Murder of 75-year-old woman in 2019 never publicly reported by Toronto police

TORONTO — Police say it is unclear exactly why the murder of a 75-year-old woman in Scarborough in December 2019 was never reported to the media and only came to light when the woman’s husband, who was charged in her death, died in jail.

According to police, Zohra Derouiche was stabbed multiple times in a home in the area of Pharmacy Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East on the morning of Dec. 10, 2019.

She was rushed to hospital in life-threatening condition but died from her injuries 10 days later.

Police say Hassouna Soltani, the victim’s 84-year-old husband, was initially charged with aggravated assault but the charges were later upgraded to second-degree murder after her death.

Information about the murder was never released to the public by the Toronto Police Service’s homicide unit.

“It is usually the case that we proactively publish homicides,” Toronto police spokesperson Jenifferjit Sidhu said in a statement emailed to CP24 on Tuesday.

“However, in this incident it was not requested (by the investigating officer). There is no specific reason the information was not released.”

Sidhu said no news release was published by the divisional officer who initially investigated the incident, which began as an aggravated assault case.

“The victim succumbed to her injuries in hospital on December 20, which is when homicide took over the investigation,” Sidhu said.

“Homicide news releases are proactively published, however at that time over the course of three days there were five homicides. Unfortunately there was no media release published for Homicide #70/2019.”

Derouiche’s murder was first reported by The Toronto Star after it was discovered that the accused had died in jail. According to the Star, Soltani died at the Toronto East Detention Centre last month after contracting COVID-19.

Court documents provided to CTV News Toronto indicate that the trial was set to begin on Jan. 17, 2022 but the charges were withdrawn earlier this month after Soltani’s death.

In a tweet, Myrna Dawson, a University of Guelph professor and director of the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, said the police service’s failure to report the homicide in 2019 represents “a stark example” of data collection issues identified in the organization’s 2020 Call It Femicide report.

In the report, the authors note that it is becoming a “growing challenge to get even basic information” about femicides and intimate partner violence and add that researchers have started to rely on media coverage or court documents for information.

“This situation is getting worse despite growing awareness and education about sex/gender-related elements in male violence against women and girls alongside advances in technology and digital data,” the report read.

“Violence prevention researchers, advocates and activists are working hard to collect evidence-based data and are becoming increasingly reliant on publicly accessible information (e.g. media and court documents) in place of official data that are hard to access or are administrative in focus with little to offer by way of informing prevention.”

The report notes that simple details, such the relationship between the victim and the accused, are sometimes difficult to find.

Peel police launch new intimate partner violence unit today

News of Derouiche’s murder comes as one GTA police service officially launched a dedicated intimate partner violence (IPV) unit this week.

In a news release issued Wednesday, Peel Regional Police said the specialized unit was created in collaboration with Safe Centre of Peel (SCoP), a group of partner agencies that offer support to families impacted by abuse and violence in the region.

Peel police say the unit represents a “groundbreaking change” to the service’s response model and noted that it is one of the “few large services nationally to incorporate this approach.”

“The goal of SCoP’s partnerships is to provide an array of different services in one location, creating a continuum of care with consistent, seamless integration. Police have long been an important partner, and we are delighted to welcome the new IPV Unit to our home at the Davis Centre,” Sharon Mayne-Devine, CEO of Catholic Family Services Peel – Dufferin, the lead agency at SCoP, said in a written statement.

The police service said the IPV unit aims to better support survivors of violence and the ultimate goal is to reduce the rate of intimate-partner violence in the region. Officers in the unit, police say, have undergone special training in anti-racism, domestic violence and sexual assault investigation and members of the unit collectively speak a total 14 different languages.

“Intimate Partner Violence places many in our communities at risk on a daily basis. Our service is committed to breaking that cycle of abuse and preventing violence,” Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Nick Milinovich said in a statement.

“We are very proud of this milestone and all of our partners who helped us realize it. With their contributions and insights we will make our communities safer for our families.”

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