Toronto Star

Dec. 12, 01:00 EDT

Don't let accused abusers free: Expert

`Contain' those who face charges, inquest told

Peter Small
Staff Reporter
Toronto Star

Spousal abusers should be "contained" and given mandatory counselling even before they have been convicted of a crime, the inquest into the murder-suicide of Ralph and Gillian Hadley has heard.

"We would like to see the abuser in some kind of containment space ... not running loose in the community," Deborah Sinclair, an expert on domestic violence, told the inquest jury yesterday.

"The key is keeping the abuser off the street and getting access to intervention until they get it until they begin to understand the dynamics of domestic violence and begin to take some responsibility."

Ralph Hadley, 34, had twice been released under strict bail conditions after he was charged with assaulting and later criminally harassing his 35-year-old estranged wife, Gillian. But in June, 2000, he broke into their former matrimonial home in Pickering and shot her, then himself, in the head.

The mail sorter had received one-on-one family counselling and attended individual anger-management sessions, but he had never accepted responsibility for assaulting or stalking his wife, the inquest has heard.

Meanwhile, Gillian Hadley was caring for two of her three children on about $800 a month while trying to get out of the home and into an affordable place where Ralph could no longer bother her.

Abused women need a breathing space to get their finances in order, and find a new home and schools for their children without being under constant threat, Sinclair a social worker, trainer and consultant said in her second day of testimony.

But she agreed with suggestions from Walter Fox, lawyer for Fathers Are Capable Too, that under the Canadian justice system which is based on the presumption of innocence it would be problematic for a court to order a man to take treatment if he has not been convicted.

Fox suggested that recent Canadian statistics show that the incidence of women abusing their male partners is roughly equal to that of men abusing women.

Sinclair replied that these statistics don't take into account the level of dangerousness, degree of fear and depth of injury that women experience compared to men. A woman slapping a man is not "at all equal" to the kinds of violence that abusive men perpetrate, she said.

She also disagreed with Fox's suggestion that services for abused women have proliferated to the point where "we need a super-body to co-ordinate them."

Workers in the justice, women's shelter and children's aid systems who help abused women are "a beleaguered group" under tremendous stress, Sinclair said. "They don't feel that they have the resources to do the job, and we get a tragedy like this."

Durham Region has an excellent mandatory group-counselling program for abusers, she said. But men can't access the provincially funded program unless they are charged and plead guilty to a criminal offence, Sinclair said.

Asked by Durham Region's lawyer, Matthew Gaskell, if the program should be made available to civil as well as criminal courts, she replied, "Yes, and at the earliest point of contact."

Working in such group sessions makes it harder for abusers to deny their responsibility, she said. "It's the power of confrontation of member to member."

The inquest continues today.

Copyright © 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.