Toronto Star

Sunday, November 4, 2001

Woman's story snuffed out by husband


WHERE IS Gillian's voice?

Who speaks now for Gillian Hadley?

And would anyone know her name if she hadn't been a pretty blonde who was naked when she fled from her murderer into the street? Gillian Hadley was shot dead, point-blank, by her estranged husband Ralph, who then killed himself, in June, 2000.

Since the inquest began two weeks ago, I've been filled with a rising disgust at the way these horrific events play out in the public.

The killer gets to spew his sick ramblings -- written and audiotaped -- all over the headlines and in lengthy reportage.

The murdered woman is silent forever, her life and her story snuffed out by her husband. Gillian's infant son, Chase, whom she handed to safety seconds before she died, will never again know his mother's love. Now the child's inheritance will be to hear her story from the twisted murderer's -- and the murderer's doting parents' -- point of view.

Even witnesses -- never mind columnists in the conservative press who make a point of grovelling to male dominance -- seem to slip easily into seeing events from the murderer's vantage point. A man who tried to rescue Gillian that day recently exclaimed to the CBC: "No one should have to die in that horrible way!" He felt that society should wake up to the problem. And how did he define the problem?

"Divorce is so painful -- these are society's walking wounded."

So, once again, the obscenely repulsive Ralph Hadley -- stalker, harasser, abuser, murderer -- gets his "pain" front and centre.

Gillian, of course, had no chance to leave tape recordings and grandiose notes.

The inquest is already proving itself a morass of confusion in which Gillian's death seems to disappear. The coroner, inexplicably, granted official standing to a fathers' rights group. What on earth can these men contribute to making our world safer for battered women? Merely by accrediting them, officials have validated the preposterous idea that Ralph, as a father, was somehow the aggrieved party.

Let's make it clear: A man who murders his child's mother does not act out of love and concern for that child. Short of actually slaughtering the child, he has committed the most bitterly injurious and unforgivable crime possible against his own offspring.

Ralph Hadley was a screamer, a hot-tempered slacker, a post office worker who frequently bailed on work. He thought he had a right to dominate and control Gillian, with whom he had been obsessed since school days. She married him on the rebound from a divorce, already the mother of a little girl and a blind, deaf and quadriplegic son.

Gillian's friend Kim Nicely told me last summer that Gillian was a devoted mother.

But the press coverage slides into ambiguity. Over and over, we hear of Ralph's "concern" that Gillian was "a bad mother."

What garbage: There is absolutely no trace of "bad mothering," whereas Ralph himself was barred by the Children's Aid first from seeing the handicapped child and then from being unsupervised with his own son.

Clear facts get misted over; batterer's deeds are prettied up. We're repeatedly told how Ralph once "slapped" Gillian when he was "provoked" by finding her in bed with someone else.

He didn't "find" her; it wasn't a "slap." Although separated from Gillian, he had his cousin living in her basement, spying on her, eavesdropping on her conversations and taking notes.

Tipped off that Gillian was visiting her new boyfriend, Ralph went there, got Gillian outside, smacked her face, smashing her head against the brick wall, and physically forced her into his car.

All this becomes "a slap" in the exculpatory language of the press.

The Hadley marriage had fallen apart after several official investigations into mysterious bruises on Mikey, the handicapped child. Gillian didn't "have Ralph charged with child abuse," as several reports have stated. On the contrary, she defended him against the suspicions of investigators from the Hospital for Sick Children and the Children's Aid. It was only when Ralph signed a peace bond, forbidding him to be near the child -- effectively forcing Gillian to choose between him and her child --that she believed he must be guilty and threw him out.

Three times he breached a court order to stay away from Gillian. Why did the court system not take seriously the recommendations of the May-Iles inquest jury, and do a tough risk assessment on this abusive jerk? He fit many of the high risk indicators, and later, he climbed into Gillian's window with a satchel full of porno torture equipment, knives and a gun.

Why does the press repeat family accusations that Gillian was "unfaithful," as though a separated, adult woman belongs exclusively to her abusive husband and has no right to look for love and sex?

Bad enough that Gillian's stepfather, stepsister and Ralph's family all joined in prudish denunciations of her "adultery." How alone she must have felt.

Why was Ralph released into the custody of his parents, including a father who repeatedly talked about "shooting Gillian's head off?" Are there no consequences to such a breach of responsibility, solemnly undertaken in the court?

"Ours is a culture of reinforcement, colluding with and supporting an abuser," said Eileen Morrow, co-ordinator of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. One of the province's most informed and tough-minded commentators, Morrow is sickened when these inquests turn into festivals of victim-blaming.

If we look for causes, if we want the 40 femicides a year in Ontario to stop, look no further than inequality. These high-risk abusers are domestic terrorists.

When they violate court orders, they should be jailed in the interests of security for women. But the system bends over backward for the stalkers, not for their female victims.

The May-lies jury urged that abused woman have access, anywhere in the province, to an advocate who would help her connect to housing, jobs, day care, legal aid, police protection.

The province funded one such "pilot project," now completed. One isn't enough and now isn't too soon to extend this life-saving program province-wide.

Gillian Hadley was isolated. As her friend Kim Nicely told me, she had no money, no access to day care. She was desperate to move, but public housing officials hung up on her. Thanks to governments that had washed their hands of their housing responsibilities, there was no shelter to offer Gillian.

Causes? They're all around us, especially in the inequities that entrap single mothers into social isolation, helplessness and poverty.

Gillian has no voice now. We must be her voice.

Michele Landsberg's column usually appears in The Star Saturday and Sunday. Her e-mail address is

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