Tuesday, December 04, 2001
Men challenge 'bible' of violence against women
A Toronto inquest will question the validity of a standard reference book.Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen
The job in front of a coroner's inquest in Toronto puts the five-member jury in a position similar to that faced by jurors in the historic 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which many still call the trial of the (20th) century.
The famous U.S. case challenged the Bible and the right of its believers to ban the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in schools. It was modernism against fundamentalism and the winner was Darwin. His supporters were represented by Clarence Darrow, one of the most famous lawyers in the U.S.
The Toronto inquest also has a bible on trial. Among the first pieces of evidence submitted was the 1992 Final Report of the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women.
Not quite as long as the Bible, it is the standard reference book for a growing industry that claims violence against women is a hidden epidemic seen only by selected front-line workers, many of whom have connections to women's shelters, rape crisis centres and hundreds of other women's organizations whose government funding relies on persuading society that domestic violence is not an isolated phenomenon, but a widespread pathology.
The inquest concerns the June 20, 2000 deaths of Gillian and Ralph Hadley. They were separated and he ignored a restraining order, drove to their home in Pickering and killed Gillian. Then he killed himself.
It is not the role of inquests to fix blame or guilt, but they can, and often do, result in new laws and social policies. Lawyers at inquests don't carry as much weight as they do at trials, but in this one two lawyers have been granted standing by deputy coroner Bonita Porter because they represent the two extremes in the domestic-violence issue.
Geri Sanson represents the Ontario Association of Interval and Transitional Housing and believes the 1992 report, called CanPan by insiders, is biblical in its truths. Walter Fox represents Fathers Are Capable Too (FACT), which challenges almost everything in CanPan and the laws to which it has given birth. The men's group, which includes a number of women and grandparents, says violence statistics are wildly exaggerated and when domestic violence does occur, men are just as likely to be the victims. FACT has a paid membership of 170.
Annual deaths in Canada connected to couples violence ranges from 70 to 80, with women by far the majority of victims. Male deaths are about 10 per cent.
Because he's challenging fundamental beliefs, Mr. Fox could seem to be playing Mr. Darrow's defence role. That puts Ms. Sanson in the position of playing the role of Scopes prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. (John Scopes was the teacher accused of breaking Tennessee law by teaching Darwinian theory.)
At stake in the inquest are the recommendations that will be issued at its close, expected in January. A similar inquest in the same courtroom in 1998 into another murder-suicide studied the 1996 killing of Arlene May by her former boyfriend, Randy Iles. That inquest came out with 213 recommendations and led eventually to the creation and passing last year of Ontario's Domestic Violence Protection Act (Bill 117).
That law has been challenged by, among others, the criminal law section of the Canadian Bar Association, which argues the proposed legislation intrudes on the exclusive federal jurisdiction over criminal matters.
Although the new law hasn't yet been used, it's part of the weaponry in the war against violence against women. Using it could transfer all of an accused's assets to the accuser in cases of violence against women. It could be done through an ex parte hearing while the accused is in jail, meaning he wouldn't be represented.
Men's groups were not represented at the May/Iles inquest. The Hadley inquest marks the first time a lawyer representing the interests of a predominantly men's group has been granted standing. If things fall together as expected, the CanPan could be given its first test of public accountability.
There are many, including Trent University professor John Fekete, who say CanPan is a work of fiction. In Moral Panic, Mr. Fekete argues the report is a series of doctored statistics and fabricated survival stories.
A newspaper editor would likely not accept any of the CanPan report because it doesn't name sources and is packed with unattributed quotes. Yet countless newspaper stories have been written quoting people making claims, using the CanPan as reference material.
Example: "He hasn't put one dollar in my hands even though I get family allowance and disability cheques. He takes it all. When my husband goes shopping, he buys gifts for another woman and I am the one who has to take them to her."
Dozens of similar unattributed quotes are scattered through the report, all intended to make men look hateful, but also make women look stupid. Did somebody consider it within limits to stretch the truth to prevent anything as abhorrent as violence against women?
Another famous American involved in the Monkey Trial was columnist H.L. Mencken, who covered it. Among his profound beliefs was: "I believe that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious."
Over the next several days, this column will document some of the damage being done to men and women as a result of social policies based on CanPan. In all accounts, names will be used. These stories will be documented in such a way that they'll be open to investigation by anyone who wants to talk to the sources. The CanPan, in contrast, is written is such a way that checking facts is impossible.
First up is Ottawa police case No. 99-180060, involving Douglas G. Rowe, an angry taxpayer.
On Oct. 24, 1999, Mr. Rowe, now 56, called police and asked them to be in his home while he removed some belongings. He wanted out of his marriage and didn't want to risk conflict and/or accusations in a situation that could be hostile. Two officers stood by as he made his move. He spent the night with relatives.
The next morning, he was hauled out of bed, arrested and handcuffed. His wife had complained she was assaulted. He spent 18 hours in jail finding out what it felt like to be a criminal. At the time, he told the arresting officer and the investigating detective to check with the officers who came to his home the night before.
Instead, he was formally charged. Tell it to the judge. He hired lawyer William J. Carroll, who was able to have the charge withdrawn Jan. 6, 2000. Mr. Rowe never appeared in court. His legal bill was $5,350.
Adding to his feeling of victimization is that two weeks after the arrest, his wife approached him. He locked the doors of his vehicle and used his cellphone to call police. When they arrived, it was Rowe who was stretched over the hood and searched. He says the assumption of male guilt is discrimination.
That he had such costs added to his problems and that there was no attempt to have his wife called to account was, in Mr. Rowe's opinion, not just. He filed a formal complaint (00-0065) against Ottawa police Const. Anthony Persaud, who arrested him, and Det. Lyse Fournier, who charged him. His claim was that he had been poorly served by these officers because they didn't check with the officers from the night before.
The reply to that complaint was a drop-dead letter dated Aug. 2, 2000, written by Ottawa police lawyer Vince Westwick. The problem, Mr. Westwick said, was that the officers who attended the night of the move had not filed reports. They were "counselled" for the oversight.
The officers ended up filing reports that could have cleared Mr. Rowe, but only two days after the incident. There is no attempt in the Westwick letter to explain why it took so long for the news to travel down the hall at the police station. Mr. Westwick suggests missing details can be blamed on the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The police lawyer says Det. Fournier had no choice but to charge "under police policy on partner assault which goes hand in hand with the Solicitor General's Wife Assault Policy."
These policies translate to zero tolerance and are responsible for channelling 120 men a month into Ottawa's Domestic Violence Court. Men on this DV court ride can't go home, even if the woman recants, until they plead guilty. Domestic squabbles are now classified as violence against women and the guilty pleas are making the statistics skyrocket.
Mr. Rowe has a circle of friends and a large extended family, all losing faith in a system and trust in police. They believe police should not follow a policy based on an overly zealous reaction to any complaint from a woman. Police take the view they are just following orders.
Such policies could become tougher if Ms. Sanson sways the Hadley jury.
© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen