No choice other than peace bond in Quebec domestic violence case, Crown tells coroner

MONTREAL — A peace bond was the only option for prosecutors trying to protect a Montreal woman whose estranged husband later killed her along with her two young sons, an inquest heard Tuesday.

The coroner's inquest is examining the killings of Dahia Khellaf, 42, and her sons, Adam, 4, and Aksil, 2, as well as the Dec. 10, 2019, suicide of the man who killed them, Khellaf's husband Nabil Yssaad.

Pascal Dostaler, an assistant chief prosecutor for the province, told the inquiry that a peace bond was used because Khellaf refused to testify after having filed a complaint a year earlier, leaving the Crown without their main witness. The peace bond allows for certain conditions to be placed on an accused for a period of 12 months and is an admission that the victim has reason to fear for her safety.

Charges are withdrawn, and as long as conditions aren't broken, the accused has no criminal record at the end of that year, Dostaler said. She said it's rarely a prosecutor's first choice. "It's often the only alternative to an acquittal, pure and simple," she said.

"This type of tragedy is also the nightmare of prosecutors," Dostaler added. "This type of case is in the back of the mind in every decision taken in a file. No decisions are taken lightly."

Police homicide investigators concluded the three victims were strangled by Yssaad, 46, just five days after he signed the legal document. He took his own life by leaping from a hospital window northeast of Montreal.

While Khellaf had filed a police complaint in August 2018 outlining two separate allegations of assault and threats, she told prosecutors from the beginning her main goal was for her husband to get psychological help as she was convinced he was schizophrenic.

Khellaf had detailed incidents in which Yssaad twisted her arm and tried to bite her upon leaving a bank meeting and another when he threatened her with scissors. A police officer said she feared for her safety.

The province's chief coroner ordered a public inquiry after a 2022 coroner's report into the deaths raised concerns about prosecutors and the judicial system, saying more could have been done to protect Khellaf and her children.

Earlier Tuesday, the inquiry heard from Latifa Sail, a next-door neighbour who is still haunted by the deaths. She said the family seemed normal when they moved to the neighbourhood in 2017, but Yssaad's condition began deteriorating a year later.

Khellaf told her that she believed Yssaad was suffering from mental illness. Sail said Khellaf described her husband's double personality — sometimes he was fine and other times he was aggressive. But Khellaf said she didn't think he would follow through on his threats, and he loved his boys.

A few days before the killing, Sail said she saw Yssaad with the boys outside the home. At the time, Sail didn't know he wasn't allowed near the house.

"If I'd known, I would have done something, I would have gone to see Dahia," she told coroner Andrée Kronström.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press