Dads are 'dying'

Suicide note is a grim reminder that our family laws are flawed


The Toronto Sun

November 18, 2002 PAGE 6

The suicide note came to this newspaper in the form of an e-mail, as if the sender wanted an expanded world to know that he had had enough.

Addressed as a Letter to the Editor, it carried the two-word heading -- "Inquest request."

After setting the scene, the writer ended his letter as follows: "I have no family and no friends, very little food, no viable job and very poor future prospects. I have therefore decided that there is no further point in continuing my life. It is my intention to drive to a secluded area near my home, feed the car exhaust into the car, take some sleeping pills and use the remaining gas in the car to end my life.

"I would have preferred to die with more dignity," he continued. It is my last will and testament that this letter be published for all to see and read."

It was signed, A. T. Renouf.

As it turned out, there was no rush to find Markham's Andy Renouf and attempt to stop him from what he was about to do.

The deed had already been done -- seven years ago to the day that this latest e-mail arrived.

In fact, his suicide note is recycled every year on the anniversary of his death, with cyberspace providing the possibility of reaching millions.

It was the first time, however, that it came in this direction and it was therefore a rather unsettling missive to receive, especially since it read as real as it turned out to be.

Stacy Robb remembers the day Andy Renouf left this mortal coil. He had recently co-founded an organization called Dads Canada, a fathers' rights advocacy group, and had just left his east Toronto home for a meeting, missing Renouf's call by 10 minutes.

There was a garbled recording left behind and then, two days later, two men showed up at Robb's door to tell them of Renouf's demise.

They had been roommates of Renouf, pooling their money to share an apartment, and they gave Robb a copy of the suicide note -- as an indictment against the Family Support Plan (now known as the Family Responsibility Office) which not only took away Renouf's wages but took away his hope.

"Fathers are just written off," said Robb.

The desperation in Renouf's suicide note was undeniable.

He had been driven to the brink by a government agency which, instead of giving him a bit of air to breathe, decided to smother him instead.

"Last Friday my bank account was garnished (by FSP), and I was left with a total of 43 cents in the bank," he wrote.

"At this time I have rent and bills to pay which come to somewhere approaching $1,500. Since my last pay was deposited directly last Friday, I now have no way of supporting myself.

"My employer tells me that they will only pay me by direct deposit. I therefore now no longer really have a job since no money will ever reach me," he said. "I have tried talking to the Family Support people but their answer was, 'We have a court order' -- something they kept repeating.

"I have had no contact with my daughter in over four years," he continued. "I do not even know if she is alive and well. I have tried to keep her informed of my current telephone number but she has never bothered to call."

And then he wrote those final paragraphs -- about having no friends, about the car exhaust, and about his wish for his suicide note to be published.

According to Oakville's Vern Beck, founder of Fathers Are Capable Too (FACT), Andy Renouf then drove to a Markham industrial park, ran an exhaust hose into his car and waited for the eyes to close.

"The Family Responsibility Office doesn't give a damn about anyone," said Beck.

"It has no sense of fairness when it comes to fathers and the decisions which come out of family court.

"It's the strong arm of the family court system," he said. "It takes nothing into consideration, doesn't care about custody changes or alterations.

"Across Canada, the deaths of seven fathers a day can be related to family law.

"It's a horrible statistic, but true."

If that is indeed the case, and no source could be found to deny it, then the time has come for the Ontario coroner's office to hold a full-scale inquest when the next A. T. Renouf takes his own life while pointing a finger at the Family Responsibility Office.

It's a can of worms begging to be opened.