Toronto Star

Nov. 27, 02:01 EDT

Help wasn't just a call away for Gillian Hadley

Jim Coyle
Toronto Star

IT'S HARD TO know quite what to make of the announcement yesterday by Attorney-General David Young of an expanded program to deal with domestic violence in Ontario, hard to say whether its nature and timing honours or insults the memory of Gillian Hadley and others like her.

Young and two executives from the world of wireless technology were at Toronto police headquarters to announce that Ontario's SupportLink program - operating since 1998 at pilot sites in Barrie and Ottawa - will be expanded to 18 additional sites over the next two years. (Thirteen by the end of March, 2002, five more the year after, with an annual cost of about $400,000 once all 20 sites are operating.)

Along with referral services and safety planning advice for those fearing for their safety, the program offers - thanks to Ericsson Canada Inc. and Rogers AT&T Wireless - wireless phones pre-programmed to dial 911 (and free air time) in the event of an emergency.

Gillian Hadley was a Pickering mother murdered two summers ago by her estranged husband, a horror now the subject of a coroner's inquest.

What that inquest has heard is that it was not a failure to call for help that cost Hadley her life. It was the inability of the system to answer.

Gillian called police in January, 2000, after being assaulted by her husband Ralph. She called again in February when he continued to harass her, and he was charged with further offences.

During subsequent months, Gillian repeatedly called social services in Durham, desperate to move from the home the couple had shared. But there was no subsidized housing available. There was no women's shelter near her home. And none anywhere, apparently, that could accommodate her disabled son.

Then, the morning in June that Ralph Hadley arrived at her home with a gun, at least three calls were made by neighbours to 911 for help.

For all the calling over all those months, Gillian Hadley was murdered that day, her husband then turning the gun on himself.

It's a near certainty that the Hadley inquest - like the May-Iles inquest three years ago into a similar murder-suicide - will make recommendations with three main thrusts: One, increased provision of shelter, support and services for women at risk. Two, a tougher approach by the justice system to those who breach court orders, and tougher policies on bail. Three, training for police and crown officials to better recognize - as at least one Durham officer did - the characteristics of potentially lethal domestic situations.

On these matters, Young had nothing to announce yesterday. His is a government, after all, under which social-assistance rates were drastically cut, support for women's shelters slashed, provincial responsibility for subsidized housing all but abandoned - all factors that help trap abused women. Though it must be said the minister did have the decency to acknowledge that a few hundred cellphones were hardly a panacea to the problem of domestic violence.

"It is not a complete answer, I grant you that."

As an event, however, his news conference was thoroughly illustrative of the new world order of public policy-making. Atop the letterhead of his statement, Ericsson and Rogers got equal billing with the government. And they used the occasion for the kind of self-promotional ad-speak that invariably simplifies and trivializes.

"We hope freedom from fear is only one button away," said Douglas Cotton of Rogers.

Would that it were so.

Lynda Vickers is executive director of the Victim Services Program of Toronto. She welcomed the announcement. But she was - though not about to "bite the hand that feeds me" - of more restrained view. "It's not the be-all and end-all," she said. "It can only be part of a safety plan ... and it's better than nothing."

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

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