Kamloops Daily News

August 3, 2001

Man Kept In Prison Receives Support

Refusal to make payments to ex the right thing, men’s group says

by Robert Koopmans
Daily News Staff Reporter
Kamloops Daily News

A local men’s advocacy group has promised a strong show of support for a Dawson Creek man jailed indefinitely for failing to pay more than $150,000 in child support.

Mickey MacMillan, the president of Kamloops Parents of Broken Families, said Thursday he was outraged to see Jeffrey James Unruh jailed Wednesday for contempt of court.

Unruh was jailed indefinitely after refusing to abide by a court order requiring him to pay his ex-wife $1,500 a monhth to support his five children. In the years since 1996 Family Maintenance Enforcement Program order, his debt has accumulated to about $150,000.

Unruh claims his Christian beliefs will not allow him to follow the court order, as he believes only God governs marriage and families.

The 42 year old man also says the family justice system is unnecessarily adversarial and pits parents against each other, to the detriment of children. He says he harbours no animosity to his ex-wife and is willing to support his children whenever they live with him.

BC Supreme Court Justice Robert Hunter ordered Unruh detained in custody until he is willing to deal with his debt. The judge emphasized Unruh will not get out of jail until he addresses the matter to the satisfaction of the court.

Unruh has said he will not change his mind and is prepared to stay in jail.

MacMillan said he is solidly behind Unruh.

“I wish I had the privilege of being in his shoes,” MacMillan said. “I believe he is right in what he is doing, I believe it’s the only way to foster change.”

Mac Millan said he will organize a letter-writing campaign or a petition drive and perhaps even courthouse protests to speak out against the family law system and what is happening to Unruh.

“He’s in jail because he is standing by his principles,” Mac Millan said. “What’s happening to fathers and men is unjust.”

But Jennifer Collison, the assistant coordinator of the Kamloops Women’s Resource Centre, said Unruh has been jailed for defying the court – not because he failed to pay a debt.

“If there was any other reason why he was found to be in contempt of court, no one would bat an eye,” she said.

She said it’s unfortunate that Unruh is choosing to focus attention on the system in this fashion, as it detracts from the real purpose of family law – the protection of children.

“It makes it about him and not the kids,” she said.

She said there is a sense that changes to family laws are required, that current guidelines surrounding support and access often do not fairly address difficult family issues.

Collison concedes the family justice system often transforms divorce and custody cases into battles over power and control, feuds that create acrimony between people where none existed before.

But she doesn’t support the idea of ignoring court-ordered family support payments as a means of challenging family law.

“Its supposed to be about the kids,” she said.

Kamloops family law lawyer David Dundee said there is a widespread perception that the family justice system is unfair, but its not just men who fee it.

Fathers usually complain about issues surrounding access to children and the amount of support they are required to pay. As well, they often feel their roles as parents are diminished.

But women often feel the courts do not provide them with enough financial support, or feel fathers don’t exercise their right to access as often as they should, he said.

“In family law, everybody is unhappy with something,” Dundee said.

As well, many people complain about the unfairness of laws they don’t understand. Once legislation is properly explained, people often see the reason behind court rulings. He said.

Despite that, changes to the Divorce Act seem imminent, Dundee said. The Canadian Bar Association has recommended sweeping changes to federal legislation that would redefine custody and access, switiching emphasis to shared parental responsibility. The federal government is expect to deal with the recommendations within the year.

But Dundee said that will do little to help Unruh, as he is being punished for flagrant disregard of an order of the court.

Dundee said people who believe laws are unfair should not challenge the courts, but rather should seek change through political channels.

Meanwhile, Unruh will be brought before the courts at least once a week and asked if he is prepared to deal with his accumulated debt. His wife and daughter, who both traveled from northern BC to be close to him, will stay with MacMillan for the time being.

(if any of you would like to send a letter to the editor regarding this, the email address is: kamloopsnews@telus.net