Toronto Star

Jan. 16, 12:35 EDT

Abuse drives women to shelters, probe told

70% more residents cite violent partner

Peter Small
Toronto Star

The percentage of Canadian women using emergency shelters to flee abusive partners shot up almost 70 per cent over six years, according to a housing expert at the inquest into the murder-suicide of Gillian and Ralph Hadley.

At least 11 per cent of families gave "woman abuse" as the immediate principal reason for needing to use homeless shelters in 1999, Sylvia Novac, a research consultant specializing in housing and equity issues, told the coroner's inquest jury yesterday.

"Six years earlier, that figure was 6.5 per cent," Novac told Geri Sanson, lawyer for the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, representing 166 women's shelters.

Violence is both a cause and a consequence of women's homelessness, she said. In the city of Toronto, among the repeatedly homeless those who enter shelters more than five times in one year more than one-third are women fleeing abusive situations, Novac testified.

In the first half of 2000, Gillian Hadley, 35, had been trying to find another home after her estranged husband was barred from the home they shared in Pickering but was still harassing her. On June 20, 2000, Ralph Hadley, 34, broke into that house and shot to death Gillian, a mother of three, and then himself.

The average rent in Durham Region around that time for a three-bedroom apartment was $846 a month, Novac said. Gillian Hadley's income from child support and welfare was $800. "Clearly, Gillian Hadley would not have been able to afford it," Novac told Sanson.

The fact that she had to accommodate a child with special needs would have made the search very difficult, she added. In previous testimony, the inquest heard that Gillian was reluctant to widen her housing search to areas far outside Pickering because of the need to ensure that her deaf, blind and disabled son Mickey, 6, could be close to support services.

In testimony Monday, a provincial official acknowledged that abused women seldom get advice and help from the province's victims' assistance program before their spouses are given bail hearings.

"The Victim/Witness Assistance Program is trying to meet with victims as soon as possible," said Joana Kuras, of the attorney-general's victims' services division.

Kuras said it is difficult for the province's victims' assistance program staff to meet victims in the 48 hours before bail hearings are held.

"It's very difficult to meet with the victims in all cases and it would be a matter of (having) additional resources," she said.

Gillian Hadley had not been consulted before her husband was released on bail on criminal harassment charges on Feb. 28, 2000.

The inquest continues today.

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