`Deadbeat dads' jailed in new crackdown
January 17, 1998, By Patricia Orwen, Toronto Star Staff Reporter

A crackdown on deadbeat dads in Ontario has turned so punitive that seven men have been sentenced to jail terms in the past month.

And provincial officials say incarceration isn't the only tough measure to be used on the province's estimated 80,000 deadbeat parents.

This spring, the province will introduce additional enforcement measures including giving courts the power to seize assets being sheltered by third parties.

The government is also studying a national computer database, similar to one introduced last fall in the United States, which would show every person newly hired by an employer. Such information could help investigators track parents who avoid paying by moving.

To date, nearly $1 billion in child-support arrears is owing in Ontario and a whopping 75 per cent of parents, mostly fathers, don't pay support on a regular basis. Of the 166,000 cases currently being handled by the Family Responsibility Office, 46 per cent receive no support at all.

Since last September, the office has sent out more than 700 warnings of driver's licence suspensions and it has suspended the licences of 88 defaulters.

``Enforcement is stricter than ever and that's going to continue as we keep looking for new ways to collect,'' said Merike Por, a spokesperson for the attorney-general's ministry.

The wave of jail sentences appears to have started last month when Ontario Family Court Judge David Main sentenced three men to prison terms for failing to pay child support. {Name removed by individual's request}, 37, of North York is serving 90 days for failing to pay $21,000 in child support arrears and court costs. {Name removed by individual's request} returns to court Tuesday to appeal his sentence.

Another Metro father spent one night in jail earlier this month before agreeing to pay about $7,000 for his children's care. And five others have paid up at the jail house door.

Just the threat of a 90-day jail term prompted one of the other seven men to pay off almost $13,000 in child-support arrears within a week, Por said. Another defaulter, who faced 30 days behind bars, paid off $15,000.

Prior to last month, no one was keeping statistics on jail sentences, said Lynn Binette, director of the Family Responsibility Office.

``We're guessing they might have happened about once a month, but most debtors came up with the cash without ever serving time,'' said Binette, adding that serving the jail sentence does not erase the debt.

Brampton single mother Renate Diorio said she and the 200 members of her group, Families Against Deadbeats deserve at least some of the credit for today's tougher enforcement measures.

Finding herself deeply in debt and unable to collect any child support from her husband after he left her in March, 1993, Diorio and her late father, Heinz Paul, formed Families Against Deadbeats and began lobbying to toughen provincial legislation dealing with the collection and distribution of child support payments.

``We started at the very bottom and slowly took the proper steps up the ladder to the attorney-general's office,'' said Diorio, who has two teenagers.

She and her father finally met officials at the ministry in 1996 and again last year during discussions on the measures to be implemented under Bill 82, (the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act proclaimed last May). They presented a list of proposals for tougher enforcement, at the top of which was jail time for non-support payers.

``We take pride in the bill because a great many of our proposals are in it,'' Diorio said. ``But we can also see that there are still a great many cracks in the system . . . thousands of children like my own aren't getting the support they deserve.''

Although Diorio has gone down every legal avenue and even enlisted the support of her MPP, Joe Spina (PC-Brampton North), she has been unable to collect any child support from her husband.

``In her case, there were all kinds of problems,'' Spina said. ``First, we found that officials in Durham wouldn't issue a warrant for this man's arrest because the warrant was issued in Peel. . . . Finally, the case went to court, but it never went anywhere. Every time it came up, it was delayed.''

Today, Diorio finds she is unable to do anything to settle the child-support issue with her husband because she simply can't find him. And because she doesn't have a court order, the Family Responsibility Office can't help her find him either, she said.

``I've had a really difficult time. . . . Without help from my parents I don't know how I would have survived,'' said Diorio, who knows of hundreds of other parents who face the same difficulties.

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