Kamloops Daily News

Thursday, August 2, 2001

Man Who Owes Ex Must Stay In Prison

Religious beliefs prevent man from paying support, court told

By Robert Koopmans, Daily News Staff Reporter
Kamloops Daily News

A Dawson Creek man who owes more than $150,000 to his ex-wife in family support payments was cited with contempt of court Wednesday and jailed indefinitely.

Jeffrey James Unruh, 42, will stay in the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre until he makes some effort to address his family maintenance arrears, ordered BC Supreme Court Justice Robert Hunter.

“I cannot recall a more serious or deliberate breach (of a court order),” Hunter said.

“Its extreme. Mr. Unruh says he is not thumbing his nose at the court. I cannot agree. That is precisely what this is.”

Unruh steadfastly refuses to pay the court-ordered family support patyments, claiming the maintenance order conflicts with God’s will and his Christian beliefs. As well, he believes the justice system’s adversarial approach to family law destroys families.

Unruh was supported by a number of friends and family as he made a brief appearance in a Kamloops courtroom. He looked back through the glass wall of the prisoner’s box at his wife sitting in the front row.

“Its OK, you are doing the right thing,” she said to him.

Unruh was married to his former wife Susan Parker in 1982. The couple had five children, but separated in 1995. Then, a provincial court judge ordered Unruh to pay $300 monthly support for each child, as well as $500 in spousal support.

Unruh claims the marital breakdown was not consensual and he refused to sign the divorce papers.

Unruh’s ex-wife registered with BC’s Family Maintenance Enforcement Program in 1996. He has appeared before the courts numerous times since to face contempt hearings and has served a total of about seven months in jail over the past three years.

Hunter noted Unruh will not be released from prison this time until the court agrees.

“He makes a mockery of the court process,” Hunter said.

Veronica Beier, the lawyer representing the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, said Unruh will be brought back before the judge at least once every seven days, to see if he has changed his mind.

If he refuses to address the arrears, he will stay in jail.

“Its up to him,” Beier said.

Valerie Unruh, Jeffrey Unruh’s wife, said he will not budge from his beliefs and will not pay the money, nor provide information about his finances, assets or employment.

She said she and Jeffrey’s oldest daughter will stay in Kamloops to be close to him, although they don’t know where they will end up.

“We brought a tent”, she said, breaking into tears. “It looks like we will be picking bottles.

Valerie Unruh said her husband does not refuse to pay the debt because of animosity toward his former wife. Instead he clings to his Christian beliefs that marriages and families are governed by God.

“Jeff is more than willing to look after his children when they are in his care,” she said. They don’t need his money, they need Jeff.”

Unruh’s ex-wife has since remarried and moved to Alberta, according to Unruh’s family. She could not be reached for comment.