Year in Review: Domestic violence accounts for over half of Calgary murders

CALGARY – Calgary saw a brutal year for domestic violence in 2019.

A young mother and her daughter were killed and their bodies dumped off a back road in the mountains. Two sisters were killed following a fire police say was set intentionally by the girls’ father. An Airdire woman was attacked with a sword, having to have multiple fingers reattached.

All of those stories were prominent Calgary’s news coverage—and they had a common theme: domestic violence.

Calgary police say over half of the year’s homicides—54 per cent to be exact—were domestic-related. It’s a shocking statistic for local domestic violence organizations.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse–or using violence–call 1-403-234-7233(SAFE) or click here.

Jasmine Lovett and Aliyah Sanderson

The recent slaying of a Calgary mother and toddler took place after the woman and her alleged killer halted their on-again-off-again relationship. Aliyah Sanderson, 22-months old, and her mother Jasmine Lovett, 25, are shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – Calgary Police Service, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Jasmine Lovett, 25, and her 22-month-old baby girl Aliyah were reported missing in March, police first reporting it as a potential homicide. Weeks later their bodies were found in the Kananaskis region.

Robert Leeming told media shortly after he was arrested, questioned, and released by police that he was the owner of the townhouse where Lovett and her daughter lived and that they were his tenants for the past seven months.

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Police had said Lovett was in a deteriorating relationship with the British citizen.

Leeming, 34, was later charged with two counts of second-degree murder for their deaths.

Cases like this one emphasize the struggle victims face should they attempt to leave an abusive situation.

READ MORE: Victims of domestic abuse face danger when trying to leave: experts

While some may think breaking off an abusive relationship puts an end to the violence, studies show that’s not the case, said Deepa Mattoo, executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which provides counselling and legal support for women experiencing violence.

“A woman, when she decides to leave, she is usually at the highest possibility of fatality and highest possibility of harm, physical harm, coming her way,” Mattoo said in a previous interview with the Canadian Press.

“That’s when … (the abuser) is losing his control, he is possibly the most dangerous at that time.”

Dorsa and Dorna Dehdari

Dorna and Dorsa Dehdari pictured here in photos from their Facebook profiles.

On May 25, fire crews rushed to a home in Kincora for reports of an explosion and fire.

The blaze–which was deliberately set according to police–killed the suspect, Heidar Dehdari, and his daughter, 22-year-old Dorsa Dehdari. Dehdari’s other daughter, 15-year-old Dorna Dehdari was critically injured in the fire.

She died months later as a result of her injuries.

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Friends had said the sisters had a strained relationship with their dad. Heidar Dehdari’s wife had filed for divorce about a month before the fire.

Rekha Gadhia, career services manager with Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA), said in a previous interview they’d been working around the clock to deliver services to prevent and respond to domestic violence.

As Gadhia explained, integration can be a source of tension within a family, especially for men, that can lead to domestic violence, “When they come to a new country their qualifications are not recognized and often there is a role reversal that happens.”

READ MORE: Over half of Calgary homicides this year domestic-related: CPS

The loss of control over their circumstances, combined with challenges integrating into a new culture can lead to their masculinity and religious beliefs being challenged, which is why CIWA focuses on engaging men in dialogue to reduce stigma and help them adjust. It’s important to point out that while immigrant populations face a unique set of challenges that can make them vulnerable to domestic violence, it can affect anyone.

WATCH: How to recognize signs of domestic violence


Dawn Warden

Dawn Warden’s life was forever changed on June 9 when she says an ex-boyfriend attacked her in her Airdrie home with a sword, slicing off her fingers and one ear. (PHOTO: Megan McPhaden 660 NEWS.)

On June 9, Dawn Warden’s life changed forever. She said an ex-boyfriend attacked her in her Airdrie home with a sword, slicing off her fingers and an ear.

“All my fingers were pretty much cut off, except for my thumb. I lost three, they saved seven. My shoulder was cut from the back to the end,  twice, I think, in a ‘v’ shape. There are two marks there. It was cut to the bone,” she described.

READ MORE: Domestic violence survivor speaks out following gruesome assault

“My ear was cut off to the back of my neck… I had three gashes on my stomach and one on my right thigh.”

After the initial attack, Warden says the man set her room on fire. She was rushed to hospital where she spent eight hours in emergency surgery so doctors could reattach some of her fingers and her ear. Doctors used stitches in her hands and ears and 150 staples to close up her horrific wounds.

The attacker pleaded guilty in court.

Andrea Silverstone, Director of the Sagesse Domestic Violence Protection Society, said in a previous interview these incidents are tragic reminders that domestic violence is prevalent in the city and surrounding areas, and everyone has a role to play in reducing it.

READ MORE: Domestic violence still prevalent in Calgary says local organization

“It knows no boundaries and not only affects the individuals who are being abused but also has an effect on family members, friends, co-workers, and the larger Calgary Community. We all have a role to play in preventing violence and abuse in our community.”

Calgary police responded to more than 18,000 domestic calls in 2018, with 5,000 of them involving violence.

“Airdrie has higher rates of domestic violence. There was a study done in Airdrie, I think it was three or four years ago, that said Airdrie has four times higher than the rest of the province of Alberta,” she said.

Silverstone says ending the cycle is something everyone needs to play an active role in.

“Most people who are experiencing domestic violence, or are using violence, the first person that they tell is a confidant–a friend of a family member. And the thing that we actually need to do is build capacity among Albertans–because most of us are confidants for somebody–about how to recognize domestic violence, respond appropriately, and then help our friend or family member get the supports that they need.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse–or using violence–call 1-403-234-7233(SAFE) or click here.

-with files from 660 NEWS, CityNews, The Canadian Press

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