Ontario parents who fail to pay support can lose car

NationalPost.com – News/Ontario
Monday, Nov. 8, 2010.   Kenyon Wallace, National Post

New Ontario legislation that allows police to impound vehicles belonging to parents who fall behind in family support payments is a form of “persecution” that will do nothing to ensure parents continue to pay, fathers’ rights groups say.

Starting December 1, people caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration beyond the legal limit, as well as those driving without a mandatory in-car breath monitoring device, will have their vehicles suspended for seven days. But in a new twist, the same punishment will apply for people caught driving with a suspended licence for failing to pay family support.

Such a remedy is a punitive measure that goes beyond the transportation ministry’s jurisdiction and does not take into account legimate reasons for missed support payments, says Lloyd Gorling, founder of Ex-fathers, an advocacy group for divorced dads based in Peterborough, Ont.

“How are you going to make support payments if you can’t get to work? If you can’t make support payments, does the government really think you’re going to be taking a taxi everday to work?” Mr. Gorling said.

“There seems to be an idea that these parents don’t care, or are hiding and they have all this money. It’s the exact opposite. For the most part, people who can pay, whether they agree or not, make the payments.”

Under current rules, the provincial Family Responsibility Office, which keeps track of all court-ordered child and spousal support, has the power to ask the Ministry of Transportation to suspend the licences of parents who continually miss their payments.

The province says 3,965 suspensions were handed out by the Family Responsibility Office between April 2009 and March 2010.

Now anyone caught driving with a suspended licence under this circumstance will not be able to use their car for a week.

“It really is a matter of impressing upon the public how critical it is that family support be paid,” Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said in an interview with the National Post.

She stressed the licence suspensions apply only to parents who have a record of “chronic, agregious non-payment.”

“If you’ve had your driver’s licence suspended, you’re not paying family support, you’re driving with your suspended licence, well, you know what? We’re going to take your car.”

But Progressive Conservative transport critic Frank Klees argues many people may not realize their licences have been suspended until they get pulled over, partly because the Ministry of Transportation informs people of suspensions by mail, and because of what he calls “administration problems” at the Family Responsibility Office.

He says he hears weekly from constituents with complaints about payments being misplaced or processed incorrectly by the Office, opening the possibility of some parents being branded unfairly as non-payers.

“The problem here is that there will be innocent people who will be caught in this regulation who will potentially lose their jobs because they are unable to get to the very job that they need to make the payments,” Mr. Klees said. “If we didn’t already have evidence that this agency really has a system that is unreliable, to overlay it now with this kind of action that can negatively impact someone’s life … it’s unconscionable.”

Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also questioned just how the impounding of a car belonging to someone who hasn’t made family support payment is closely related to road safety.

“There might also be issues with the costs of impounding a vehicle for someone whose licence has been suspended for issues of late payment,” she said.

Compounding the problem is the fact that it can be prohibitively expensive for parents unable to make payments to hire a lawyer to argue for lower payments, says Danny Guspie, executive director of Toronto Fathers Resources.

“If you lose your job, you’ve got a choice: hire a lawyer or pay the support,” he said. “In most cases, you couldn’t even hire the lawyer if you could pay the support. So how are you supposed to exercise your rights in Ontario, let along Canada?”

The coming changes to Ontario’s road rules are the latest in a long string of moves by the Ontario Liberals to crack down on bad driving. In August, the government came under criticism for poorly publicizing a new law that prohibits drivers under 21 years of age from driving with any alcohol in their systems.

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