Toronto Sun

Sunday, December 15, 2002

No life without his kids

Will coroner look at sad case of man who had nothing else to live for?

By Mark Bonokoski
TORONTO SUN

The death notice announcing the passing of Vivian Szcerbakow's brother indicated that mourners could remember his life through donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, all which left the impression that some natural force had taken him out.

A heart attack, perhaps. Or an aneurysm.

But this is not how it was.

No, back in October, three days after attending Brampton family court and learning that his estranged wife was packing up their three young children and moving to Nova Scotia, Szcerbakow's brother went to his basement apartment, wrapped a sheet around his neck, and hanged himself.

"It pains me to think of his last moments," she says. "He had obviously reached a point where he could see justice was beyond his reach and, for reasons God only knows, he decided that taking his own life was the only way to end the suffering."

And so another dad dies, this one at age 43.

Sitting at the kitchen table of her Mississauga home, Vivian Szcerbakow pulls out a copy of the letter she wrote to Madam Justice Moira Caswell, the judge who was presiding over her brother's case.

"Since (my brother's) death occurred only a few short days after his last appearance in your courtroom, respectfully I would appreciate you to consider the following," she wrote.

And then she listed off her points.

- "The statistics of male suicide related to family breakdown are alarming and there is a moral need for the justice system to determine if actions or inactions of the custodial parent, social workers, or the courts contributed to his death."

- "Could these children and their family have been better served? And, if by making changes, can we prevent this from happening to another family?"

- "What events in the courtroom in this case, and others, should be considered as warning signs that a person is at risk? Are there common indicators that an intervention should be considered?"

In other words, somewhere between those lines, Vivian Szcerbakow is calling for an inquest into her brother's suicide.

She wonders about those "warning signs."

"Why did he not have a lawyer?" she asks. "Is this a warning sign? Why was there a restraining order against him? Is this a warning sign? And why were the court-ordered visitations with the children not being allowed to take place?

"Is this, too, a warning sign?"

Vivian Szcerbakow's brother did not have a great deal of financial wherewithal. He was simply an ordinary working stiff, holding down two jobs to support himself and to pay weekly support payments to his estranged wife -- driving a fork-lift at a trucking company by day, and stocking shelves at a No Frills supermarket by night.

"He did not have much of a life," she says.

The events leading up to her brother's death can be looked upon now as the writing on the wall, says Szcerbakow -- the estranged wife's car having broken down which kept a pre-arranged visit with his children from happening and, most importantly, the bombshell at the courthouse when he was allegedly told by his estranged wife's lawyer that he either sign a document permitting his children to move with her to Nova Scotia or risk losing the $35,000 in RRSPs that he held in his name.

'DEVASTATED HIM'

"He had no prior knowledge to her plan to move to the East Coast," she said. "This came at him out of the blue, and totally devastated him.

"He'd do anything for his kids, and he has."

The last known phone number of her brother's estranged wife is no longer in service, and a call to her lawyer went unreturned.

But Vivien Szcerbakow did hear back from the judge in her brother's case, but only in a fashion.

It came from one of Judge Caswell's colleagues, Mr. Justice Bruce Durno, the senior justice for Peel region, who indicated it was "inappropriate for lawyers, litigants or those with an interest in litigation, to contact a judge who presided over a case."

"(But) at the outset, I wish to express my sincere condolences to you and your family on the loss of your brother. The issues you raised are important," he wrote, indicating that any decision to call an inquest must be made by the regional's supervising coroner, Dr. William Lucas.

Dr. Dirk Huyer was the coroner's official who actually attended the basement apartment where Vivian Szcerbakow's brother was found hanging.

He indicated, however, that it was still too early into the investigation to know whether an inquest is warranted, and that he had yet to even discuss the case with his superior, Dr. Lucas.

"But anything's possible," he said.

Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.