THE PRINCE GEORGE FREE PRESSVOL.6 NO.40

THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 2000

JUSTICE SYSTEM PUSHED FATHER

Daughter says dad was a victim of "sexist"courts

By Michell Lang, free Press staff writer
Prince George Free Press

The daughter of a Prince George man who committed suicide in the face of a nasty divorce battle says the justice system is sexist and needs to do more to help men.

Thirty four year-old Darrin Bruce White, a locomotive engineer, hung himself in the woods close to the University of Northern B.C. on March 11.

Mr. White took his life after the court ordered him out of his house with two days notice and asked him to pay three-quarters of his income to his ex-wife and three children, according to the Parent and Child Advocacy Coalition, a local divorce lobby group that was assisting Mr. White.

His daughter from a previous marraige, 14 year-old Ashlee Barnett-White, says her father simply couldn't fight the system.

"I am angry at the justice system... No one would listen to my father, no one would give him a chance to speak. In this century everyone hears the woman and not the man. This is a sexist matter that needs to be dealt with," writes Ms. White in an e-mail.

Todd Eckert, president of the Parent and Child Advocacy Coalition, agrees with Ms. White's observations, saying Mr. White's death is directly related to the divorce action, which was biased in favour of his ex-wife. Mr. Eckert notes that there were at least three court proceedings against Mr. White including criminal charges and that he had appeared before the courts as many as eight times in two weeks.

"This could happen to anybody, any happily married family that goes through a brutally nasty divorce. You lose your house, you lose everything you've ever worked for. Finally Mr. White lost his life, "says Mr. Eckert.

Mr. Eckert says this issue is a national epidemic and divorce battles like Mr. White's happen every week. His group advocates for reforms to the system, sayng there should be shared parenting legistlation in place and revisions to child support guidlines. He argues that under the current guidlines, sposal support is in essence included in child support but that spousal support is often awarded in addition.

But Madeline White, Mr. White's ex-wife, does not believe the court proceedings were the reason for Mr. White's death. She says he had been depressed for a year and believes his mental illness may have been the reason for his suicide. She says he was able to make the support payments, but he hadn't. In fact, Ms. White says he paid her children only $20 since January.

Ms. White believes the Parent and Child Advocacy coalition protects "deadbeat dads" who don't want to pay child support and she believes they hurt, not helped her ex-husband.

"I explained to my kids that they need both parents. But thanks to this coalition they don't have both parents anymore," she says.

Whether Mr. White's problems were personal or the result of the system in crisis, the Parent and Child Advocacy Coalition wants answers about his suicide. Mr. Eckert and Peter Ostrowski, a policy instructor at UNBC, are asking the coroner to conduct a public inquest into Mr. White's death to see if his divorce played a role. Mr.Eckert also wants a judicial review of the judge presiding over the case.