BC's government claws back $17 million in child support payments from mothers and children living in poverty.
Everything about the case of the disgraced RCMP officer who tried to scam a paternity test is weird.
But weirdest and most destructive is the provincial government income assistance policy that led to the crime. The same policy that ensures thousands of children will be raised in government-mandated poverty.
Cst. Greg Doncaster was a rising star in the RCMP, the Times Colonist reported, stationed in the detachment policing the capital's western suburbs.
In 2009, he had an affair. The woman became pregnant. Doncaster told her he wouldn't leave his wife. His marriage was too important.
So the woman agreed to raise the child -- a girl, as it turned out -- on her own. Doncaster offered no support, financial or as a father.
Crappy behaviour on his part, but not criminal.
Then the woman lost her job in 2011. As a single mom of a one-year-old, she applied for income assistance.
She was still committed to the raising of her daughter on her own.
But the Social Development Ministry demanded to know who the girl's father was and why he wasn't paying child support.
Not because the government has any interest in the child's well-being or rights. The government wanted to track down the father, make him pay child support and deduct the payments, dollar for dollar, from the women's income assistance cheque.
The woman gave in and handed over Doncaster's name. You can be cut off benefits if you don't.
The ministry tracked him down and he denied being the father, fearing the revelation would wreck his marriage.
Getting their man
So officials demanded a paternity test. Doncaster stalled and then hatched a plan to send fellow RCMP Cst. Dereck Carter in his place. (Carter pleaded guilty and received a conditional sentence and 12 months probation. If he doesn't mess up, he will have no criminal record. He is suspended without pay and facing an RCMP disciplinary hearing.)
The test results, of course, came back negative. Ministry workers delivered the news to the mother in what must have been an uncomfortable meeting.
Doncaster wasn't the father, they said. Tell us who else it might have been.
Only him, the mother said. So the ministry workers pulled the paternity test file and showed her the photo taken as part of the procedure.
That isn't Doncaster, the mother said.
And the whole thing came unwound. Doncaster was charged with obstructing justice. He quit the RCMP and voluntarily started paying child support, including retroactive support. He avoided jail, but was handed a six-month conditional sentence.
Impoverishment by the numbers
Very bad behaviour, to be sure.
But the government's income assistance policies, including clawing back every cent of child support paid to people on income and disability assistance, does much more damage.
If Doncaster had been paying child support, the family would be no better off. The government would take all the money.
The mother and her daughter would still receive a maximum of $570 a month for rent. It is almost impossible to find decent, safe housing, especially with children, on that budget. MLAs believe they need up to $1,580 a month from taxpayers for a second residence in the capital, almost three times more than they are prepared to allow a parent and child on assistance.
The woman would get about $535 a month to cover all their other living expenses, a rate unchanged since 2007. A family bonus payment would add another $111 a month.
All in, the mom would be raising a child on $14,600 a year. That's $281 a week for rent, clothes, food, transportation, everything.
The poverty line for a single parent and child is $29,000. The government has decided this little family, and thousands of others, should live on less than half that amount.
Some 35,000 children are in families dependent on income or disability assistance. The government has decided they should live in poverty.
And it has made that decision knowing that childhood poverty does lasting damage. It increases the likelihood of illness, educational underachievement and social and employment problems. The children will suffer and society will pay for the decision to deny them a reasonable start in life.
Sending a message
The official government talking points are that it's important to claw back child support so people exhaust every possible option before they collect welfare. The unofficial rationale is that life on assistance should be really unpleasant so people try harder to get a job.
But 80 per cent of the people on assistance have disabilities or other issues -- multiple barriers to employment, in ministry speak -- that make finding work difficult or impossible.
So four out of five people on assistance face a long, maybe permanent, stay.
Which means those 35,000 children don't face a tough few months in crap apartments, underfed and deprived, the poor kids at school, before their parents get jobs and everything turns out fine.
They grow up in poverty.
If Doncaster had acknowledged his daughter and paid up, the money would have been part of the $17 million in child support payments a year the government claws back, money that was supposed to help children.
Premier Christy Clark says the government can't afford to give up the $17 million. She rejected even modest provisions, like allowing recipients to keep the first $200 a month to benefit their children. The message is that this province just is not that interested in equality for kids.
The most recent child poverty report from First Call found British Columbia, once again, had the highest rate of child poverty in Canada (tied with Manitoba).
Simply increasing income and disability assistance supports for families would reduce the child poverty rate from over 11 per cent to under seven per cent. B.C. would rank fifth or sixth among provinces, instead of tenth.
Instead, the government -- on our behalf -- has decided 35,000 children should grow up deep in poverty, because it would be just too expensive to give them a decent start in life