VICTORIA, B.C. – A coroner’s inquest into the murder-suicide of a Victoria family resumed Monday with a warning from a B.C. justice official that there is no funding for sweeping changes to the system in place when Peter Lee killed his family.
Lee was on bail facing a domestic assault-type charge when he killed his six-year-old son, Christian, his wife and his in-laws, before killing himself in September 2007.
Robert Gillen, B.C.’s assistant deputy attorney general, said in his testimony at the inquest that the murders could spur changes in how the province deals with domestic violence.
But Gillen said most changes require more money, and there is not a lot of extra money available.
He suggested the three-man, two-woman jury make recommendations at the conclusion of the inquest that can be built into the current legal system without breaking the budget.
“There’s no point pretending we’re using the Cadillac when we’re lucky to get the used Ford,” said Gillen.
The ministry official was the first witness to appear before the inquest jury following a 19-month adjournment, sparked by the refusal of Crown prosecutors in May 2008 to testify.
The Crown argued that forcing them to testify about the case would put undue interference on the legal process.
The case went to the B.C. Court of Appeal last July, where the court ruled in favour of the Crown. The B.C. Coroner’s Service decided not to appeal the ruling, and the inquest resumed.
Peter Lee, 38, a Canadian navy reservist with some weapons training, stabbed to death his son, his wife Yong (Sunny) Park, and her parents Kum Lea Chun and Moon Kyu Park, before killing himself.
The inquest has heard chilling details of what police found after they were summoned to the family’s house in the Victoria suburb of Oak Bay by a hysterical 911 call on Sept. 4, 2007, by a dying woman.
Sunny Park was stabbed 49 times and Christian was also stabbed repeatedly. Park’s parents, Kum Lea Chun and Moon Kyu Park, were stabbed repeatedly in the chest and back.
Lee placed the bodies of his son and wife in the family bedroom and then turned the weapon on himself, dying beside them. A family violence expert testified that Lee left his wife and son in the bedroom in an attempt to rearrange his family in death.
A police officer with more than 25 years experience said it was the bloodiest crime scene he had ever seen.
The inquest heard that five weeks before the deaths, Sunny Park told police in a videotaped interview she was afraid her husband would kill her and her family.
Lee was charged in the weeks prior to the murders with staging a car crash that injured his wife. Despite his wife’s plea, Lee was released on bail under orders to stay away from his family home.
Gillen, a prosecutor for 30 years, testified he would recommend the jury allow the courts to call for risk assessments of potential domestic abusers prior to bail hearings.
Risk assessments would allow the courts to hold people for a period of time while experts assess their potential threat for domestic violence, he said.
Gillen said he would also like to see the courts move towards reverse onus findings in some domestic abuse cases, forcing the accused to convince a court he is not a risk to offend.
He said the ministry of the Attorney General has been reviewing changes to the way the province addresses domestic violence, but isn’t convinced a single provincewide model is the correct approach.
Gillen said there are 11 different ad-hoc groups across B.C. dealing with domestic violence, including a Wednesday domestic violence court in Duncan and the formation in January of a Victoria Police domestic violence squad.
“The question is, what’s the best model?” he said.
Gillen said he’s already met with B.C.’s independent children’s representative, who released a report on Christian Lee’s life and death in September that called for separate domestic violence courts and a better co-ordination between government ministries, law enforcement and the legal system when it comes to domestic violence issues.
The report noted that in the last five years in the province there have been at least 70 domestic violence homicides.