Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

Toronto Star

Looking for a safe place to call home

Mother afraid child faces female circumcision in Nigeria
Government reviewing application on humanitarian grounds

The Toronto Star, Maureen Murray, Staff Reporter, March 16, 2004

Nigerian-born Joy Bernard is fighting deportation after her refugee claim was denied. She fears her Canadian-born daughter, Jennifer, 7, would be at risk back home but doesn't want to leave her behind.

Joy Bernard has no memory of when she was circumcised by a village elder in her native Nigeria.

But she dreads the same fate befalling her 7-year-old Canadian-born daughter if they return to Bernard's homeland.

"It happened to me. Definitely it is going to happen to her, too, if I go back there," she said. "The environment is not going to be good for her."

Bernard, 30, is a failed refugee claimant who has an immigration removal order hanging over her head. She is the sole emotional and financial support for her daughter in Canada, and she can't bear the thought of simply leaving Jennifer in the hands of child-welfare officials.

"Who am I going to leave her with? A stranger? How could I leave my child with a stranger?" a tearful Bernard asked.

Her removal order has been temporarily stayed while immigration officials consider her humanitarian and compassionate application. It asks that she be allowed to remain in the country on the grounds that she and her daughter would be at undue risk back in Nigeria.

But so far things have not gone Bernard's way. Last month an immigration risk-assessment officer noted in his report that Edo State, where Bernard hails from in Nigeria, banned female genital mutilation in October, 2000. "The applicant has provided insufficient evidence that she would be unable to approach the authorities in Edo State for assistance," if Bernard's father tried to force Jennifer to undergo the procedure.

Bernard argued that as a single mother, she would have no choice but to live with her elderly and traditional father if she returned to Nigeria. She said her father and community elders would demand that the little girl undergo the procedure, particularly since Jennifer was born out of wedlock.

In certain cultures, female circumcision is seen as a way to curb sexual promiscuity.

"In Edo State, most of the women have had it done. I don't know anyone who has not had it done," Bernard said. "Who am I going to report it to?" In the face of long-held tradition and custom, new laws on the books have done little to do away with the practice, she said.

A 2003 report by the World Health Organization estimated that about 60 per cent of Nigeria's female population has endured female genital mutilation. The report says that according to local experts, the "actual prevalence may be as high as 100 per cent in some ethnic enclaves in the south," which includes Edo State.

Bernard came to Canada in 1996, when she was about five months' pregnant. She told the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing that she fled Nigeria after she and her mother were arrested and physically brutalized for participating in a political demonstration. Her lawyer didn't raise the issue of female circumcision and the board rejected Bernard's story.

Dorothy Igharo, 33, was in the same position as Bernard two years ago, fighting to keep her then 2-year-old daughter in Canada out of fear she would be circumcised on their return to Nigeria. "I myself was a victim of (female genital mutilation)," Igharo said.

"These local women who perform this ritual, they don't know about sterilizing tools. You could be exposed to deadly diseases, even death." Igharo said she wanted to speak out on Bernard's behalf because she empathizes and understands how difficult it is for a young mother to stand up against this deeply rooted ritualistic practice.

"The only way you can stop it is to keep this child in Canada," she said.

Geraldine Sadoway, a staff lawyer at Parkdale Community Legal Services, which is acting on Bernard's behalf, said she's concerned that so far, immigration officials don't seem to have taken the best interest of a Canadian-born child into account.

"The risk to her daughter is really outrageous," Sadoway said. "We're dealing very clearly with a child, a Canadian-citizen child who is very, very vulnerable."

The option of separating mother and child is equally untenable, she said. "Depriving her of her mother, her only caregiver, is a complete violation of the rights of a child."

Sadoway pointed out that the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which came into effect in June, 2002, now includes a clause directing department officials to consider the best interest of a child when making their decisions.

Sheilagh O'Connell took Bernard's case to family court last October to ask a judge to prohibit the removal of her child from Ontario. At the same time, O'Connell asked the judge to confirm Bernard as Jennifer's sole guardian. "The hope was that the (family court order) based on the best interest of the child would stay the enforcement of the removal order."

In Igharo's case, immigration officials eventually allowed her to stay after a family court judge awarded her legal custody of her daughter and passed an order that the child not be removed from Ontario.

In Bernard's situation, the court put the matter on hold, after immigration officials agreed to delay sending Bernard back to Nigeria until her case was considered one last time on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Tsering Nanglu, of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said despite the finding that Bernard, a home-care worker, and her daughter will not face undue risk in Nigeria, "the (humanitarian and compassionate) officer is going to look at all the other issues. They'll definitely look at the best interest of the child and how well this person has established herself."

Isaac Acheampong, assistant pastor of the All Nations Full Gospel Church on Steeles Ave. W., said he has known Bernard for six years. "She's in the choir singing or taking care of children in the nursery. She's very close to her child. Wherever she goes, the child is with her," he said. "She has been able to lead a life that I admire."

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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. Read More ..

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."

Read the shocking report by The Auditor General of Ontario Report on the Family Responsibility Office

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.  Read More ..

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 ..

Reader's Digest Canada

The Truth About Deadbeat Dads

Read More ..

The Women's Post

"Canada's National newspaper for professional women"

Does the FRO have a feminist perspective?

When families fall apart, they can make for the bitterest of enemies. The intensity of their hostility, the personal rhetoric, the posturing and positioning, and the utter faithlessness of remembrance in the relationship's good deeds and consequences is a breathtaking phenomenon. It's as if the positive qualities and countless achievements are struck from history as a revisionist might strike the Holocaust. Into all of this the family court system wades, often inelegantly. Divorce lawyers drive up the emotional and financial toll of separation and transformation. Family and friends frequently collude to make things worse.

And when government decides to rear its head, well, it's a mess for all the world to see. Witness the recent attention on Ontario's euphemistically branded Family Responsibility Office. A job in advertising doubtlessly greeted the person who came up with its title, because it suggests some sort of feel-good missionary work to hold together the sanctity of the institution.   Read More ..

Calgary Sun

Ruling a big red flag for men

Calgary Sun,
February 5, 2005

If men knew more about family law, they'd run screaming from single mothers prowling for relationships and father figures for their children.

Any lawyer will tell you that the nature of your relationship with a child - not biology - determines whether you're on the hook for child support.

Sperm has nothing to do with it, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a few years ago. Read More ..