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Tracking the deadbeats

Mira Hall says the father of her two-year-old recently fled the territory to avoid paying child support. Hall claims the government's maintenance enforcement officials have done nothing to help her locate the father of her baby girl.

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 21/02) - Mira Hall said she recently called the government office that tracks deadbeat parents.

The father of her two-year-old, who had been paying child support was more than a month behind on his payments and had left the territory.

Mira Hall believes her child's father is now living in British Columbia. - Jennifer McPhee/NNSL photo

"Basically, (the maintenance enforcement officer) told me that they don't have to do anything," said Hall. "She said if these guys don't want to be found, they aren't found... She said we aren't an investigative unit here."

Hall said the officer also told her she isn't entitled to know what measures maintenance enforcement takes. The more she questioned the employee about the procedures, the angrier the officer got, said Hall.

"She was so rude to me on the phone I couldn't believe it. She just basically wanted to get off the phone with me as fast as she could."

According to Hall, the officer told her to go back and read the statement she signed when she registered with maintenance enforcement if she wants more information.

Not alone in her struggle

Arlene Hache, the executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Centre said many women in similar situations face the same roadblocks. Hache described maintenance enforcement, which is a division of court services, as "the worst agency I've run into. It's totally inadequate to do what it's supposed to."

"The hugest concern I have is we have the highest rates of family violence in Canada. Maintenance enforcement, without fail, tells these women to do their own investigative work -- to find out where he is, and get his social insurance number.

"It's totally intolerable."

A spouse's social insurance number is crucial to locating the deadbeat spouse, Hache said, and maintenance enforcement should be able to get that number itself.

"Why can't the government give it out? They demand it for everything else. They should fix that one huge problem and it would go a long way to fix the problem of women being investigators."

Hache said maintenance enforcement offices also "make deals" with those who have been ordered to pay child support.

"They can make these deals without following judge's orders, without consulting women. All of that is confidential and women aren't allowed to ask questions."

"They do zero to make sure children aren't living in poverty. If they are there just to be a mediator for money, that's not good enough."

Slip-ups do happen

When asked about Mira Hall's complaint, director of court services Bruce McKay said "he has no idea what happened in any one particular case" but encourages people who have concerns to contact administration or himself.

"Certainly there are slip-ups from time to time. Our people are not perfect."

Maintenance enforcement does track people and try to get them to pay, he said.

If a person has moved to a different jurisdiction, the office will try to find out where that person has moved and then ask the maintenance enforcement office in that area to investigate.

Officers do ask clients to provide any information they have or can get.

"It's not that they have to go and do this," he said.

But officers are prohibited, for privacy reasons, from informing the client about the information they get.

As for social insurance numbers, those are federal numbers, he said, and the federal government does not give them out.

"I believe they are restricted by S.I.N. legislation."

That does not stop the office from trying to get the number through other means, he said.

"Once we get it, we will use it. Getting a hold of it is very difficult."

McKay said court services fields complaints from both sides. Payees complain about how much money is taken and those seeking cheques say the office isn't doing enough.

"This is a whole area fraught with emotion," McKay said. "Meanwhile our agency is neutral. We are not out to punish anyone by taking their money away. We are not out to deprive anybody who should be getting money. It's a difficult area to work in."