Job insecurity, unexpected costs and mounting debt are leading thousands of families in Ottawa to consider bankruptcy as an option.

But for Chris and Dawn Harrison, it's not an option to be considered lightly.

Chris Harrison said he earns around $80,000 as an IT analyst a year but has had trouble keeping his family above water financially.

"We're sinking. We're losing $1,000, $1,200 a month just in daily expenses," said Chris Harrison.

Three years ago Dawn Harrison was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. The former ICU nurse had pain so severe she said she had to crawl up the stairs.


Dawn and Chris Harrison said their debt problems got worse after Dawn fell ill three years ago.

There were 2,621 bankruptcies in Ottawa-Gatineau for the 12-month period from July 2011 to June 2012, but also 1,556 proposals, many consumer proposals.

Consumer proposals are when an individual with debt puts together an offer through a trustee in bankruptcy to pay creditors a percentage of what they are owed over a fixed period of time. Consumer proposals allow debtors to avoid some of the worst conditions of bankruptcy, including the requirement to surrender all credit cards and disclose all assets.

Source: Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada

In hopes of getting her better faster, the family paid for drugs and physiotherapy that went beyond their health coverage.

"It was sort of the catalyst to the downward spiral we're experiencing now," said Dawn Harrison.

Compounding their problems, the Harrisons purchased an SUV and a new trailer just before Dawn Harrison got sick, and though they've had the items on the market for two years, there have been no takers.

The couple is now $35,000 in debt, not including their mortgage and vehicles, but they fear if they declare bankruptcy their children's RESPs will be seized.

"We decided we're not going to rob our kids' future," said Chris Harrison.

The Harrisons said they are borrowing from family and trying to cut costs, and believe there is light at the end of what could be a long tunnel.