Ottawa Citizen
Friday, December 07, 2001

Turning domestic violence into a religion

Inquest an epic social debate

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

It could be one of the most important inquests of our age. At the coroner's office on Toronto's Grosvenor Street, a jury is being asked to decide the causes of the deaths of Ralph and Gillian Hadley and to make recommendations that will prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

It's a tall order.

Ralph and Gillian Hadley were married. She was his childhood crush, but she married -- and then was divorced from -- another man. Gillian had two children by her first husband and then another with Ralph. Last year, Ralph shot Gillian, then killed himself.

The first witness at the opening of the inquest on Oct. 23 was psychologist Peter Jaffe, of London, Ont., who told the five jurors the presentation they were about to see was not made for them.

Mr. Jaffe's presentation was originally prepared to educate judges about violence against women, and he said he had just completed an extensive tour of the United States, giving his demonstration in many major centres. Mr. Jaffe's position, expressed in a slick slide show, is that domestic violence is more widespread than we know. He calls it "the best kept secret in Canada."

If this is true, then I wonder whether we are in the midst of a serious problem. But I also wonder whether domestic violence -- or "DV" to the growing army of people who make their living out of fighting this blight -- hasn't been turned into a religion.

To question Mr. Jaffe would be like interrupting a Billy Graham crusade by asking the evangelist to prove the contents of the Bible. Violence against women, as a concept, has taken on that kind of belief structure. You either believe Mr. Jaffe's social science conclusions or you risk being a heretic.

What is not in dispute is that on June 20, 2000, Ralph Hadley ignored a restraining order and went to their Pickering home where he murdered Gillian with a handgun, then used the gun to kill himself.

Was this act deviant? Or does it reinforce the belief that domestic violence is a male-perpetrated pathology?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'd like to think the best way to approach them is with an open mind.

At the Hadley inquest, and for the first time at any comparable judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, a men's group has been granted standing. Dr. Bonita Porter, who is presiding over the inquest, made the landmark decision that a men's group just might have something to contribute.

Representing this group, called FACT (Fathers Are Capable Too) is a lawyer named Walter Fox. He hopes to show that the Hadley tragedy is not as simple as it may appear.

Does the system discriminate against men? Did the system provoke Ralph Hadley rather than help him to find a way out of his rage? Those are among the questions that Mr. Fox wants to examine.

The inquest is expected to run into the New Year, as deputy coroner Porter intends to put every detail in the lead-up to the disaster under a microscope.

The violence-against-women camp hopes the Hadley jury will make recommendations that will result in tougher legislation and more resources to protect women. The side that sees domestic violence as a human problem and not a gender issue hopes this could be the case that shows men, too, can have a breaking point.

Courts have accepted the battered wife syndrome as a defence for killing a husband. Did Gillian Hadley contribute to her own death by pushing Ralph too far? Did authorities miss the signs that Ralph was slipping over a line?

In their high school years, they were neighbours living across the street from each other. Their parents were friends. Blond and beautiful Gillian was popular and Ralph had a mile-wide crush on her. But Ralph was a bit dorky in her view and they never dated. She married young and the marriage failed, leaving her with two children, one a badly damaged three-year-old, paralysed, deaf and blind.

Finding a man willing to commit to those responsibilities would not be easy. She phoned Ralph and his dreams came true. They married in 1997.

Three years later, Ralph was back living with his parents. He and Gillian now had a son, but Ralph was under investigation by the Children's Aid Society for unexplained bruises found on Gillian's paralysed child. In eight months, CAS had not cleared the case, and while under investigation, Ralph couldn't be alone with his own son. The infant lived with Gillian in the Pickering home Ralph bought, but couldn't really afford.

Ralph was stuck in a dead-end job in a postal terminal and could see little hope. If Gillian bailed from the marriage, his court-ordered support payments would leave him barely enough for his own survival. There would be no hope of establishing a new life.

While he was adjusting to these realities, Gillian's sister visited him at his Toronto job and urged him to accompany her to Pickering. She took him to a home he was unfamiliar with. It was 10 a.m. and the front door was unlocked. Ralph followed noise to the master bedroom and walked in on his wife having sex with another man.

Ralph struck his wife. That resulted in a phone call to police, a night in jail, and a restraining order that banned him from crossing the city limits into Pickering. Friends and relatives have testified that Ralph went from being agitated to, all of a sudden, seeming surprisingly calm. What they didn't know was that he had made up his mind to end the ordeal.

There is no doubt that Ralph Hadley was over the edge. In the satchel he took with him on the morning of the murder-suicide, he had a knife, duct tape, lighter fluid, tools, surgical gloves, 13 pairs of women's underwear, a pornographic magazine and a dog collar. Attached to the collar was a wedding band engraved with the couple's wedding date. There was also a tape recording of his thoughts, which the inquest jury has now heard. His calm voice kept the courtroom in thrall. There was also the long letter he hoped would explain his actions.

In essence, Ralph wanted his son to someday believe his father had no choice but to kill his mother; that father was protecting son from an evil woman.

Ralph Hadley slipped into the house while Gillian was showering. She escaped naked, clutching the baby. Neighbours and passersby intervened and got the baby, but were forced to back away from Ralph's gun. He dragged her into the house and fired two shots.

Mr. Jaffe's four-hour lecture to the jury didn't offer psychological insights into the disaster. He treated the incident as proof of violence against women. He's a director of the London Family Court Clinic and told the jury he "trains" police, clergy, doctors, teachers and judges in matters of violence against women. His charts claimed 21 per cent of women in first world countries are physically assaulted and the figure for Canada is 29 per cent. A threat is considered an assault, and goes into his records as violence

The average woman is assaulted 35 times before she seeks help, says Mr. Jaffe. He backed up some of his claims by referring to his own published works. He has written eight books on the subject. Lawyer Walter Fox pointed out that reliable social-science conclusions have first to pass a peer-review process. Mr. Jaffe admitted much of his work has not been through that process.

Mr. Jaffe offered to the jury suggestions to prevent another death like Gillian Hadley's. What's needed, he said, are more "resources in place." The resources he advocates need more government funding. Society needs to counsel children who witness violence or they'll become bullies. Women who are victims of violence need more counselling services. Everybody seems to need more counselling.

A counterpoint to Mr. Jaffe's call for vastly expanded counselling/psychology services is a book written by psychologist Tana Dineen, of Vancouver. The title of Ms. Dineen's book is Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People.

Her book has been through three printings, and in the latest she quotes Sam Keen, former editor of Psychology Today, as saying it was time somebody took "a hard look at the sins of the profession." Her work is also supported by historian Ted Roszak, who is credited with inventing the term "counterculture." He called her book "an antidote for our society's spreading addiction to toxic therapy."

This is more than an inquest. It's an important debate not expected to draw conclusions until sometime early in the new year. What it is trying to resolve is: Is domestic violence an epidemic, or an isolated deviant behaviour?

© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen