Globe and Mail

No price tag on safety of women, inquest told

Saturday, January 26, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A21
The Globe and Mail

Abused woman in Ontario will not be safe until the provincial government coughs up the money for critically needed support services and implements an education program to change attitudes toward domestic violence, especially those of male abusers, a coroner's inquest was told yesterday.

This two-pronged approach would require costly programs, but the price tag should not be a deterrent, said lawyer Geri Sanson, who represents the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses.

"What is the cost of a woman's life?" Ms. Sanson asked the jury of three women and two men. It is looking into the death of Gillian Hadley at the hand of her estranged husband, who violated a court injunction to stay away from her. "When are we going to make women's safety a priority of this government?"

The need to balance the demands on the government's purse with the public need has been highlighted by every lawyer at the lengthy inquest, the second held into domestic violence in Ontario.

The jury has heard conflicting advice in two days of closing arguments by the 10 lawyers involved in the hearing.

Lawyer Tom Marshall, representing the Ministry of the Attorney-General, urged the jurors to be pragmatic in their recommendations because there are too many big-ticket items competing for the public purse.

"There is not enough money for everybody. There will never be enough money for everybody," he said.

"You may very well recommend to the government that billions be spent on social housing," he said. "While that's probably desirable, is it going to happen? No."

He urged the jury to consider whether there are easier sources of funding and whether what they want to propose can be done with a minimal amount of money.

While the individual recommendations may not be costly, the total bill would likely be a serious drain on the province's budget.

The big-ticket recommendations would require the province to get back into building social housing and to increase welfare payments to their levels before 1995, when they were slashed 21.6 per cent. The lawyers and the various groups they represent have not put a price tag on any of their recommendations.

The proposals, which the jury does not have to adopt, would create a much safer system for abused women and their children, lawyers said.

An increase in social-assistance levels would give abused women more options if there was affordable housing to which they could escape.

The jury heard that Ms. Hadley could not afford an apartment on her income of $800 a month.

Ms. Sanson said that Ontario's welfare rates are so low that once a single mother with one child pays for the monthly rent and food, she has $2.24 per day per person for all other living expenses.

Ms. Sanson urged the creation of a provincially funded independent women's advocacy service to work for abused women and children in both the criminal system and in the community. The advocates should be in community-based women's services, such as shelters, she said.

She also proposed that the province shorten the time between bail hearings and trial to reduce the risk of further abuse to the woman. In-camera hearings should be abolished for cases of domestic abuse, and no-contact orders should take precedence over family-law rulings, such as custody.

Staff Inspector Brian Fazackerley, the lawyer representing Durham Regional Police, recommended that every Crown office in the province have a designated full-time lawyer to prosecute every bail hearing in a domestic-violence case, and that bail court for such cases be held on weekends and holidays, as well as during the week.

In his closing submission, Al O'Marra, the coroner's counsel, recommended that the province investigate the use of electronic-monitoring devices, such as ankle bracelets, for men charged with domestic abuse who are released on bail.

Yesterday was the second time Mr. O'Marra has addressed a jury looking into domestic violence. In 1998, he told another jury about the tragic life of Arlene May, who was killed by her lover, Randall Iles, in Collingwood, Ont., in March, 1996.

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