Toronto Star

Jan. 25, 07:05 EDT

More protection for women urged at inquest

Jury examining killing of Gillian Hadley of Pickering by husband

From Canadian Press
Toronto Star

Frustrated by a relentless scourge of domestic violence, women's groups have urged a coroner's jury to suggest sweeping changes to judicial and social policy.

"What's a woman's life worth?" lawyer Geri Sanson asked Friday at the conclusion of a three-month inquest into the June 2000 death of Gillian Hadley, 35, at the hands of her 34-year-old estranged husband Ralph.

Sanson, speaking on behalf of an association representing Ontario's emergency shelters, said the province must reverse cuts to welfare, social housing and other services that assist abused women.

Ontario and Ottawa must also provide affordable housing for victims of domestic abuse and re-establish rent controls so women and children can afford to leave violent homes, Sanson added.

The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses also wants to prevent men accused of domestic violence - especially those who breach conditions of prior arrests - from being released from custody until a trial takes place.

These suggestions were challenged by lawyers representing the province and the coroner.

Al O'Marra, chief coroner's counsel, warned the jury that some of the recommendations may be unconstitutional.

"While the suggestions were well-intended, they undermine some of the fundamental rights that individuals have," O'Marra said following the proceedings.

Tom Marshall, representing the Ministry of the Attorney General, suggested that costly recommendations will likely not be well-received by the Ontario government, which has slashed spending in its six years in power.

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

But Sanson said failing to protect women's safety is discriminatory.

"It's not a question of budget," she said. "It's a question of priority and women's lives need to be a priority in this government."

The Hadley inquest comes three years after a jury made hundreds of recommendations following the death of Arlene May at the hands of Randy Iles.

Sanson said little progress has been made to protect abused women since then.

"Here we are three years later and it's clear from this inquest that many of those recommendations were not implemented," Sanson said.

But in her charge to the jury, deputy chief coroner Dr. Bonita Porter said she believed the jurors who oversaw the May inquest in July 1998 would be pleased by the changes that have since been made.

"But there's room for improvement," Porter added, urging the three-woman, two-man jury to apply common sense in making practical and reasonable recommendations.

The jury is expected to present its recommendations within two weeks.

After being arrested and charged with assaulting his wife, Ralph Hadley was released from custody on condition that he stay away from her house in suburban Pickering.

When he showed up at her house again, he was ordered to live with his parents in east-end Toronto and to stay out of Pickering. He was also banned from possessing firearms.

Five months later, on June 20, 2000, Hadley broke into his wife's home and shot her in the head before killing himself.

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