Fri, August 27, 2004
The private crime
By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD
Perhaps it was the location that made Wednesday's horrific
hostage-taking incident all the more chilling.
Sugston Anthony Brookes was shot by a police marksman right
outside Union Station, as hundreds of office workers watched and thousands of
commuters arriving for work were trapped inside.
When an act of extraordinary violence happens in the midst
of the commonplace, it shocks us and forces us to take stock of what is
happening in our lives and community.
Just as Wednesday morning seemed like just another workday
for downtown workers, so Brookes' life in Ajax, on the surface at least, seemed
average. Neighbours were shocked by news that he had assaulted and shot at his
wife, Marlene, in the food court of the TD Centre and then taken another young
woman hostage before the police sniper took him out.
Scratch the surface, however, and a different and
sickeningly familiar picture of Brookes emerges. He had pleaded guilty to five
counts of assault with a knife and spent 30 days in jail. He had been ordered
to stay away from Marlene and their two children.
There were financial woes. He had problems in his
workplace. He had beaten his wife on numerous occasions before she left him.
Once again, we find ourselves plunged into another frenzy
of how to cope with that most private crime -- domestic violence.
The big difference this time is that some fine police work
means the victim of the abuse didn't die. This time, for once, it was the
perpetrator who paid the price.
But the issues this case raises are ones that come up
again and again.
First, it points out what a waste of time the federal gun
registry is. We punish farmers who need long guns to protect their livestock.
Meanwhile, a man with a history of violence against his family has no trouble
getting a firearm -- even though his assault sentence banned him from legally
It also points out the huge holes in our mental health
system, that a man who has just served time for violent offenses is released
with no more than a request that he receive "anger management"
training. Is this the best our system can do?
Marlene Brookes had done all could to protect herself and
her family by moving away from her abusive husband. Sadly, though, the very act
of a spouse moving out often triggers an "if I can't have her, no one else
We've seen this kind of story so many times before. There
was the horrific murder-suicide of Randy Iles and estranged girlfriend Arlene
May. Iles murdered May, then turned the gun on himself after he was released on
three separate bail orders in 1996. Then there was the murder-suicide of Ralph
and Gillian Hadley. The Pickering mom was gunned down by her estranged husband
as she rushed to hand their one-year-old son to a neighbour for safety.
The province ordered inquests in both cases. Jury
recommendations were a mishmash, suggesting everything from tougher
restrictions on firearms to more subsidized housing units and social assistance
for victims of domestic violence, as well as a database of abusers and
Frankly, while the housing and social assistance angle may
be politically correct, I can't see how it would have made much difference in
any of these cases.
As we saw Wednesday, a man who is determined to hunt down
and kill his estranged wife will track her down where she works, restraining
order or not. Over the years, we've heard of plans to give cell phones to
abused women. Or recommendations that abusers under restraining orders be
forced to wear an electronic "bracelet" so they can be monitored. All
ideas with merit.
But the sad truth is, it is still very difficult to
protect a woman and her children under these circumstances. This week, that
inability to come to grips with domestic violence spilled over onto our