December 10, 2023

Friends of a B.C. woman allegedly fatally stabbed by her husband say her death highlights the need for an urgent conversation about domestic and intimate partner violence.

Kulwant Kaur was found with stab wounds that ultimately proved fatal at her New Westminster home on Friday, Oct. 13. Her husband, Balvir Singh, 57, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death.

Family friends Tegpal Sangha and Gurpreet Rai-Sangha, described Kaur as a devoted mother who had come to Canada several years ago to give her young son a better life.

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“She basically came to give him a better future. She was an amazing mom. Her number one priority was her son. Anything and everything she did revolved around him,” Rai-Sangha said.

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“She was a genuine person, always had a smile on her face, always said hi to everyone, she basically made this community her family.”

The pair said Kaur had disclosed that her husband wasn’t supportive and drank excessively, but not that there was any indication of violence in the home.

“I was angry too. Why, why did it happen to her? At that time we didn’t know…. we knew he was alcoholic and he’s not supportive, but later on it started to come out that he had previous charges, and he’s already had trouble with the law. People failed her,” Sangha said through tears.

“It feels like we failed her.”

Court records show Singh had convictions for uttering threats of death or bodily harm, and for breaking a release order barring contact with Kaur last fall.

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Femicide —  the killing of a woman on account of her gender — remains an endemic problem in Canada. A report released last spring by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, found femicides in 2022 were up 27 per cent over pre-pandemic levels.

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Women and girls in Canada are killed at a rate of one every two days according to the report.

Ninu Kang, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of B.C., said Kaur’s addition to those statistics was crushing.

“We work so hard to address gender-based violence and try to support survivors and try to provide education and reform for offenders, perpetrators, and to have another case where a woman brutally loses her life, the perpetrator will go through the justice system and the whole process will unfold, but its absolutely heartbreaking,” she said.

“She has now left behind a son who will be forever impacted by this form of violence.”

While Kaur hailed from B.C.’s South Asian community, Kang said that intimate partner violence is prevalent in all sectors of Canadian society.

She pointed to multiple factors that keep women trapped in abusive situations, ranging from the way society undervalues women’s experience, to attitudes about marriage, financial and childcare worries, and education about available services.

But she noted that newcomers to the country face additional barriers, including language, culture, and economic security.

“I am sure that was one of the reasons she didn’t leave (was) where was she going to go?” Sangha said.

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“Maybe she felt she wouldn’t know what to do or where to go if she did end up leaving him and that maybe held her back.”

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Rai-Sangha said the devastating loss of her friend has shown the importance of reaching out to support women, who may be going through a situation that is invisible to those outside the home.

“If you see something, if you hear something or if you feel something is not right, definitely say something,” she said.

“I think a lot of people don’t want to do that because they don’t want to cause problems in other people’s houses, but the thing is the issue is already there and we’re just trying to sweep it under the rug. I think it’s really important that we get more educated about the resources that are available.”

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Kang said it is important for people to be vigilant about signs of domestic violence, pointing to red flags like coercive control where a person restricts their partner’s actions or movements.

But she said approaching someone in a dangerous situation can also be challenging, and that friends and family should be wary of inadvertently trying to impose solutions on the victim, such as pressing them to call police or to leave their abuser.

“What happens sometimes is when someone intervenes with all kinds of solutions…it starts to feel like we blame the person for not leaving the situation, without really fully understanding all the complexities that exist around her making the choice,” Kang said.

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She said in some cases calling police may be the right solution, but that there are often many steps a victim needs to go through before they’re ready to try and access the justice system.

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Listening and offering support, she said, are the crucial first steps.

“Be that person’s safe person, be willing to look up resources, be willing to take that phone call at any time of the evening if you think somebody is at real risk,” she said.

“And of course, let them know if you find yourself in that situation, call this number, and also call police if you need to.”

Sangha, meanwhile, said he hopes his friend’s death may help other women in violent situations take the first steps towards getting themselves to a safer place.

“Do it for the people that love you, they’re there for you. If somebody has small kids that rely on you, you need to have a safe space for those kids,” he said.

“Stop thinking what society is going to think, you need to take that step. A lot of people think that things will improve. But a lot of the times it doesn’t. If you have been suffering for years and years, chances are you have to take that step.”

Kaur’s son, now eight years old, is currently in the custody of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

A GoFundMe campaign for him has raised more than $38,000, and both Sangha and Rai-Sangha said the community stands united in its support of the boy.

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They’re hoping to get him out of foster care and into the custody of someone in the community.

“He’s not doing good. He’s lost both of his parents basically,” Rai-Sangha said.

“I want him to know that we may not be family by blood in this community, but we are all willing to step up and create a family with him and he is loved, he is thought about every single day and we are doing everything we can to bring him home.”

Singh is due back in court to face his murder charge on Nov. 15.

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