Toronto Star

June 22, 2000

Analysis

Little has changed for victims of abuse

All the warning signs were present before Gillian Hadley's tragic death

By Rita Daly
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Has nothing changed?

Four years ago, The Star produced a series on domestic violence that sparked an outcry and prompted changes in the way these cases are investigated by police and prosecuted by the courts.

The series put faces to those who beat their wives and girlfriends, and to those who were bruised and beaten. The paper ran 133 names - and in many cases faces - of men convicted and of those who walked away from court after victims failed to show up or were too frightened to testify.


`The area of restraining order didn't work in this case. It may very well be something that government has to take a look at, if there is more we can do there.'
- Premier Mike Harris

Fortunately, no one was murdered, and advocates argue the subsequent changes have likely prevented serious, perhaps fatal, beatings.

Yet Tuesday's tragic killing of Gillian Hadley demonstrates how little things have improved for many women. It's a classic case involving assault charges, stalking, threats and breach of bail that led to little more than continuous bail releases, weakly enforced orders to stay away from the victim and ineffective peace bonds.

The Star series found domestic violence wasn't being taken seriously by police, crown prosecutors or judges, and that a conviction depended solely on the victim's willingness to point the finger at her partner.

The series called for improvements in the way police handle and investigate domestic assault. Although that's happening to some degree, there is an apparent lack of collection of videotaped evidence and 911 tapes. That could change in Toronto, where police have set up specialized domestic violence teams to investigate cases.

The Star argued for specialized courts - involving either early guilty pleas for first offenders followed by mandatory counselling, or vigorous prosecution - with designated crown prosecutors, a program now running in eight criminal courts. Unfortunately, only Oshawa has the early plea court and Ralph Hadley chose to go to trial. Another eight courts are planned.

The Star series also recommended a counselling program for every man convicted of domestic assault. These batterers' programs are running, but only in conjunction with domestic violence courts.

Attorney-General Jim Flaherty said yesterday the domestic violence courts have been very successful and, when coupled with counselling, have reduced the recidivism rate.

``Police know they can take someone who has a violence problem and bring them before the domestic violence court, and the court can arrange for . . . anger management and treatment (and) rehabilitation,'' Flaherty said.

The province also has provided funding for emergency cellular telephones for domestic violence victims who fear for their safety. Those phones are programmed to automatically dial 911.

But other recommendations have not been acted on.

The series argued against peace bonds, which are considered ineffective, and for tougher penalties against men who breach their bail conditions. In Ralph Hadley's case, the crown opposed his release, but a judge let him out anyway.

Yesterday Premier Mike Harris said Gillian Hadley's death was ``shocking'' and ``the area of restraining order didn't work in this case. It may very well be something that government has to take a look at, if there is more we can do there.''

The Premier said that the government will look at various options, including ``tougher sentencing, tougher laws, tougher judges or restraining orders that actually mean something, and substantially increase penalties for breaking those restraining orders.''

This tragedy demonstrates not only the need for more improvements but the urgent need for more consistency across the criminal court system, advocates argue.

It especially begs for better education and training of judges, some of whom oppose special handling of domestic violence cases, says Vivien Green, co-ordinator of the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto.

``We supposedly are working toward a consistent universal response, and yet judges, who really are the linchpin in this whole system, still have complete and utter discretion as to what pieces they'll do and won't do,'' Green argued.

The Star series made one more recommendation: that the outcome of each domestic violence case be tracked.

``We have seen absolutely no change within the criminal justice system of a better tracking and information system. That to me is the most telling thing,'' Green said.

Similar recommendations came out of the inquest into the 1996 murder of 39-year-old Arlene May by her ex-boyfriend Randy Iles, but many have not been implemented.

``The answers are out there,'' Green said. ``We've had commissions. We've had inquiries, we've had reports. It's just a matter of doing it and putting their money where their mouth is.''



Rita Daly was one of the principal writers in the award-winning series Hitting Home, which was published in March, 1996. With files from Elvira Cordileone, Caroline Mallan and Richard Brennan.

Contents copyright © 1996-2000, The Toronto Star.