‘I miss them every minute’: Mother of slain Oak Bay girls speaks after changes to Divorce Act

'I miss them every minute': Mother of slain Oak Bay girls speaks after changes to Divorce Act
WatchSarah Cotton-Elliott is speaking publicly for the first time following major changes to Canada's Divorce Act. April Lawrence reports.

A mother whose young daughters were slain by their father on Christmas Day in Oak Bay three years ago is speaking publicly for the first time, calling a major update to Canada’s Divorce Act an important tool that could help prevent family violence.

“There’s always going to be an immense void in my life,” said Sarah Cotton-Elliot, who recently married. “I’m so blessed I have a wonderfully supportive husband, I have three beautiful step-children and I have family and friends who have supported me throughout this…but I miss them every minute of every day.”

Her daughters Chloe, 6, and Aubrey, 4, were found murdered in their father Andrew Berry’s Oak Bay apartment on Christmas Day 2017.

Berry was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 22 years in each of the girls’ deaths, but has appealed his conviction.

Speaking with CHEK News Wednesday, Cotton-Elliot said she’s not sure if changes like the ones that came into effect Monday would have prevented her daughters’ tragedy, but called them a “huge step forward.”

Those changes to the Divorce Act set out several factors courts must now consider when determining a child’s fate, including not just family violence but the impact of that violence on children.

“There’s many people who don’t realize the types of abuse,” she said. “There’s psychological abuse, financial control, all of that, and it’s all laid out now in the Divorce Act, which I think is imperative.”

Where the Act once only mentioned violence, it now extends to types of abuse beyond just phyical violence which must be considered in all proceedings. The extensive list of behaviours includes:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Failure to provide necessities of life
  • Psychological abuse such as ridiculing and yelling at family members in a threatening, controlling manner
  • Financial abuse such as not giving a spouse access to their own money or preventing them from working
  • Threats to kill or harm, or actually killing or harming an animal, or damaging property

Cotton-Elliott said she felt unsupported in the court process when going through her own custody battle and hopes the updated Act changes that for others.

“I just hope that recognizing these signs will help protect children, women and children, and anybody who’s in danger or who has been at risk.”

She also has advice for any women who find themselves feeling alone while navigating a painful separation from an abusive partner.

“I would just always tell women to follow their intuition and to surround themselves with as much support as they can, to either get out of a situation they’re in or to get help to move through a situation,” she said. “Just ensuring you have the support you need and really following your intuition, and your gut will lead you in the right direction.”

It was that same support that helped Cotton-Elliot move through her own unspeakable tragedy, and she hasn’t forgotten it.

“We live in an amazing city and I can’t believe the level of support I’ve received, from my neighbours to complete strangers, it’s really incredible,” she said.

“Having people remember [Aubrey and Chloe] and honour them means the world to me, you know. I just hope they’re not forgotten.”

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