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Alberta MLA who detailed domestic abuse horror grew up in St. John’s

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The Alberta politician who overnight has become a national face for domestic abuse victims was St. John’s very first female athlete of the year in 1969 and says she spoke out this week because not enough has changed since she escaped her marital horror in 1981.

“You hit the nail on the head,” said Maria Fitzpatrick, when asked if she feels options are still as dismal for women seeking to escape abusive relationships.

“My daughters are 39 and 42 years of age and this should not be an issue 40 years after the fact or 35 years after the fact.”

As she noted in her speech, Fitzpatrick reiterated society, intentionally or unintentionally, has allowed an atmosphere to continue for decades and centuries in which victims have a tough slog when trying to leave abusive relationships.

“We have to stop it, because it can’t continue,” she said Tuesday.

Related

Editorial: Feeling trapped

Video: Hear Maria Fitzpatrick's speech

Fitzpatrick, a Newfoundland track and field star — setting records in the 100- and 200metre events — left St. John’s, where she grew up, at age 23.

The Telegram spoke on the phone Tuesday with Fitzpatrick, who has been flooded with media requests since she stood in the Alberta legislature Monday and recounted her horrific years with an abusive husband.

The personal account moved fellow politicians to tears and resulted in a standing ovation. It also catapulted Fitzpatrick in to the national consciousness overnight. She expected the support within her own legislature, but was surprised by the national outpouring.

“I was overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve contacted me in one way or another,” she said, adding she’s also gotten supportive emails from many friends and colleagues in women’s groups she belonged to and who had privately known her story.

As for what she sees as a national solution to help domestic abuse victims, Fitzpatrick said she will take a little time to contemplate the reaction to her speech and digest the response. Previously over the years she had encouraged various women trying to leave abusive marriages by telling them her story, but had never made it widely public until this week.

“I don’t know that I was ready,” she said.

In the meantime, she said she encourages people to respect themselves and others and hopefully that leads to positive change.

As a young track star and female role model, Fitzpatrick never would have thought she’d wind up in an abusive relationship and said that shows victims come from all walks of life.

She met the American man she would marry while at an eastern Canadian track and field championship in Antigonish, N.S., where she was a coach and athlete with the Newfoundland team.

“I didn’t date him long enough,” she said.

During their marriage she could only manage to think of getting through each day.

“I don’t know that I actually envisioned getting out of it. I envisioned getting away from him. And I think I could only think a day ahead,” she told The Telegram. “I don’t think my thought process at the time was about the future. It was about how to get to safety at that moment.”

Fitzpatrick, member for Lethbridge-East, rose Monday to address the assembly in support of Bill 204, a private member's bill put forward by in independent MLA.

The bill would allow victims of domestic violence to break their leases without financial penalty, thereby making it easier for them to escape abusive situations.

Fitzpatrick told the House that at one point during her troubled nine-year marriage to her ex-husband, who has since died, she awoke to find he had pointed a gun to the back of her head.

She recalled hearing the clicking sound of the hammer as the trigger was pulled, and his hysterical laughter as she realized there were no bullets in the gun.

He said he told her the next time, there would be bullets.

“He beat me. He raped me," she told the silent assembly.

He also told her he would kill their daughters first, in order to see her pain, and then he would kill her.

She married in 1972 and during the union, she suffered broken bones, black eyes, was sexual assaulted and had two miscarriages as a result of the abuse. She said she left three times with her kids, to shelters twice but — with no options other than living on the streets — returned to worse violence.

After the incident with the gun, she called police and her husband was finally arrested and a restraining order put in place. It took her 16 calls to police in a two-week span before they responded to his breach of the restraining order.

Eventually, he was sentenced to a year in jail, but was released immediately because of the amount of time he had spent on remand.

“He turned and as he was leaving the courtroom, he said he would kill me," she recalled to the Alberta House.

“I asked the judge how could he let him go, and the judge said to me it’s a marital issue, get a divorce and leave. He proceeded then to give me a lecture on how much it was going to cost to keep him in jail.”

Fitzpatrick said when she got home, he was holding her two children and mother-in-law at gunpoint. Hours later, his mother prayed to God for help and he fled.

Days later, Fitzpatrick left Cincinnati, where they were living at the time, on a Greyhound bus and rode with her kids for 62 hours to Yellowknife. A decade later, she finally stopped being afraid, after learning he was dead.

