A woman who has spent 12 years chasing her ex-boyfriend through the courts for child support payments says Saskatchewan should look at publishing deadbeat parents' pictures and names on a government website.
Both the Alberta and Ontario governments have websites bearing the pictures, names, descriptions and last-known jobs and addresses of parents and spouses who have repeatedly ignored court orders to hand over support payments. Users can click a button below each picture to submit anonymous tips if they know where the person lives or works.
Saskatoon woman Rita (not her real name, as her family's identity is subject to a publication ban) says such a website could be one more tool to help authorities track people who switch jobs, change addresses or skip the province or country to avoid making court-ordered payments.
"When a child is not being financially or emotionally supported, it does affect them," Rita says of her 16-year-old daughter.
"Is it humiliation and shame?" she says of publishing debtors' names and pictures. "(It's OK) if that's what it takes to get the parent to step up to the plate."
Saskatchewan Justice's maintenance enforcement office is a voluntary service that will track down and transfer court-ordered payments such as child support funds.
Justice Minister Don Morgan says the office works well enough that it has recently expanded to track people who owe other court-ordered fines, and in the future, will track and collect restitution orders -- such as when a judge orders a vandal to pay back a property owner.
Saskatchewan's maintenance enforcement officers gather 85 per cent of the money owed to their clients, according to the ministry, which Morgan says is the second-best collection rate in Canada after Quebec.
If the debtor won't make payments to the office voluntarily, officers can contact employers and garnish wages or money from bank accounts. They can report the person to the credit bureau, seize or put a lien on property, suspend a driver's licence or vehicle registration, or ask a judge to hold the debtor in contempt of court for defying the orders.
Morgan says the system is working "in most cases."
However, if a person moves or changes jobs without telling anyone, or is unemployed, the individual becomes difficult to track, especially if that move is out of province or country, Morgan says. There are interprovincial and international agreements to track down debtors, but every jurisdiction is different.
Rita chose a different route than maintenance enforcement. Her ex-boyfriend was ordered by a judge to register with the program, but he never did.
Believing the family court system was faster and more effective, she estimates she's paid $10,000 in legal fees over 12 years trying to get repeated court orders enforced. As of July, she is owed $5,288 in outstanding support payments, plus an orthodontist's bill for her daughter that the father said he'd pay for, then didn't.
Meanwhile, the father, who has lived in Saskatoon all along, works full-time in the construction industry, she says. His wife is employed, and they have no children at home. "He knows how to flout the system."
The court system isn't holding him accountable, Rita says -- three bench warrants for his arrest, and 12 court dates later, she is not receiving monthly payments, and the man has never been arrested.
Either the courts need to get tougher, or the system of holding debtors accountable needs to improve, Rita says.
"I can't really rely on that money, and I've never really relied on it," the full-time professional says. "When does the court finally say, 'We're going to put you in jail?' "
Jay O'Neill, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice, says that province has posted profiles of deadbeat debtors since 2000, and this May, revamped the website to organize debtors by region. The "Debtors Wanted!" page says tips from the public have helped the government locate 227 of the 384 listed debtors during the past nine years. But since May, O'Neill says, traffic to the site has soared, and tips have helped the government find 20 more debtors in just two months.
"Anything that we can do to get the child support payments and spousal support on time, we should be doing that for the benefits of these kids," O'Neill said.
The department also had the blessing of Alberta's privacy commissioner before its 2000 launch.
The website isn't for everyone who misses a payment -- just the "bad guys" who have dodged being found by every other means, O'Neill says. Whether Saskatchewan should follow suit is up to officials in this province, he says.
"I think each jurisdiction has to look at how they want to go out getting these debtors -- it's just one (method) we have found success with."
Morgan says Saskatchewan's philosophy is different: It tries to track the money, not the people. He says he'd like to know how successful Alberta and Ontario are at getting payments handed over using these websites.
"It's something we would not rule out," Morgan said, adding he'll be asking his staff to look into the sites' effectiveness.
A better tool, he argues, has been striking an arrangement with the federal government, who will garnish support owed from federal tax returns and GST payments -- if the individuals don't already owe money to the Canada Revenue Agency. It's been a "wake-up call" to debtors who moved provinces to avoid payments, Morgan says.
Morgan also questions whether a person's appearance on a website would prompt them to hand over cash, when most are already flouting the law.
But Rita, the mom who's tried everything to keep tabs on her ex, says the public exposure will make a difference.
"If he would have been put on the website, somebody would have recognized him, and said, 'Hey, you know what? I know where he is.' "
Whether it's a website, or a justice system with sharper teeth, Rita says the government has to change something to stop bad debtors hiding in government and jurisdictional blind spots.
"This guy owes me $5,000 and we've got a system that is not taking this seriously."