Kamloops Daily News

September 6, 2001

Deadbeat dad gets 30-day jail term

by Robert Koopmans
Kamloops Daily News

A Dawson Creek man handed an indefinite jail sentence for failing to pay $150,000 in child support will be out of prison in 30 days.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Hunter converted Jeffrey Unruh's indefinite sentence for contempt of court to a 30-day jail term Tuesday.

Unruh will be required to appear in B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George Dec. 11, when he will be asked what he is prepared to do to address his child support arrears. The court could incarcerate Unruh again if the judge is not satisfied with his answer.

Unruh appeared in court in Kamloops Aug. 1 after being arrested at his home in northern B.C. He was taken to Kamloops because of a lack of court resources in Dawson Creek.

At Unruh's first appearance, Hunter cited the 42-year-old man with contempt of court for failing to abide by a 1996 order requiring he pay $1,500 a month in child support for his five children.

He was ordered to appear before a Kamloops judge weekly to determine if he was prepared to change his mind and deal with the arrears.

Since his arrest, Unruh has appeared five times. Each time, he has told the court he cannot "purge his contempt." Unruh has steadfastly refused to obey the child-support order, claiming his Christian beliefs make it impossible for him to do so.

It's not known what prompted Justice Hunter to vary his Aug. 1 ruling and convert Unruh's jail sentence. At the time Unruh was sentenced, Hunter called the man's refusal to pay child support the most serious and deliberate breach of a court order he has seen.

"He makes a mockery of the court process," Hunter said at the time, warning the man would not be released from prison until he purged his contempt.

But Mickey Mac Millan, president of Parents of Broken Families, said he believes Hunter had time to review Unruh's position and read the imprisoned man's previous statements to the court.

"I think (Hunter) feels uncomfortable with what's happening," Mac Millan said. "I think he decided to wash his hands of this thing and send it back to Prince George, where it came from."

Unruh was jailed by a Prince George judge for more than seven months in 1998 for a similar contempt of court, but was eventually released, also without first addressing his child-support arrears.

Mac Millan said the people who make and uphold the country's laws are starting to realize the unfairness of the family justice system.

"We are not against children being supported, we're against children being used as bartering chips, or being used to extort money from an ex-spouse," Mac Millan said. "We think the law is wrong and is gender-biased."

Dodie Goldney, co-ordinator of the Kamloops Women's Resource Centre, said she's disappointed by the judge's decision and wonders if he succumbed to political pressure.

"The men's groups are pretty strong," she said.

Goldney said the court's decision to reconsider Unruh's indefinite sentence could weaken the ability of B.C.'s Family Maintenance Enforcement Program to do its job collecting child support from ex-spouses unwilling to pay.

"It's something we see a lot of," she said. "For some reason, a lot of people feel they don't have to support their children."

Goldney said Canadians have rights, but also responsibilities.

"One of those responsibilities is to obey the law. It seems a lot of people forget that," she said. "It's disappointing this judge is letting (Unruh) go."

Family Maintenance Enforcement Program officials - from a Kamloops lawyer who represents the program to its provincial director - refused to comment on the case, saying the matter is before the courts.