Toronto Star

Dec. 4, 02:00 EDT

Means exist to avert Hadley tales

Jim Coyle
Toronto Star

For Geri Sanson, one of the frustrating aspects of attending day after day at the Hadley inquest is the fact there's so little new in a story she's heard many times before. Its plot line is, by now, practically a cliché. Angry man. Assaulted wife. Police called. Charges laid. Bail granted. Protection (from him) inadequate. Support (for her) lacking. Bodies found.

Sanson represents the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses at the coroner's inquest into the murder-suicide of Gillian and Ralph Hadley two Junes ago in Pickering. She's of the firm view that such killings of a woman by her estranged husband are both predictable and preventable.

She says what the justice system must deliver — but in this case didn't — is safety for the victim and accountability for the accused. She says what's needed — what we have the know-how, if not the willingness, to provide — is a seamless system of protection and support to the party at risk.

What seems to characterize the death of Gillian Hadley is not the egregious breakdown of any one part of the system, but a disconnectedness of its many component parts. It is hard not to conclude that had all the paperwork introduced as evidence at the inquest been in one place or read by one person during her lifetime the outcome might have been different.

What's striking, as the inquest enters its seventh week, is how many antennae did perceive that Gillian Hadley was at risk, how many people along the way did identify Ralph Hadley as volatile and deluded, how many warnings were raised — and how all those voices seemed to speak in isolation.

Somehow, it was possible for a police officer to be noting Ralph Hadley's breach of court orders, his stalking, his escalating misconduct to predict dire consequences for Gillian, yet never be talked to by the crown. Possible for a children's aid worker to peg Ralph as having a distorted view of women, an anger management counsellor to identify him as having serious control issues, a lawyer to note his explosive temper toward his wife. And none of the pieces fitted together into a picture of lethal risk.

Yesterday, the inquest heard another player's contribution to the puzzle.

Joy Mahorn worked at the Durham Region social services department when Gillian Hadley applied for social assistance after her husband had been removed from the matrimonial home in January, 2000. After approving financial support for Hadley, Mahorn wrote a letter on March 31 that year requesting her placement on a priority list for subsidized housing.

"She is in dire need of a new place of residence," the letter said. The situation was reported as "urgent." Gillian said she was "willing to relocate anywhere in the region."

Before it could be sent, the client was required two attached documents. As Mahorn explained, "Gillian never came in to sign those documents." So the letter wasn't issued.

To Sanson, it's a good example of a system that's knee-deep in paper and paper-thin in protection.

If Gillian did not attend at the department, perhaps it was because she had two young children to care for, including an infant, was under the considerable stress of harassment by her spouse, the spiteful interventions of a cousin of his who lived in her basement, had lawyers to deal with, financial trouble, and did not drive.

Yet for want of the signatures, the letter chronicling her dire need, her urgent circumstances, her reported willingness to go to any length to escape them, was put on hold — and she remained at risk.

It was, for Sanson, another case of putting the onus on a vulnerable party to protect herself rather than the system — having been alerted to the risk and knowing the first few months after separation are the most dangerous — taking the responsibility to do so.

To an optimist, what the system did recognize in the Hadley case must seem like progress of a sort from the time when the answer to domestic violence was for police to drive the enraged husband around the block a few times.

To a pessimist, the fact the system recognized so much but saw so little is probably more dispiriting than ever.

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