Update expected to Act

Terry Kruger
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 08/00) - The government knows its 10-year-old Maintenance Enforcement Act needs an update, and women's advocate Arlene Hache says those changes can't come soon enough.

She said the current system "makes women feel that it's a total waste of time."

Hache said the MEP update should include provisions for investigation similar to what happens with social assistance, employment insurance and Workers' Compensation Board cases.

The current method of getting information from women on their former spouses creates an unsafe situation.

As well, relations within government departments and between governments needs to be improved, she said.

She also expressed concerns about what she sees as "negotiations" between MEP and people who have to pay that let them pay a lesser amount than what the court has ordered.

"Women are frustrated because they don't get what they're supposed to," she said.

"It's due for an overhaul," said Justice ministry spokesperson Judy Langford.

When that will happen, however, is unclear.

"Maintenance enforcement is one of a host of acts that the department hopes to look at updating," she said, adding that other legislation updates in the works include overhauling labour standards and a new Human Rights Act.

Hache said the maintenance enforcement update should be given a high priority because children are being placed in poverty when support payments aren't made.

Many of the 284 families that came through the Yellowknife Women's Centre last year are single-parent families, many of which are struggling with child maintenance issues, said Hache.

She said the legislation needs to ensure women and children aren't forced into poverty due to separation or divorce.

"If you're in the job of enforcement, you have to be able to investigate," she said.

As an advocate for women, Hache has helped individuals in their fight for support and has experienced the frustration the system creates first-hand.

"I did have a file where a woman waited three years to get the (former spouse's social insurance number)," said Hache.

"It took me one phone call."

In the interim, Hache, Fran Bernier and Mary Louise Liske encourage people to press for change, especially through their MLAs.

"I think the MLAs are pretty caring about people in their communities but I think they just don't know how difficult this is," said Hache.