Toronto Star

Nov. 10, 02:00 EDT

Constable fights lonely, thankless battle

Jim Coyle
Toronto Star

THERE ARE a lot of interesting cops to be found around coroners court these days.

OPP Detective-Constable Mark Collins, one of the investigators in the Hadley inquest now under way, has written a novel he hopes to get published. Staff-Inspector Brian Fazackerley, counsel for Durham Region police, was a constable who quit the force to go to law school, then rejoined it as a lawyer. Detective Rick Evans, who's based out of the court, has battled his share of bad guys over the years, the nastiest of which is cancer, and has made fundraising to help fight the disease the crusade of his life.

But the most intriguing would surely be Cheryl Carter, a constable from Durham who testified this week at the inquest into the murder-suicide 1 1/2 years ago in Pickering of Gillian and Ralph Hadley, an event that haunts her still, an event that's changed the course of her career.

At first blush, you wouldn't take Cheryl Carter for a police officer. By her own admission, she doesn't look like one. You might peg her, instead, for a suburban real estate agent, maybe a grade school vice-principal.

In fact, until the mid-1990s, Carter was a mother and housewife. And, in further fact, what she really wanted to be back then as she planned to rejoin the workforce was a teacher.

But she couldn't get into teachers' college. And since her sister was a cop, two brothers-in-law were cops, and her ex-husband was a cop, she went to the Ontario Police College.

"It was what I knew," she said this week after her testimony. "And something, I think, that I was born to do, now that I'm in it."

If Carter now sees, after almost six years on the job, an inevitability about her career, she also suspects - because of the leniency and attitudes of the system - that there was an inevitability about the murder of Gillian Hadley.

Carter - the kind of cop who's taken domestic violence courses on her own time and at her own expense - had visited the frightened woman at her home in February, 2000. Gillian had separated from her husband about six weeks earlier. He had assaulted her after he'd found her in bed with another man. He had been stalking and harassing her since. She was growing increasingly alarmed.

Carter quickly saw the signs of obsession and Ralph Hadley's panic at losing control of his wife. She saw the escalating efforts to regain it. She knew he'd been violent in the past. She noted he was breaching restraining orders mere days after their issue.

Carter feared for Gillian Hadley's life and told her so. She had Ralph charged with three new offences and arrested. She expressed her worries to the crown attorney.

She did not know Ralph Hadley was released on bail after three days in jail. But she instantly feared the worst when she saw on her cruiser computer on June 20, 2000, that there was a disturbance at Gillian's address.

On the witness stand, Carter almost broke down recalling that day, recalling how she immediately tried to get back to Pickering, hoping there was something she could do to prevent the murder-suicide that had already occurred.

But even had Ralph Hadley been in custody until trial, he very likely would have had a short sentence or no sentence at all, she said. And unless some serious intervention had taken place to address his "distorted thinking" about women, she suspects he almost certainly would have continued on his mission.

He'd already shown little respect for laws, she noted, and the lenient way the criminal justice system had treated him in his first few encounters probably only emboldened him.

Ralph Hadley should have been detained and psychiatrically assessed, she said. "Hopefully, somebody would have seen what I saw."

Cheryl Carter said unequivocally that the system knew Ralph Hadley was violent, knew Gillian was vulnerable, and failed to protect her. She had the courage to say in public that there are senior officers in her own force who are still highly resistant to taking the kind of domestic violence training that would enable them to see lethal risk where it exists.

She knows from their comments, she said, that many think the risk is over when a woman leaves an abusive situation or when she returns to a relationship she's fled. But it's not.

Cheryl Carter has been seconded from the force and is now working full-time helping to establish a shelter for abused women in Ajax-Pickering-Whitby. It's a booming area, with more than 250,000 residents. But there are no shelters there. And in the last two years alone, there have been five murders - four women and a child - by former spouses.

The work has been more difficult than she expected. "It's just not that easy to change things." The opening of the facility is still about a year away.

Sometimes, there seems a sadness, maybe a weariness, about her eyes. But there's no escaping the steely conviction about the issue to which she's now devoted. And there's no mistaking, her soft voice and unlikely appearance notwithstanding, that she's a cop.

Ask her age, for instance, and Carter smiles and replies sweetly.

"You know I have a gun?"

Jim Coyle's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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