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Anne Cools' absence of malice Outspoken senator says she doesn't take sides on the family

National Post, Linda Frum, Saturday, December 19, 1998

Inside her Senate office, Anne Cools sits in a standard-issue, red leather chair, talking on the telephone. "Just one question, my dear," she says to a friend on the phone. "When I do that breathing exercise you taught me, do I say, 'Aah,' or do I say, 'Ooh?' "

Turning her attention to me, Ms. Cools explains: "It's just that I need to reduce my stress. It's these feminists. I don't understand them."

Senator Anne CoolsJim Young, National Post / Senator Ann Cools: 'Let's protect women from men, but men from women, and children from both.'

And Senator Cools believes that they don't understand her. She was one of 23 committee members to produce November's highly controversial For the Sake of the Children, a report on child custody and access, but it is she who has become most prominently identified with the report and its recommendation to end the tradition of awarding sole custody of children to mothers after a divorce. And it is she who has become the lightning rod for feminist rage.

One of the most oft-written suggestions made about Ms. Cools is that she is an "anti-feminist." It does seem a strange accusation, given that she was appointed to the Senate in 1984 by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, after a career as a social worker and an administrator of shelters for battered women and children. But in the last decade, Ms. Cools has become closely identified with the fathers' rights movement and she has lost many of her former friends.

"People claim that I have described myself as anti-feminist," she explains. "But I never have. There was a time when I would have described myself as a feminist, but that was a long time ago and it is quite inaccurate."

So does that make you a former feminist?

"You can say I was a former teenager," says Ms. Cools with exasperation. "Why don't you describe me as a former child?"

Ms. Cools resents the trajectory of this discussion. "I am here to tell you that divorce is not a 'women's issue.' It seems to me that divorce involves men, women, and children. . . . Children deserve maximum access and meaningful involvement with both parents, even when those parents don't like each other . . . The law must not be an instrument of malice. Nature gave children two parents. That is the natural order of things, so let us organize the legal order around the natural one."

It is a laudable sentiment. Something few could object to. But despite her committee's admirable attempt to address the crisis of fatherlessness among Canada's children, the Committee on Custody and Access has presented the country with a report containing some frighteningly Soviet recommendations. There is, for example, the recommendation that couples in contested divorces be obliged to attend state-sponsored "education sessions" and that their fitness for custody be measured according to a willingness to participate in those sessions. There is also a recommendation that the "tender years doctrine," which holds that very young children are best left in the care of their mothers be abandoned.

But most importantly, by suggesting that neither parent be empowered over the other after a marriage dissolves, the report is inviting the state and its court-appointed social workers, to become the final arbiters of what is in the best interest of other people's children.

Could it be that Anne Cools, once one of Canada's most famous student radicals of the 1960s, who will always be best remembered for her role in the destruction of a computer centre at Sir George Williams College in Montreal, would welcome this increased role for the state in family life?

"No," she says. "No, I wouldn't. I am not wedded to the whole package of those recommendations. I fought for shared parenting and the related issues. I used my political currency very carefully. To the extent that I got what I wanted, I can live with the rest The parent education did not come from me. My issues are straightforward: Two parents. That's all I'm saying . . . I am convinced that one can trace the sources of the social problems of our community to inadequacy in parenting."

After two hours, it becomes very obvious, and it is very affecting to learn what Anne Cools wants: She simply wants all children to enjoy the benefits and love of a father. Her political agenda seems no more complicated, or focused, than that.

She is wounded by critics who object to her report on the grounds that enforced joint custody will expose children to abusive fathers. After all, she has devoted much of her life to aiding the abused.

"I would have thought it was self-evident that as a community we all repudiate violence," she says. "Obviously if there are individual cases that are so gross, those cases will be dealt with by court order."

And here Ms. Cools launches into the language that drives her feminist opponents crazy. "I have no problems with protecting people. But let's protect everybody. Let's protect women from men but also men from women and children from both . . . Human beings are flawed. We are all sinners. Men and women are equally capable of being bad parents . . . Madame Justice Bertha Wilson once made a speech about the inherent ethical nature of women. Well, if you believe that, you really do believe that the moon is made of green cheese."

Ms. Cools' jaded view is the result of a long career in the field. Too many of the abused children she has cared for were the victims of assault by mothers or the sexual partners of mothers.

"The person who is least likely to abuse a child is a married father," she explains. "The person who is most likely is a single, unmarried mother. Once we thought violence was a one-way street. But over time we've discovered another side to it. And that's the thing about human suffering. There's so much of it. We've known for a long time that infanticide is a woman's crime. But since the idea is so repugnant, we push it away."

A life-long child advocate, Ms. Cools, 55, has no children of her own. She was married for the first time 12 years ago to a man who is 6 years older and who has two grown children from a first marriage. I wonder if an avoidance of marriage and children was a political statement she once chose to make.

"It wasn't even that profound," she replies. "I was just so busy."

As the product of a political family -- her first cousin is currently the deputy prime minister of Barbados, and her uncle was Barbados' minister of health at the time Ms. Cools immigrated to Canada at the age of 13 -- her primary, youthful ambition was to lead a life of public service.

"You know, youth is short. And having a family was always something I would do later. And then one day I looked up and I was 35. You have to understand I did not spend a lot of time seeking out dates. I would bike around Toronto visiting my shelters. A lot of these children never had people be kind to them. And I used to go and gather them up and take them swimming in the evenings. And that was for fun. And that was my life."

I suggest to Ms. Cools an obvious pop psychology theory about her activism: That by having no children of her own, she has sought fulfillment by being mother to all. "I have spent my life looking after people's children," she agrees. "And when you have that element in your life, your life is full."

But as for pop psychology, Ms. Cools offers a more interesting explanation for her political motivations. Two of her five siblings died of childhood illnesses. "I saw my parents lose children," she says. "I understood very early in life what it meant for parents to lose a child. I've always known a parent cannot recover from that. And this is why I will not tolerate the thought of any parent taking a child away from another parent."

Parenthood she believes is "the single greatest thing that any human being will ever do. I tell young people to have children."

Senator Cools pauses. She's forgotten something. "But they should get married, and stay married too!"

Copyright ?? Southam Inc. All right reserved.

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad.

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..