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Murder of two women prompts Sault families to support federal bill

Bill C332, which seeks to add coercive control to the Criminal Code, will have its final debate and vote this week in the House of Commons — and the families of Angie Sweeney and Caitlin Jennings will be there to support it
Brian and Suzanne Sweeney are flanked by murder victim Angie Sweeney's childhood friends Renee Buczel and Lindsay Stewart. Along with Angie's brother Brian Jr. (not pictured) the group is travelling to Ottawa this week in support of a bill that would add coercive control to the Criminal Code of Canada.

Two local families who each experienced the loss of a loved one to intimate partner violence last year are travelling to Ottawa this week to be present in the House of Commons for a key vote on the issue.

Bill C332, which seeks to add coercive control to the Criminal Code of Canada, will be debated and voted on in the House of Commons this week and the families of Angie Sweeney and Caitlin Jennings will be in the gallery with hopes it will pass.

In April, a motion by Sault Ste. Marie City Council to support the bill passed unanimously.

Rene Buczel was one of Angie Sweeney's best friends and one of the key organizers of Angie's Angels, a group created after the 41-year-old mother was killed last October in her Tancred Street home. Buczel is travelling in support of the bill with fellow Angel's member Lindsay Stewart, Angie's brother Brian Jr., as well as Angie's parents Brian and Suzanne.

Buczel said coincidentally the only other time she has ever been in Ottawa was on a road trip with Angie. 

"Now we're going on a road trip to Ottawa to hear debate and voting on a bill that would have potentially saved our best friend's life," said Buczel. "It's kind of crazy when you think about that."

The Government of Canada currently defines coercive control as an act included in intimate partner violence, but does not include coercive control as a standalone offence contained within the Criminal Code.

NDP MP Laurel Collins introduced the bill, in part, after her sister showed up at her door in tears after her boyfriend had taken away her keys, bank card and phone in an effort to stop her from leaving.

Buczel said coercive control is what starts and leads to abuse and there were signs that Angie's ex-boyfriend, Bobbie Hallaert, used controlling behaviour during their relationship.

"Bobbie wasn't actually physically abusive with Angie until two weeks before he actually physically assaulted her and then shortly after that took her life," said Buczel.

If passed, those kinds of controlling behaviours could be dealt with through the criminal justice system.

"I think that also gives options to men in realizing, 'okay, this behaviour that I'm exhibiting isn't great and can possibly lead to more serious things like physical abuse' and then it also has the aspect of allowing other people to intervene when they start to see these patterns begin," said Buczel.

Dan Jennings and his wife Michelle are also travelling to Ottawa in support of the bill, driven by the loss of Dan's daughter Caitlin, who London Police said was murdered last July. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Also travelling to Ottawa this week is Dan Jennings and his wife Michelle. Jennings was home in Sault Ste. Marie last July when he received a late-night knock at the door by a Sault Ste. Marie Police officer informing him his 22-year-old daughter Caitlin had been murdered by her partner in London, Ontario.

In speaking to his daughter's friends, Jennings was told about the controlling behaviours exhibited by her 50-year-old partner David Norman Yates. Because that case is still before the courts and has not yet been proven, Yates is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Jennings believes if coercive control had been defined in the Criminal Code at the time of their relationship, his daughter might still be alive.

"The whole idea of this bill is stop that before it gets to the physical side and there's no question that it would have saved her," said Jennings.

The Sweeney and Jennings families have both been actively advocating for change by standing behind provincial and federal bills, among them Bill 173, which seeks to have intimate partner violence declared an epidemic in Ontario. Instead of passing that private members bill, the Ontario PC government sent it to committee before it voted to extend summer break at Queen's Park until Oct. 21.

"I hope it doesn't get killed in committee," said Jennings of Bill 173.

As the anniversary of Caitlin's death approaches, Jennings said it makes it even more urgent for the coercive control legislation to be passed to help prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else, and before parliament takes its summer break.

"The goal was to have this [bill] passed by Canada Day," said Jennings. "We're very close."

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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