Toronto Star

Dec. 11, 01:00 EDT

Social services don't collaborate, inquest hears

Communication lacking, Hadley probe told

Peter Small
Toronto Star

Although Ralph and Gillian Hadley were surrounded by social services shortly before he murdered her and killed himself, the services were poorly co-ordinated, a coroner's inquest has been told.

All over the province, "very often the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," domestic violence expert Deborah Sinclair told coroner's counsel Al O'Marra yesterday.

There is a real lack of collaboration and communication, even among workers within the same office, said the Toronto-based social worker, trainer and consultant on violence against women and children.

The inquest is looking into the June, 2000, murder of Gillian Hadley, 35, by her estranged husband Ralph, 34. While free on bail for criminal harassment and ordered to stay away from his wife, Ralph Hadley broke into their home in Pickering and shot Gillian in the head with a handgun before killing himself the same way.

The inquest has heard that the Hadleys had extensive dealings with the Durham Children's Aid Society over suspected abuse of one of Gillian's children and had numerous contacts with police, doctors, a family counsellor, an anger management counsellor, judges, housing officials, lawyers, assistant crown attorneys, the attorney-general's victims services office and welfare workers specially trained in domestic violence.

Durham Region is just one community struggling to better synchronize services, said Sinclair, who is a consultant for the region's Violence Prevention Co-ordinating Council. She is working on developing a "seamless response" to domestic abuse.

An Ontario study showed that 920 women have been murdered by intimate partners since 1974, and "I have officers telling me this is a very incomplete list," she said.

That kind of homicide is preventable, she said, and a lot of work has been done around assessing risk and developing strategies to prevent it.

The role of the justice system in prevention has tended to be overemphasized, she added. Many people who are abused never get identified by the system.

Women's shelter workers have been, historically, the hub of the wheel of services for domestic abuse victims.

But shelter funding has been cut, not just in Ontario, but in other parts of the country as well. "This has been in my view, intolerable."

Sinclair said it would help if there were local community panels of experts on domestic violence ready to intervene in a case of suspected abuse. If there is concern about a particular woman or child, this expert team who could use standardized "risk assessment tools" to determine their degree of danger.

Asked by O'Marra if she would advocate a provincial co-ordinating organization on domestic violence, Sinclair said, "Absolutely, if the right people are on it."

In earlier testimony, Durham Region police Sergeant Stewart Giffin, a trainer with the force, said all front-line officers get mandatory yearly training that includes sessions about domestic violence.

In addition, sergeants and staff sergeants have been receiving a five-day course on the subject.

The inquest continues today.

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