Fourteen women were killed in the GTA in apparent intimate-partner homicides in 2019, the Star reported at the time.
The number should have been 15.
Zohra Derouiche, 75, was fatally stabbed in her Scarborough home on Dec. 10, 2019. Her husband Hassouna Soltani was later charged with second-degree murder after Derouiche died in hospital 10 days later.
Until now, Derouiche’s killing has been secret from the public, because Toronto police has never released any information about it at all.
Her death was homicide No. 70 in Toronto in 2019, but it was the only case in which no press release was issued and, thus, no news stories written. Her name was never published, nor her photograph.
“It is usually the case that we proactively publish homicides. However, in this incident it wasn’t requested (by the investigating officer),” said Toronto Police spokesperson Connie Osborne. There was no specific reason the information was not released, she said.
The Star only learned about the case when Soltani, 85, died last month after contracting COVID-19 at the Toronto East Detention Centre. His murder charge was formally withdrawn in court on Tuesday. His lawyer, Tony Bryant, told the court that Soltani’s death is now the subject of a coroner’s investigation, noting Soltani had not been vaccinated, despite his age.
According to a post-mortem report made an exhibit at Soltani’s preliminary inquiry, Derouiche “reportedly observed her husband holding a knife prior to attacking her.”
Before he was infected with COVID-19 in custody, Soltani had been set to undergo a mental health assessment.
The failure to reveal that a homicide occurred in Toronto means that Derouiche’s killing is not reflected in year-end homicide tallies compiled by the Star and other media organizations.
It also means she was not counted by advocacy groups that track femicides each year in Ontario and in Canada — an effort to remember women and girls who have been killed, often by their current or former male partners or family members, and to analyze trends to help prevent future deaths.
The fact that Toronto police could simply choose to keep the alleged murder of a woman by her husband secret from the public is deeply concerning to those working to prevent intimate-partner violence.
Inconsistent and incomplete information from police hampers violence prevention research, said Myrna Dawson, a professor at the University of Guelph and director of the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.
“All victims’ lives matter, as do their deaths. But we often see how the deaths of affluent people, for example, never seem to stop being covered while some deaths never get that same respect, are never covered at all,” Dawson said.
“They are silenced in death as they were likely also silenced in life.”
It is particularly worrying that the woman in this unreported case is older — a population which is devalued but increasingly considered at risk of violence and abuse, including from intimate partners, she said.
“For example, in the most recent Global Study of Homicide, older populations were mentioned as a group for whom homicides often go undetected,” Dawson said.
“Why is that? Are their deaths less important because they are older? Is this a form of ageism or sexist ageism?”
Groups including the femicide observatory and the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses often rely on news stories to compile their reports.
That means in cases where information is not released about the relationship between the victim and accused, intimate-partner femicides are made invisible.
Researchers have often called on police to routinely release this kind of information. Toronto police, for example, does not release the relationship between victim and accused in press releases but does sometimes provide it through spokespeople or in press conferences.
“Police reporting on femicides, either from a current or former intimate partner and from other known relationships is vitally important in understanding the gendered context of violence and homicides. What we know is that when gendered killings occur it is men closely known to them who are charged,” said Marlene Ham, executive director of Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses.
“When police departments fail to report when a femicide occurs, they are shutting the door on an opportunity to amplify these issues that ultimately connects survivors to safety instead of more tragedies.”