After leaving the marriage, Fitzpatrick dedicated 30 years to working in corrections, first as a parole officer and ultimately in policy and project management at the national headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada.

The Alberta legislature unanimously passed second reading of the bill.

“You hit the nail on the head,” said Maria Fitzpatrick, when asked if she feels options are still as dismal for women seeking to escape abusive relationships.

“My daughters are 39 and 42 years of age and this should not be an issue 40 years after the fact or 35 years after the fact.”

As she noted in her speech, Fitzpatrick reiterated society, intentionally or unintentionally, has allowed an atmosphere to continue for decades and centuries in which victims have a tough slog when trying to leave abusive relationships.

“We have to stop it, because it can’t continue,” she said Tuesday.

Related

Editorial: Feeling trapped

Video: Hear Maria Fitzpatrick's speech

Fitzpatrick, a Newfoundland track and field star — setting records in the 100- and 200metre events — left St. John’s, where she grew up, at age 23.

The Telegram spoke on the phone Tuesday with Fitzpatrick, who has been flooded with media requests since she stood in the Alberta legislature Monday and recounted her horrific years with an abusive husband.

The personal account moved fellow politicians to tears and resulted in a standing ovation. It also catapulted Fitzpatrick in to the national consciousness overnight. She expected the support within her own legislature, but was surprised by the national outpouring.

“I was overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve contacted me in one way or another,” she said, adding she’s also gotten supportive emails from many friends and colleagues in women’s groups she belonged to and who had privately known her story.

As for what she sees as a national solution to help domestic abuse victims, Fitzpatrick said she will take a little time to contemplate the reaction to her speech and digest the response. Previously over the years she had encouraged various women trying to leave abusive marriages by telling them her story, but had never made it widely public until this week.

“I don’t know that I was ready,” she said.

In the meantime, she said she encourages people to respect themselves and others and hopefully that leads to positive change.

As a young track star and female role model, Fitzpatrick never would have thought she’d wind up in an abusive relationship and said that shows victims come from all walks of life.

She met the American man she would marry while at an eastern Canadian track and field championship in Antigonish, N.S., where she was a coach and athlete with the Newfoundland team.

“I didn’t date him long enough,” she said.

During their marriage she could only manage to think of getting through each day.

“I don’t know that I actually envisioned getting out of it. I envisioned getting away from him. And I think I could only think a day ahead,” she told The Telegram. “I don’t think my thought process at the time was about the future. It was about how to get to safety at that moment.”

Fitzpatrick, member for Lethbridge-East, rose Monday to address the assembly in support of Bill 204, a private member's bill put forward by in independent MLA.

The bill would allow victims of domestic violence to break their leases without financial penalty, thereby making it easier for them to escape abusive situations.

Fitzpatrick told the House that at one point during her troubled nine-year marriage to her ex-husband, who has since died, she awoke to find he had pointed a gun to the back of her head.

She recalled hearing the clicking sound of the hammer as the trigger was pulled, and his hysterical laughter as she realized there were no bullets in the gun.

He said he told her the next time, there would be bullets.

“He beat me. He raped me," she told the silent assembly.

He also told her he would kill their daughters first, in order to see her pain, and then he would kill her.

She married in 1972 and during the union, she suffered broken bones, black eyes, was sexual assaulted and had two miscarriages as a result of the abuse. She said she left three times with her kids, to shelters twice but — with no options other than living on the streets — returned to worse violence.

After the incident with the gun, she called police and her husband was finally arrested and a restraining order put in place. It took her 16 calls to police in a two-week span before they responded to his breach of the restraining order.

Eventually, he was sentenced to a year in jail, but was released immediately because of the amount of time he had spent on remand.

“He turned and as he was leaving the courtroom, he said he would kill me," she recalled to the Alberta House.

“I asked the judge how could he let him go, and the judge said to me it’s a marital issue, get a divorce and leave. He proceeded then to give me a lecture on how much it was going to cost to keep him in jail.”

Fitzpatrick said when she got home, he was holding her two children and mother-in-law at gunpoint. Hours later, his mother prayed to God for help and he fled.

Days later, Fitzpatrick left Cincinnati, where they were living at the time, on a Greyhound bus and rode with her kids for 62 hours to Yellowknife. A decade later, she finally stopped being afraid, after learning he was dead.

After leaving the marriage, Fitzpatrick dedicated 30 years to working in corrections, first as a parole officer and ultimately in policy and project management at the national headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada.

The Alberta legislature unanimously passed second reading of the bill.

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