Victims need better access to intimate partner violence resources, says coroner's report on triple homicide

Dahia Khellaf and her two young sons were killed by her former partner a week after he signed a peace bond agreeing to stay away from her. (Dahia Khellaf/Facebook - image credit)

The coroner who investigated the 2019 triple homicide of Dahia Khellaf and her two young children, Adam and Aksil Yssaad, wants greater awareness of the resources available to domestic violence victims and more education for immigrants and youth about equality in relationships.

Those recommendations were among 19 coroner Andrée Kronström made in her 28-page report, released to the public on Tuesday.

At an afternoon press conference, Kronström said the process of overseeing an inquiry into the deaths has made her aware of the number of resources available to domestic violence victims.

"Mme. Khellaf in 2019 did not access this array of resources … often people don't know about them," Kronström said. "There is still work to be done."

Khellaf and her two children were strangled to death in their home in the eastern Montreal district of Pointe-aux-Trembles the night of Dec. 9, 2019, by Nabil Yssaad, Khellaf's estranged husband and father of the two children. The next day, Nabil drove to the Joliette, Que., hospital and died by suicide, leaping from a sixth-floor window.

Kronström's report detailed Yssaad's violent, narcissistic behaviour, how he abused Khellaf for years, how she ultimately sought help from the police and the court system and how he agreed to a court order to stay away from her.

But, it was only five days after agreeing to that court order and faced with divorce proceedings that Yssaad entered Khellaf's home and killed her and the two children.

It was, according to a psychologist who testified at the public inquiry into the deaths, the last act of a narcissist lashing out and trying to regain control over his wife and family.

But they were also the actions of a man who viewed married women as subservient to their husbands and used violence and threats as a means of control.

Khellaf and Yssaad, both originally from Algeria, married in 2012 despite never meeting prior.

Khellaf, who had lived in Quebec since 2009 and become a Canadian citizen, applied to have her husband come to Canada. But upon his arrival, he insulted, humiliated and physically abused her. He also didn't work and left her to support the family alone.

Khellaf attributed his violent and controlling behaviour to mental illness and, on one occasion after he threatened to kill her, she said that the threat was a quirk of Algerian culture and of "no real consequence," according to the coroner's report.

Kronström's recommendations include a call for Quebec's Immigration Ministry to educate new arrivals about what conjugal violence is and its criminal nature.

"Intimate partner violence has no ethnic origin, it's present here in Quebec regardless of anyone's country of origin," she said.

But she added that several facts brought up in the inquiry, including Yssaad's insistence that Khellaf watch a film showing husbands beating their wives and exerting control over them — and his statement that this was how he viewed the relationship between men and women, convinced her that there were cultural factors at play.

"Perhaps there were certain links, certain cultural facets, and it's for that reason that the recommendation was made to the Immigration Ministry to educate people about what coercive control is," she said.

She also recommended that the Education Ministry take measures to teach children about equal relationships and mutual respect.

More resources needed: Women's shelter

Melpa Kamateros, the executive director of the Shield of Athena women's shelter, said the dismissal of Yssaad's controlling behaviour as potentially tied to mental health rather than the actions of a dangerous narcissist was an example of how the authorities failed to step in and protect the victim in this case.

She said this pattern is reflected in far too many cases. Since the start of 2020, 88 women and 18 children as young six months old have been killed in the context of conjugal violence in Quebec.

"I want the government to put more money into the resources," she said. "And of course, you know, existing resources for men should also be promoted for the abusive partners. But let's look at the victims first, because unfortunately, in 80 per cent of the cases, the victims are women and their children."