The family of a Prince George man who committed suicide is blaming the
judicial system for his death.
McKenzie, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge
WHITE: Took his own life after a court battle.
Family members say Darrin White hanged himself because he couldn't
stand the pressures placed on him by what they characterize as an
unsympathetic court that systematically stripped him of his family
responsibilities and saddled him with unbearable costs.
"The court system didn't listen to him. It failed him. He gave up,
and no one wins. Not the kids, who now don't have a father, not the
ex-wife, not the court," White's brother-in-law Murray Empey said
Wednesday. "The court system bullied him to his death."
On March 1, B.C. Supreme Court Master Doug Baker ruled that White, who
was on temporary stress leave from his job as a BC Rail locomotive
engineer, was capable of paying $2,071 in spousal and child support for
his ex-wife and three children, even though White was on disability at the
time and was only getting $950 per month.
In addition, Baker disregarded another $439 per month White said he was
paying to support a 14-year-old daughter from a previous union.
The amounts would have eaten up almost all of White's after-tax income
even had he been working and not on disability, Empey said.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the numbers didn't
add up. But that didn't seem to matter to the judge. How is it that he
could make an order like that when the money wasn't there in the first
But it was more than just the money that drove White over the edge,
Empey said in an interview shortly before he and White's father Les
returned to Brandon, Man., to bury White.
White was so traumatized by the court system that he no longer felt he
had any rights, even though he loved his children and wanted to be a part
of their lives, Empey said.
"I think Darrin was in a state of mind where he was beat up by the
courts and he just gave up," he said. "We talked to Darrin every
day, sometimes twice a day, from Brandon, and no one ever thought he would
do this. What really forced him was the fact he was fighting for
visitation rights, fighting for any kind of rights, and trying to be a
good father, and not being allowed to be that."
White's bitter court battles were marked by charges of spousal assault,
restraining orders against both him and his ex-wife, and a restriction on
his visitation rights.
In a court document in which White sought a variance on a restraining
order, he wrote about the importance he placed on his role as a father.
"My children need their dad and I need them," he wrote.
"I cannot tell my children I love them even though I am sure they
know it. They need to hear this as often as possible," he wrote in
the document, dated last month.
In his reasons, Baker acknowledged White was under stress, in part
because he was involved in several court actions involving his ex-wife.
One of those involved an allegation of spousal abuse. But he said he
didn't believe White was supporting his first child, and felt the man
could go back to his job as a locomotive engineer within weeks.
Lloyd McKenzie, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge who speaks on behalf
of the court, said the White case is no different than any of the
thousands that go through the courts. In this case, the outcome of a
marital breakup, which at the best of times is emotional, was doubly
tragic, he said.
"There is nothing unusual about this judgment," McKenzie
said. "These disputes go on every day. But you don't have this kind
of human antagonism or emotion in any other kind of case. This man was
obviously under a very great deal of stress."
McKenzie said the judge applied standardized guidelines for spousal and
He said Baker would not give interviews to the media. "A judge
talks to the world through his reasons of judgment. Master Baker doesn't
have any personal interest, and he didn't have anything against the
White's death last week has become a rallying point for family-rights
groups who say the 34-year-old couldn't withstand the stress of a family
court system that "chews people up."
The Prince George Parent Child Advocacy Coalition is asking for a
public inquiry into Baker's ruling and says White is only one example of a
family maintenance support system gone awry. On Wednesday they held a
protest outside the courthouse in Prince George.
"This is a hell of a problem across the country," said Todd
Eckert, an advocate with PCAC who represented White in court before
Baker. "There were a number of contributing factors to this, but in
the end, it came down to Darrin believing the system had failed him. And
Eckert said White is an example of why federal Justice Minister Anne
McLellan needs to rewrite family support laws to reflect a growing demand
for joint parenting. He said the minister is sitting on a report that
advocates rewriting legislation adopted three years ago that selectively
favours custodial spouses.
White's 11-year marriage dissolved in January. His ex-wife, Madeleine,
who is also trained as a locomotive engineer, was awarded custody of three
children aged 10, 9 and 5, and was given the matrimonial house. White had
restricted visitation rights. He had been accused of spousal assault, a
charge Empey said his brother-in-law denied.
On March 12, family members called the police hours after he failed to
show up for a scheduled visit with the children. Police later found a
personal note to his father and children, and on March 17, discovered his
body behind the home of a friend he had been staying with.
Darren Lindsay, Madeleine White's lawyer, said his client was in
"very poor shape" over her ex-husband's suicide. He said there
was no indication White was suicidal. The children have been told of their
Eckert said he understood White was extremely distressed because he was
separated from his children.
Lindsay said his client was on welfare when she applied to the court
for support. She and the children had left the matrimonial home and didn't
have any money, he said.
Prince George coroner Suzanne Hare said she will be conducting an
inquiry into White's death. A request for a full inquest has been received
from the public but won't be ruled on until after the inquiry is complete,
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