Toronto Star

Jan. 13, 01:00 EDT

Pair try to explain away Hadley murder

Michele Landsberg
Toronto Star

NEWS STORIES sometimes cry out for more context. As the inquest into the slaying of Gillian Hadley by her husband Ralph grinds on, The Star's reporter on the scene, Peter Small, is doing a stellar job of trying to give a clear, unbiased picture of who is saying what, and why. Nevertheless, reporters can't editorialize, so a recent report on two men one a witness and one a spokesperson for a father's rights group that was given standing at the inquest has me itching to scribble marginalia and footnotes to fill in the background.

Why did the coroner give standing to F.A.C.T. (Fathers are Capable Too)? The coroner explained in writing that although F.A.C.T. had no direct involvement with Ralph or Gillian Hadley, it was a special interest group with a "unique perspective" that wished to "contribute to recommendations that might prevent similar tragedies." Hence we had Walter Fox, a criminal lawyer and F.A.C.T.'s counsel at the inquest, calling on psychiatrist Dr. Harold Merskey to testify, as Small reported last week.

I feel that casual readers should know a bit more about these two men.

Walter Fox's expertise in matters of marital turmoil seems to stem from his own colourful history as a divorced father.

In the mid-'90s, the divorced Walter Fox sued his mother and his two children over his father's estate. No sooner had he won the case and a share of the estate valued at $500,000 to $600,000 than he was back in the news, going to court to fight the province's Family Support Plan, which charged him with being at least $7,000 in arrears on his child support payments. (The support was upheld and the amount raised). He was twice picketed at his office by MAFIA (Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears.)

In 1998, during Parliament's Joint Committee on Custody and Access, Walter Fox spoke out bitterly about the proceedings of family courts. "The judge brings everyone into the back room. The judge starts to make outrageous and bizarre threats to one side or the other, usually to the father. Then the lawyer says that if you don't agree with what the mother is offering, the judge says you'll be beheaded," Fox told the committee.

In his own personal case, he said, "My lawyer comes out and says `The judge says you'll have to support that child till she's 30. You have it, so you better settle."

Fox blames feminism for this dreadful state of affairs. "Feminism," he told the committee, "has come to take on the structure of McCarthyism ... The current form of feminism is really a replay of the side that lost the Second World War ... I don't want to equate feminism with Nazism ... but ..."

It's still not clear to me why the coroner thought F.A.C.T. had anything substantive to contribute to an inquest into a gruesome murder of a woman. It is clear, however, why Fox called on Dr. Harold Merskey to testify, even though Merskey had no special familiarity with the Hadley case and had not read the coroner's brief.

Although Merskey is a much-published expert in the management of chronic pain, he is not a domestic violence expert. He is, however, a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation board. (False memory syndrome has no actual medical status and is not a real syndrome. The name was devised by a lobby group of parents who had been accused of child sexual abuse by their grown children, mostly female. The FMSF maintains that almost all recovered memories of past abuse are "false" memories implanted by unscrupulous or incompetent therapists).

The Hadley case has nothing to do with memory, recovered or otherwise. But given the highly politicized anti-female-victim stance of most false memory advocates, perhaps it's not surprising that Dr. Merskey turned up at the inquest to testify that "we can never know" if Ralph Hadley was really criminally responsible for the murder. (The coroner had to ask the jurors to disregard Merskey's remarks). In Merskey's view, Hadley must have "snapped" under the extreme stress of "his wife's betrayal."

Dr. Peter Collins, a forensic psychiatrist working with the Ontario Provincial Police, who has read the coroner's briefs, had already testified that Hadley carefully planned the murder, made lists of tasks to prepare for the killing, and left a taped testament about why he did it.

Interestingly, the last time I heard of Merskey, he was testifying in a civil suit on behalf of one Dr. Leo Pilo. A woman called D.M.M. had complained to the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons that Pilo, her family doctor, had sexually molested her from the time she was 9 until her teens. Four other women came forward to tell of similar sexual molestation by Pilo when they were 11 and 12 years old.

The College issued a public decision revoking Pilo's licence. He had confessed to manipulating the girls' clitorises, inserting vibrators in vaginas, fondling breasts and nipples, masturbating to orgasm in front of his unclothed patients, giggling, making obscene sexual comments and offering marijuana. The College, in its written decision, called Pilo's behaviour "abhorrent ... repugnant in the extreme. He should never again have the privilege of seeing a patient."

D.M.M. then sued Pilo in civil court for damages. However, due to an incomprehensible regulation passed in '93 by the Rae government, "no order, document, statement or decision" made at the College was to be admissible in a civil suit. Thus, although his guilty plea and punishment at the College were on the public record, Dr. Pilo felt protected enough to deny all the allegations. He called on Dr. Merskey, who had never met D.M.M., as an expert witness. Merskey blandly told the court that D.M.M. probably suffered from false memory syndrome.

The court was not deceived, and D.M.M. walked away with an award of $300,000 in costs and damages.

It's a revealing little episode about the workings of ideologies like false memory syndrome. The diagnosis is a blanket one. Accused sex abusers are innocent not because of any evidence, but merely by dint of their victims having recovered long-suppressed memories of the abuse.

The same mind-set was at work in the Toronto coroner's court, where, in the face of all the evidence now on the record about the brutish Ralph Hadley, and how he shot his wife even as she tried to save their infant son from his rage, these two men tried to find a way to explain away Hadley's act.

He "snapped." It must have been the wife's fault. He couldn't help himself.

Right.

I guess that even a totally grim proceeding like an inquest into yet another preventable slaughter of a wife who wants out of a creepy marriage needs some twisted and dark version of comic relief.


Michele Landsberg's column usually appears in The Star Saturday and Sunday. Her e-mail address is mlandsb@thestar.ca

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