Winnipeg Free Press

Saturday 1 April 2000

Desperate father's suicide fuels family support debate

Brandon mourners urged to continue fight for justice

Sat, Apr 1, 2000

By Helen Fallding
Regional Reporter
Winnipeg Free Press

BRANDON -- FRIENDS of a man who committed suicide after being ordered to pay onerous family support payments were encouraged at his funeral yesterday to continue Darrin White's struggle for justice.

But the man viewed as a martyr by men's rights crusaders across the country was also facing assault and harassment charges at the time of his death. And his struggles in family court may have had more to do with lack of legal advice than anti-male bias, lawyers in British Columbia said this week.

As he looked down on White's casket yesterday in St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church, Father Leo Fernandes said White's suicide was likely motivated by a distorted form of love that assumed people would be better off if he was out of the picture.

The priest encouraged White's friends to realize whatever dreams the young father of four was unable to bring to completion.

Ontario Senator Anne Cools, an outspoken advocate of shared child custody after divorce, joined about 200 mourners gathered to support White's parents, siblings and a daughter from an earlier relationship. White's estranged wife and three children held a separate memorial service last week in Prince George, B.C., where White had lived for many years.

"What we're dealing with here is an extreme example of fatherlessness," Cools said yesterday. "We shouldn't need tragedy. I have put the evidence before the government that something is needing correction."

Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan has yet to act on 1998 recommendations of a joint Senate-House committee on custody and access, of which the Liberal senator was a high-profile member.

White was ordered March 1 by the Supreme Court of B.C. to pay $2,071 a month in family support payments, but was earning only $2,200 a month at the time. The 34-year-old was on stress leave because of depression over the breakup of his marriage.

In the absence of evidence about his condition and disability payments, the court based the order on White's annual salary of about $60,000.

White disappeared March 12 -- three days before he was due to appear in criminal court on a charge of assaulting his estranged wife and harassing people she was staying with.

White's family asked that memorial donations be sent to the Parent and Child Advocacy Coalition in Prince George. The coalition's spokesman, Todd Eckert, helped co-ordinate rallies across the country yesterday in honour of White. Eckert represented White in family court -- a concern for the Law Society of B.C., which noted Thursday that a lawyer would have gone to court with documents to support White's side of the story.

Louise Malenfant of Parents Helping Parents in Winnipeg said yesterday after White's burial that divorcing men often cannot afford a lawyer, but are not eligible for legal aid. "On paper, this man had money, but in reality, he didn't have a dime."

Lyle White said his brother had a lawyer helping him fight his criminal charges. Lyle also defended Eckert's talents as an advocate in court.

© 2000 Winnipeg Free Press.