This article includes an account of violence.
Nearly five years after Butlin’s death, today the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP “initiated a complaint and public interest investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the sexual assault and subsequent death” of Susan Butlin.
On September 17, 2017, Ernie Ross “Junior” Duggan shot and killed his neighbour Butlin through the front door of her home in Bayhead, near Tatamagouche in northern Nova Scotia.
In the weeks before her death in September 2017, Butlin had complained to the RCMP in Bible Hill that Duggan had sexually assaulted her in June, and that he was still harassing and threatening her.
Her complaints and pleas for help were in vain.
On September 14, 2017, just three days before Duggan killed her, Butlin went to the RCMP in Bible Hill for help because she feared for her life and the safety of two international students she was hosting.
According to a victim impact statement from Butlin’s sister made for the court during the subsequent trial of Duggan, the RCMP told Butlin to go home, that she was being a “public nuisance.”
In one of her final calls with her childhood friend, Suzanne Davis, Butlin said she was sure Duggan would kill her before her next court date.
Tragically, that is exactly what happened.
The CRCC investigation
In an overview of the case, CRCC chairperson Michelaine Lahaie notes that:
In the weeks preceding her death, Ms. Butlin contacted the RCMP to report that Mr. Duggan had sexually assaulted her. The RCMP investigated the matter and determined that there were no grounds to lay criminal charges. The RCMP informed Ms. Butlin of the option to apply for a peace bond, which she initiated.
Before the peace bond application hearing took place, Mr. Duggan’s wife called 911 to express her concerns about Mr. Duggan’s deteriorating behaviour and the safety of Ms. Butlin. Mr. Duggan’s wife reported that she thought her husband might seriously harm Ms. Butlin. Ms. Butlin subsequently contacted the RCMP on more than one occasion to report that Mr. Duggan was harassing and intimidating her and that she was concerned for her safety.
Her friends and family have alleged that the RCMP did not provide her with assistance, nor did they intervene in any manner to ensure that she was safe from Mr. Duggan. Four weeks later, Mr. Duggan shot and killed Ms. Butlin inside her residence.
According to CRCC chairperson Michelaine Lahaie, the investigation stems from a complaint the commission received on September 27, 2021, “concerning the conduct of the RCMP members involved in the events leading up to Ms. Butlin’s death. The Commission requested materials from the RCMP based on the information contained in the complaint.”
Upon review of the materials, the Commission identified several areas of concern with respect to the RCMP members’ response to Ms. Butlin’s complaints about Mr. Duggan, and the events that followed. These also give rise to broader concerns about the adequacy of supervision, policies, procedures, and training pertaining to sexual assault investigations. Accordingly, I believe that it is in the public interest to investigate the conduct of RCMP members, or other persons appointed or employed under Part I of the RCMP Act, in relation to this matter.
The complaint to the CRCC
The Halifax Examiner reported on the case in detail in June 2020, after speaking with Butlin’s friend, Suzanne Davis, for whom the April 2020 murder of 22 people in Nova Scotia that began in Portapique, close to Davis’ in-laws’ home, triggered the trauma she already experienced when her friend was killed and her complaints were ignored by the RCMP.
Related: “Insufficient grounds:” Susie Butlin repeatedly pleaded with the RCMP to intervene to stop her neighbour Junior Duggan from harassing her. The police took no action. A friend says an RCMP officer told Butlin her allegations against Duggan made her, not him, a “menace to society.” Three days later, Duggan killed Butlin.
The mass murder by the gunman that the Halifax Examiner calls GW prompted Davis to go public with her story and demand that police do more to protect women from violent men.
Her efforts were not in vain.
Eventually, retired RCMP officer Cathy Mansley found and read the Halifax Examiner articles, which drew so heavily on information from Davis, and then filed a complaint with the CRCC.
In a message to the Examiner after the news broke today about the CRCC investigation, Mansley, who served 24 years with the RCMP, explains why she filed the complaint:
…because I am so sick of seeing women being treated this way by the very people whose job it is to protect and serve. The police are the last people who should be dismissing women’s calls for help and instead suggesting that the woman is the problem. That attitude gets women killed. Police are supposed to protect, not harm, and any of them who don’t see it this way is in the wrong profession. Women like Susan Butlin are losing their lives every day because of misogynist attitudes towards them and it must change now. This incident pushed me to become a feminist. It made me realize there is still so much more to do and we need men to stand up with and for us. These women are our mothers, daughters, friends. Susan Butlin was all of those things. I literally couldn’t sleep many nights after reading the details of your [Halifax Examiner] story about Susan Butlin. I would lie awake thinking how we, as a society, let her and many others like her down.
Asked for her reaction to the news of the investigation, Mansley says:
I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. I am grateful to CRCC chairperson Michelaine Lahaie for taking this matter seriously. I’m also happy that Susan Butlin’s family will have the opportunity to be heard. They have been hurting for too long and I’m hoping this will help them heal. Like them, I hope this will enact change so that no one else has to go through what they’ve been through. Susan’s three sons are heroes in my eyes for standing up for their mother and taking this on. I hope more men will follow their lead and take a stand for violence against women.
Suzanne Davis tells the Examiner she is “overwhelmed” by the news that Butlin’s treatment by the RCMP will be officially investigated.
Davis says she has never been able to mourn the loss of her best friend because, she says, “I needed to fight for the truth that she believed in.”
“I know Susie is with me, and remembering the three months of living hell,” says Davis, while she tried to get the Bible Hill RCMP detachment to listen to her and take action. “It was a horrifying murder that should have been prevented.”
Davis says that for the first time since her friend died, today she “found some peace,” even though the “pain and heartache for Susie’s boys and family and friends” don’t go away.
All Davis asks for now that an investigation has been announced is “the truth.”
The CRCC press release states that the investigation will:
- examine the circumstances leading up to Ms. Butlin’s death;
- examine the adequacy of supervision, policies, procedures, and training pertaining to sexual assault investigations;
- review if any myths or stereotypes about sexual assault influenced the response of RCMP members; and
- make findings and recommendations to address any deficiencies in the RCMP members ‘ conduct in applying the law.
CRCC chairperson Lahaie states that in the course of the investigation, “The RCMP members’ conduct will be assessed in accordance with relevant law and RCMP policy and training in effect at the time of the events.” She is also notifying the federal Minister of Public Safety and the RCMP Commissioner of the investigation.
Looking to include “femicide” in the criminal code
Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson, feminist activists and the authors of the 2021 book, Women unsilenced: Our refusal to let torturer-traffickers win, responded to today’s announcement in a message to the Examiner.
“We understand from speaking with Susie Butlin’s close friend [Suzanne Davis] that Susie was not taken seriously when reporting to the RCMP,” they write. “She was terrified and feared for her life which tragically ended in femicide.”
According to MacDonald and Sarson:
This CRCC investigation is an essential process to discover what red flags were missed by the RCMP, as our understanding is that Susie Butlin made numerous complaints to them.
They also believe there are messages here for the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission, which they note is “examining femicide as a form of gender-base violence with Myrna Dawson, Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice, appearing as a panelist.
“As participants in the NS Mass Casualty Commission we are recommending that the Criminal Code of Canada be amended to include femicide,” write Macdonald and Sarson.