- Jul 2011
More: Deaths of B.C. girls at Christmas raises questions about judges and domestic violenceVANCOUVER -- The deaths of two young girls in British Columbia who were previously the subject of a custody dispute have prompted debate about how judges decide cases involving allegations of domestic violence.
Andrew Berry, 43, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of his six-year-old daughter Chloe and her four-year-old sister Aubrey. The sisters' bodies were found on Christmas Day inside a Victoria-area home.
Berry made his first appearance in provincial court Thursday and his case was adjourned until February. None of the allegations against him have been tested in court.
The girls' mother, Sarah Cotton, alleged during a custody dispute in 2016 that Berry had threatened to blow up their home, had thrown clothing at her and pinned her to a bed. A B.C. Supreme Court justice hearing the case ruled his behaviour did not justify denying him significant time with the children.
Angela Marie MacDougall of Battered Women's Support Services said more training is needed to help judges understand the warning signs of family violence.
"Domestic homicide is one of the most predictable homicides that there is and the most preventable," said MacDougall. "What happens consistently is that the system fails to take it seriously -- minimizes it, denies the implications and doesn't hold the abusive partner accountable."
MacDougall said domestic violence involves a pattern of domination that escalates over time, in which the abusive partner can use tactics including emotional, financial and physical abuse. The courts tend to fail to recognize this pattern, she said.
She said she believes Justice Victoria Gray minimized the allegations made against Berry in the custody case.
Miriam Kresivo, president of the Law Society of B.C., said the parents had come to their own agreement on a parenting schedule that included visits with the father and it's hard to say that Gray should have reached a different conclusion.
She said the case was no different than the thousands of disputes that go through the courts.
"There is nothing unusual in her judgment," she wrote in a letter to the editor published Friday by the Victoria Times Colonist. "Gray applied the law based on the evidence before her."
Kresivo said in an interview that she wrote the letter because judges aren't free to defend themselves and it's not uncommon for the law society to speak up when there is criticism of a judge.
Gray's ruling, delivered last May, was intended to settle custody of the children and distribution of assets after Berry and Cotton separated in 2013.
Cotton's position was that she should primarily parent and make decisions concerning the children, while the father sought an order that the parents share the same amount of time with them and have an equal voice in their activities.
Cotton alleged in court that in the months before the separation, Berry grew increasingly critical and called her foul names in front of their daughters. When he was angry, he drove erratically and didn't always buckle the girls into their car seats properly, she alleged.
One morning, Cotton said Berry threw a drink at her. He sent her an email requesting a detailed budget before he came home at lunch looking "angry and crazed" and threatened to "blow up the house," Cotton alleged.
A couple days later, Cotton said she was in bed at 3 a.m. when he pinned her down after pulling the bed covers off her. She said she called police and the couple separated.
This is a white Canadian family, not some Muslim immigrants. Some on here were going on about "honor killings", you know who you are...