A court order wasn’t able to protect Carmel Christians when she was murdered on Oct. 16

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Last month’s murder of Calgarian Carmel Christians brings to question the effectiveness of having a restraining order in place.

Christians was granted an emergency protection order — a court order demanding her abusive and violent husband, James Christians, to stay away from her — in provincial court Sept. 3, 2013. Despite the order, she was stabbed to death on Oct. 16.

Her friend, Delores McMartin, was also stabbed while trying to come to her aid and managed to survive the attack. Christian’s husband was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon two days later.

Carmel Christians had previously stated publicly she still feared for her life — even with a protection order in place.

Legal instrument

A protection order is a court mandate that commands a person to stay away from someone, and prohibits them from hurting or threatening that said person.

What is a protection order?

A protection order provides safety against a family member, and a restraining order is against anyone else that is not family.

A protection order is made by the court and enforced by the police when a victim wants to limit the contact someone else — the respondent — can have with them.

“An emergency protection order is specific to family or domestic violence,” Ryan Ayliffe, Staff Sgt. of the domestic conflict unit for the Calgary Police Service said.

“It gives the police the power of arrest and to help police keep the peace in domestic situations.”

According to the Alberta Courts, the protection order states the respondent:

  • Can’t have contact in person or by telephone with the victim

  • Can’t come within a certain distance of the victim’s home, work or other places

King said that for someone to get a protection order in court there has to be a solid case for it.

“The claimant has to present sufficient evident to satisfy a judge that a protection order is warranted,” King said.

Kevin McNichol is the executive director of HomeFront, an organization that supports victims involved in domestic violence. He referred to protection orders as a tool to keep someone away, a tool that normally works and is an effective one.

After all, it is an agreement that someone is bound to and put in place with the court.
If the respondent disobeys the order, it is the victim’s responsibility to call the police and wait for them to deal with the breach.

“It enables the police to intervene before something happens,” McNichol said.

“Most people are willing to abide by those conditions because they fear the consequences,” he added. “Such as being arrested or going to jail.”

McNichol said without a protection order in place the police can’t do anything if there is contact. In that case they can only do something if criminal action is taken — such as a death threat.

No guarantees

For a protection order to work, it relies on the voluntary compliance of the person who has the order against them to obey the agreement.

McNichol said the reality is most people comply with protection orders put in place against them. However, there is always going to be someone who goes against these orders.

“The normal rules don’t come into play for some of these individuals, Their goal is to get to someone and hurt them,” McNichol said. “If someone is absolutely committed to hurt another person, it is awfully difficult to guarantee we can stop them.”

RestrainingOrder3 resizeHomeFront executive director Kevin McNichol said protection orders work for the average person and they are an effective tool.

Photo by Landon Wesley
McNichol said all that a person in danger can do is create a plan to try to keep yourself safe, just like Carmel Christians did and, although it is not guaranteed that it will work, it mitigates the potential risk from that person.

Doug King, a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University, said the only way to guarantee a protection order would be to have 24-7 police presence with the claimant. However, it just isn’t a feasible task to provide this for everyone with a protection order.

“We know that most protection orders are not breached,” King said. “Unfortunately, we also know that some are breached with tragic results.”


An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about James Christians. He has been charged with second-degree murder. He has not been convicted in a court of law. The Calgary Journal regrets the editing error.

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