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Private Murder, Public Pressure

Private Murder, Public Pressure

by Terrine Friday (Osgoode SJD program)

Is homicide a private matter?

The RCMP called  the Sept. 10 killing of Shirley Parkinson a “private matter,” and refused to release information about the manner of her death, although they have evidence that her husband killed her before taking his own life.

According to reports, Parkinson, 56, was killed by her husband Donald, 60, before he took his own life on the couple’s farm near Unity, Saskatchewan last month. The victim was a “well-known public health nurse” who worked with women and children in her community.

The RCMP did not, initially, release the fact that Shirley Parkinson was murdered – apparently to respect the family’s wishes. Saskatchewan journalists are now calling on the RCMP to release pertinent information about their investigation.

At first glance this raises the issue of how to balance the public interest and the family’s wish for privacy.  There may be some other reason why the RCMP would prefer to keep the case files closed to the public or why the wishes of the next of kin should be respected in this case.  But  the RCMP’s use of the Privacy Act to keep all specifics from the public, and their suggestion that the family context of this killing rendered it “private” are highly problematic.  My own research considers the complicated questions raised in access to information disputes, and focuses on the use of exceptions provided in the legislation to keep data out of the hands of journalists, researchers and the public.

Information about the homicide/suicide in Unity could serve to break the relative silence about domestic abuse, especially amongst older adults.   A 2007 clinical study by Sonia Salari, an expert on population aging and social interaction, reveals “[l]ater life intimate partner homicide suicide (IPHS) represents the most severe form of domestic partner abuse and usually results in at least two deaths.” The study shows 96 percent of perpetrators are men and suicide was the primary intent in 74 percent of cases analyzed.   A troubling finding is that any history of domestic violence was known to others in only 14 percent of cases. This research, as much as other arguments about transparency, accountability and the salience of the public private divide should lead us to question whether privacy is really the right approach to domestic abuse amongst the aging – or any other sector of society.

Grad students with guest post ideas related to their projects should get in touch with Sonia Lawrence, Osgoode Rm 3026