Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday 4 April 2000

The SCOPE of the problem

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

A lot of unhappy parents are about to find out if there's any responsibility in the Family Responsibility Office, Ontario's agency formed a dozen years ago to collect and distribute child support payments.

Not long after its first appearance as SCOE, the Support and Custody Office of Enforcement, the complaints started. In the capital area, a watchdog organization called SCOPE, Support for Children and Organizations for Public Education, was formed. The sparkplug behind it was Judy Poulin, now an aid to regional councillor Wendy Byrne, a strong supporter of SCOPE since it was formed. A sample of the kind of problems faced by separated and divorced parents landed on this desk yesterday.

It's a letter from Catherine Veilleux of Gloucester. Support payments for a son were deducted from her pay and routed through FRO to the father. When the boy went off to support himself at age 18 in October 1998, the paperwork followed to stop the payroll deductions. They stopped.

In May last year, without notice, FRO seized Ms. Veilleux's $900 income tax refund. She went through months of complaints to FRO. Promises to look into the matter and call back weren't kept. She couldn't get one particular person to be her contact at FRO, and each time she called she got a person unfamiliar with her file.

She asked her MPP, Brian Coburn, for help, but even his office couldn't get a callback. FRO is under the Ministry of the Attorney General and, by going to that office, Ms. Veilleux got an answer. In effect, the money was paid to the father and if she wants it back -- sue him.

Ms. Poulin is asking for similar stories, to be written and mailed to her at Box 381, Cumberland, K4C 1E7. Information sheets have been distributed to lawyers' offices and women's groups seeking more stories. "In the spring of 1999 an auditor's report listed those things in the (FRO) system that had to be fixed. In February, the agency reported it had made those fixes. But we're still getting complaints."

FRO managers have agreed to meet with SCOPE after it completes its survey, and SCOPE will invite FRO clients to attend the meeting. Ms. Poulin asks that names and phone numbers be included with letters, of praise as well as complaint, if the writer wants to attend the meeting.

For a firm meeting date, watch this column.

Bright Black Day

In Carleton Place, Black Thursday will be on a Wednesday this year. The "black" day was April 12, 1990, when the town's major employer, Leigh Instruments, collapsed under financial pressure. Some 500 people in the town were suddenly without work, as well as 200 in Toronto and the same number in Ottawa.

"The idea was to hold a little reunion marking the 10th anniversary of the closing," says Mary Arscott. "We were going to have it at the Legion Hall, but the reaction was surprising. There are almost 400 in now and the number keeps growing. We've had to book larger facilities at the town arena."

It seems survivors of Black Thursday are happy, upbeat, and want to party. The party starts Saturday, April 15, at 1 p.m. at the arena and runs to 6 p.m. There's a charge of $5 for snacks. Call 253-3623.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. His e-mail address is dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca . Read previous Dave Brown columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen