph by: Handout , Times Colonist

Victoria police marked the fifth anniversary of the murder of six-year-old Christian Lee and his family this month by cutting in half its commitment to the regional domestic violence unit.

In a move that drew swift condemnation from B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, and concern from B.C.'s justice minister, Victoria chief Jamie Graham has decided to pull one of two officers from the unit he helped create after Christian's murder.

The little boy died Sept. 4, 2007, at the hands of his father, Peter Lee, who also killed his wife, Sunny Park, and her parents before taking his own life in Oak Bay.

In the weeks prior to the murders, Sunny complained about domestic violence to three municipal police departments, but nobody was able to protect her.

Graham was unavailable for comment Thursday, but the department's media spokesman, Const. Mike Russell, said the decision to withdraw one officer from the unit brings the department in line with others.

"We're matching the deployment of what other agencies are putting in," he said. "We've been footing the bill for two officers. Everybody else has been putting in one."

Russell said the department remains committed to the unit and will leave a sergeant/investigator in place to supervise one investigator from Saanich and one from West Shore RCMP.

"We're in the process of realigning our resources," he said. "We have to better manage some of the volume of the criminal cases in our detectives' office."

Russell said the move will allow the department to focus on more cases "that are actually inside of Victoria."

Of the calls the regional domestic violence unit handles, about 60 to 70 per cent occur outside the Victoria police department's boundaries, Russell said.

Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond called it a "shocking" decision on the anniversary of Christian's murder. Her review of the case concluded the boy's death was preventable had there been a co-ordinated system for dealing with domestic violence.

Now, she said, the region is moving backwards and will no longer be able to offer the same protection to women and children. The unit screens 130 to 140 cases a month and selects high-risk files where there are ongoing violence and serious threats, she said.

"They won't be able to handle those cases. They'll handle a smaller number of them, and they won't be able to be as active," said Turpel-Lafond, adding the unit was already being operated on a shoestring budget. "Now, we're down to an almost impossible situation.

"If someone gets sick or goes on leave, what happens in our region with high-risk domestic violence cases?"

Turpel-Lafond said Graham's decision also raises serious questions about the state of policing on southern Vancouver Island, and whether a broad issue like domestic violence should be left to the discretion of individual mayors and police chiefs.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she was only told of the decision Thursday.

"While I am not involved in the day-to-day operational decisions of police agencies, I am concerned about any decision that might impact the good work that has been done by this specialized unit," she said in a statement.

"I am not aware that a final decision has been made and know that the police board would have to seriously consider any realignment of support for the domestic violence unit." lkines@timescolonist.com


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