SUICIDES - Family Responsibility Office FRO COLLECTIONS

Debtor's prison for dads

National Post, By Barbara Kay, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

Last week Ontario announced it will begin impounding cars of fathers who fall behind in their child support payments. What, are mere licence suspensions not driving enough men to despair?

On Aug. 31 Paul Donovan, age 50, a reliable long-haul trucker, lay down beside train tracks near his home in London, Ont., and rolled himself into the path of an oncoming train. Most people would call it a suicide. Not his common-law partner, Brenda Higgins. Ms. Higgins holds Ontario's Family Responsibility Office (FRO) liable for his death, and will launch a lawsuit to that effect.

Paul's ex-wife works, owns a home and drives a new car. Neither she nor their children -- today adults of 18 and 21 -- are, or ever were, impoverished. Paul had been paying regular child support since 1996. But during the trucking industry's recent hard times, Paul was temporarily unemployed, and missed two support payments.

Although he was soon back at work, Paul's commercial licence was suspended by the FRO. They refused to reinstate it without payment of $1,500 Paul hadn't yet earned. Their irrational licence suspension ensured he couldn't earn it. Ms. Higgins' scant income is only sufficient to support her three children. According to Ms. Higgins in a telephone interview, several pleas to negotiate the amount and schedule of payments with the FRO by Paul, his MPP and an ombudsman were rebuffed.

Bills mounted, but Paul's livelihood remained blocked. He couldn't afford a lawyer, and when he acted for himself a judge told him she couldn't help him. The FRO took him to court, petitioning for $10,000 or 188 days in jail. Appalled, Paul confided to Ms. Higgins he would rather die than serve such a sentence. Famous last words.

Every province has similar support-payment enforcement agencies. The FRO's Kafkaesque persecution of delinquent fathers is not unique to Ontario. These collection agencies are unaccountable, quasi-penal bodies. They hold powers to invade privacy without a warrant, and to impose criminal-level penalties for non-payment. But unlike defendants in criminal courts, FRO victims don't have the protections of due process.

I gained a fuller understanding of these inherently unjust agencies from a 2010 study in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society: "Punishing our way out of poverty: The Prosecution of Child-Support Debt in Alberta, Canada" by Nipissing University academic Paul Millar.

The privatization of child-support enforcement in the 1980s was conceived of as a means of reducing welfare handouts from the state. The initiative sprang not from politicians, but from legal academics who erroneously linked divorce to the impoverishment of women and children. The setting of guidelines was, according to Mr. Millar, "a judicially fostered social policy aimed at reducing poverty."

Imprisonment for debt is sometimes grouped with torture and slavery in human rights discourse, and was abolished here under the 1869 Debtor's Act as "not consistent with the morals of the day." Debtor's prison was only reinstated at the urging of radical feminist legal activists in the 1980s for one group: fathers behind on support payments.

In what Mr. Millar calls "inverted justice," Canada is one of a tiny handful of Western countries that jails men for an essentially civil offence without the procedural protections accorded real criminals, such as: the right to remain silent, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, the right to an impartial arbiter and the right to legal representation.

Reliable data demonstrates unequivocally that this regressive form of taxation disproportionately affects blacks, aboriginals and the poor, since the highest rates are reserved for those with the lowest income (under $20,000 a year). More over, so-called "deadbeat dads" can't declare bankruptcy. "Deadbeat dads" is, by the way, a terrible slur on the majority of dads who want to pay, but can't; women who deny fathers legal access to children are never jailed or called "deadbeat mums."

While out looking for Paul on the afternoon of Aug. 31, Ms. Higgins arrived at the scene of his suicide, not 50 metres from their home. Seeing the police cars and ambulance, she "knew" without asking. The trauma threw her into a suicidal depression resulting in a six-week hospital stay.

Tally: A healthy, responsible, productive man is dead, a partner devastated. Two middle-class children have lost a loved father, three children an engaged stepfather. At the time of his death Paul Donovan owed a measly $4,000 in child support.

Ms. Higgins can hear the trains go by as she struggles to sleep. Is there a winner in this story? If so, who?

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.

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 ..

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 ..

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 ..