Toronto Star

Dec. 5, 02:00 EDT

Ending a tragic refrain

Progress slow and painful in curbing domestic abuse

Kerry Gillespie
Toronto Star

Leslie, Anna, Brenda, Heather, Sabrina, Marjorie. The names continue.

There are 39 of them before you reach Gillian Hadley and another 26 after her.

These are the names of 66 women who were slain in Ontario in the last four years, with an intimate partner implicated in their deaths.

In 19 cases including Hadley's the man committed suicide after the murder. In the other cases, the men husbands, boyfriends and former partners are before the courts charged in the deaths.

Their stories are so similar that Vivien Green, the executive director of the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, says that the current inquest into the murder-suicide of Gillian and Ralph Hadley is a waste of taxpayers' money that could be better spent implementing the recommendations from a similar inquest four years ago.

"Take that money and implement the May/Iles inquest recommendations. That would be better," Green said yesterday.

Arlene May, a 39-year-old mother of five, was shot through the heart in her Collingwood-area home by her ex-boyfriend Randy Iles. He then turned the shotgun on himself. At the time, he was out on bail for assaulting May, just as Ralph Hadley was for assaulting Gillian Hadley.

Ralph Hadley shot his wife to death in June, 2000 before killing himself.

The May/Iles jury made 213 recommendations for change, including the establishment of specialized domestic violence courts and the use of risk assessment to identify and act in high-risk cases.

There is already one court that makes a difference, and time, energy and money are needed to make sure there are more, Green said at a news conference at city hall.

It's at Old City Hall courthouse. Yesterday, there were seven men on domestic violence-related charges before a judge in that specialized court. That means that the judge, the crowns and the support staff all have specialized training in domestic violence and can spot risk indicators more easily.

Having such courts was one of the May/Iles jury recommendations.

"When a specialized domestic violence court is up and operating, it does make a difference," Green said.

The Women's Court Watch project studied the outcome of cases in Toronto's specialized court and a similar domestic violence court in North York and compared them to those in three regular courts. It found:

  • Specialized courts resulted in twice the rate of successful prosecution.

  • Victims were more likely to be present at trial.

  • Charges were less likely to be withdrawn.

    That the courts do work, Green said, adds to the frustration that there aren't more of them.

    The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General maintains there are 15 domestic violence courts which are "fully operational" across Ontario and 55 will be in place by 2004.

    Ministry spokesperson Brendan Crawley points out that domestic violence courts are a program and that means, among other things, that the crown attorney who deals with such cases will have specialized training, but it doesn't necessarily mean the cases are heard in a specific courtroom.

    The program was given $10 million this year, he said.

    What is being done, Green said, is "done in this half-hearted fragmented fashion."

    "What's a life worth?" she asked, noting the resources aren't adequate to back up the policies.

    For example, Court Watch discovered that there were more convictions and accused men denied bail release when evidence such as 911 tapes were used to back up a woman's testimony in court.

    Yet, there is an eight-month wait to get tapes transcribed, Green points out.

    With the right resources, many domestic violence deaths are preventable.

    "There are predictable indicators," Green said about women who are in danger of being killed by their partners. But it is necessary that everyone involved from the police officer to the judge know the signs and how to act, she said.

    "Men like Randy Iles and Ralph Hadley are best understood as a kind of suicide bomber," Green said.

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