8.16.2010

Call for Help Buried on Voicemail

It is a frustrating example of bureaucracy inaction.

"Tom" (not his real name) has been in Canada for almost a quarter century. He has been everything an immigrant should be.  He has had consistent work as a labourer, paid his taxes, followed the rules and has never broken the law.

Not long after arriving from his native Poland, Tom met and eventually married his wife.  Except for the usual marital issues, their marriage was idyllic.

Then about three or four years ago, something changed.  Tom's wife began making accusations, insinuating that he was being unfaithful.  Despite assurances to the contrary and no proof whatsoever, the accusations continued.

Soon the conflict grew beyond the verbal.  She began to act in odd ways, such as trying to examine Tom with a flashlight and checking his cell phone.  She would sit in her car in the parking lot of his employer and wait for him to leave work to see if he was with another woman. 

It got to the point that if a woman stood behind him at the supermarket checkout, in her mind that was enough for him to be having an affair.

The obsessive behavior morphed into physical.  He has had countless things thrown at him and has been punched numerous times.

It soon became obvious to Tom and their two adult children that something was wrong with his wife.

Because of how unpredictable his wife had become, Tom began to genuinely fear not just for his own safety, but his wife's as well.

Being a man working in a traditional 'blue collar' world, Tom was understandably reluctant to tell anyone of this.  It may be a modern world, but the stigma of a man living in an abusive relationship still exists.

The last thing he needed was some flippant '...what's the matter, can't control your wife?' comments.  There is, indeed, a shame that a man feels in this situation, especially one as 'old school' as Tom.

The language barrier is a problem as well.  Tom speaks English, but is somewhat tentative.

He has not phoned the police, believing that they wouldn't do anything without an actual incident.  Perhaps he is correct.

He went - with his wife - to talk to their Priest, but nothing was solved.

Fortunately, Tom trusted my father enough to open up.  My Dad, not one to stand by without taking action, called the number for the Alberta government's Family Violence Prevention line on Tom's behalf (this after Tom had previously attempted to contact the service.)

This began the tired, old game of 'pass the buck'.  Calls were transferred and transferred again, ending up at the inevitable voicemail wall.

When the one human on the line was available - presumably the receptionist - my Father was told "...they're all in a meeting."

...and more voicemail.

When asked who the minister responsible was, my Dad was told it was Yvonne Fritz.

A call to her office (who it turns out is actually the Minister for Children and Youth Services) revealed that she was on vacation.  Fair enough, but isn't there a Deputy Minister in place to handle the department?

More importantly, given the information passed to the person at the Family Violence Prevention line, why did they direct the issue to Child and Youth Services? 

That would explain the repeated "..are there children involved?" questions.

While child abuse is a most severe problem, the impression given reinforces the stereotype that, if your are a man enduring psychological and physical abuse at the hands of your spouse, you are at the back of the line.

Tom's wife left home last week.  No one, including Tom, his children, or her family, knows where she is.

"We need help," says Tom. "I'm more worried that she is going to do something to herself."

Calls to the department for a statement for this article were directed to...voicemail.

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