Bill C-400 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Divorce Act (limits on rights of child access by sex offenders)
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.
Bob Mills Canadian Alliance
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2002 / 6:25 p.m.
Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC
Madam Speaker, the purpose of the bill is to protect the child in the custody of one parent from being required to visit the other parent while the other parent is serving a term of imprisonment for any offence under the criminal code of which the child was a victim, or for any specified sexual offences under the criminal code, whoever was the victim.
Court access orders would be deemed to contain a provision that any right of access by the non-custodial spouse or former spouse would be suspended while serving a term of imprisonment for such an offence, unless the custodial spouse or former spouse consents. That is exactly what we are talking about.
The member for Red Deer in his pleadings in some respects is almost embarrassing because he understands the culture of what he is up against and what he has already heard in trying to move the bill this far. It is encouraging to hear members from the government's side and others say that they support the bill, but no one has said that they expect the bill to ever become law. It is always again to study, to perhaps refine, and just get it to committee. How many times in the House have we heard “Let us get it to committee and see what happens”?
The bill is subject to the part of the larger question of the joint Senate and Commons report “For the Sake of the Children” which the government has promised in various throne speeches that it would enact. Here we have a circumstance that is not by accident, so I question the government and the Department of Justice. Are they making a mistake? I do not think so. It must be special interests or whatever that seems to do an end run around the open, democratic process where in the House we say certain things and have good intent but then they just does not quite happen.
I am encouraged that the bill seems to be gaining support from all sides of the House. Therefore, Madam Speaker, I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That Bill C-400 pass at second reading and be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2002 / 6:05 p.m.
Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Madam Speaker, I commend my hon. colleague from Red Deer for all his hard work and dedication. The time, energy and care that has gone into Bill C-400, Lisa's law, is extraordinary.
This bill is not being proposed to gain political points. The bill before us today is due in part to the emotional upheaval witnessed by the hon. member. The member of parliament for Red Deer saw firsthand the terror and shock that was inflicted upon Lisa and her family. The court decision to force her children to visit their father in prison must have been devastating.
As a mother and a grandmother myself, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering caused by that court decision. A mother's strongest instinct is to protect her children. To be ordered to put one's children in harm's way, to subject them to an environment that is not in their best interests would be horrific.
Children should be given every opportunity to experience a happy and carefree life. It should be the goal of adults and society at large to see that this is achieved. It is also the responsibility of government, law makers, courts and judges to help our nation's children achieve this goal. I believe that changes need to be made to ensure that others in similar situations do not suffer what Lisa and her children suffered.
Canada's corrections system affords great freedoms and privileges to its inmates. Offenders are offered access to golf courses and horseback riding. Offenders in many cases are living in cottage style housing, the club fed of prisons. In an attempt to be seen as an evolved and civilized nation, we too often afford privileges, privileges that are neither warranted nor deserved.
The rights of offenders and criminals must never be placed before the rights of the innocent. Children are the most innocent of our society and absolutely every effort must be taken to ensure their safety, security and innocence.
Bill C-400 proposes amendments to the Divorce Act that would see individuals who were convicted of sexual offences being limited in their access to their children. This is not an unreasonable suggestion. It is a common sense approach.
Sexual offences are among the vilest imaginable. Those who commit these offences and are incarcerated for them should not be able to use this country's court system to gain access to their children.
In normal cases it is usually beneficial to the children involved to have open access to both parents. The involvement of both parents in the raising of their children is a good thing. The situation we are discussing today is not usual. It is not normal and therefore should not be treated in the same way.
This bill came about due to the court's decision to force Lisa Dillman's children to visit their father in prison. Their father is a convicted sexual offender. Not only did he prey on an adult, but he also assaulted his own stepdaughter who at the time was 13 years old. Forcing two small children to visit their sex offender father in jail can in no way be viewed as beneficial.
Do we as a country really want to send more children down this same path? Actions taken by the court were based on the current Divorce Act statutes. Those statutes are exactly what Bill C-400 seeks to change.
Changes to the Divorce Act would help to protect our children. I have been discouraged by the fact that children and families are being viewed less and less as a priority within society and by this government. The changes outlined by Bill C-400 would be an excellent step in the protection of our children.
In 1990 Canada signed the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. One of the key considerations of the convention is that the best interests of the child should be of paramount consideration when addressing custody and access. In cases where a parent is convicted of sexual assault and subsequently jailed for that offence, it would not appear to be in the best interests of the child to be forced to visit that parent in prison.
Another provision of the UN convention is that children have the right to express their views freely in matters affecting them. I have concerns that too often in the adult world of the judiciary the children are not consulted. The actions taken by parents in courts have the biggest impact on the children involved. I would suspect that visiting parents in prison would not always be what children wish for. They must be consulted in such matters. An offender jailed for sexual assault should not be afforded the right to circumvent the wishes and ultimately the well-being of a child to gain access to that child. The rights, health and well-being of our children should come first. It is our children that should be of the greatest importance when examining issues such as the one before us today.
In 1997 a special joint committee was established to look at the issues of custody, access and possible changes to the current Divorce Act. The final report, entitled “For the Sake of the Children”, included recommendations from the national family law section of the Canadian Bar Association. Its suggestions for additional criteria in custody and access included: the caregiving role assumed by each person applying for custody during a child's life; any past history of family violence perpetrated by any party applying for custody or access; and the importance and benefit to the child of having an ongoing relationship with his or her parents.
I believe that these are key considerations when evaluating access requests. Is it beneficial to the child? Is an ongoing relationship with that particular parent beneficial? Is there a history of family violence?
For the protection of the innocence and stability of our children, I believe that it is important to support the bill before us today. As a society we cannot afford to put the rights of criminals ahead of the rights and safety of our children. Again I wish to commend my hon. colleague from Red Deer for his hard work and dedication on behalf of our nation's children.
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2002 / 6:05 p.m.
Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS
Madam Speaker, I want to make a couple of very brief remarks. I have been listening with interest to the debate on Bill C-400 and it is a very moving tale. It is important that this issue is looked at much more closely by members of parliament. The New Democrats and I would support having this sent to committee for further study.
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-400, introduced by the member for Red Deer.
The purpose of this bill, the law for Lisa, is to protect a child in the custody ofone parent from being required to visit the other parent, while the otherparent is serving a term of imprisonment for any offence under theCriminal Code of a sexual nature.
Obviously, I will be pleased to support the principle of such a bill on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, because we must always be guided by the interests of the child in our legislation.
However, I will have a few suggestions to make to the sponsoring member at the end of my remarks.
As the Quebec bar association mentioned in its June 2001 brief on custody and visiting rights, and child support, and I quote:
Federal and provincial legislation gives considerable importance to the concept of the child's best interests, which is now well established as the cornerstone of all decisions with regard to the child, no matter who is doing the deciding, from parents to the courts.
In this regard, one such principle is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified in 1989. However, it should be noted that the criminal code does not define the best interests of the child. The civil code, however, sets out what must be taken into consideration, and I quote:
—in addition to the moral, intellectual, emotional and material needs of the child, to the child's age, health, personality and family environment, and to the other aspects of his situation.
Accordingly, the countries signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children may adapt their legislation to their own moral and social values.
How then are we as parliamentarians here in the House of Commons to apply the principles in such a convention?
It seems clear to me that Bill C-400 is a step in the right direction, because the best interests of the child must be taken into consideration. When a parent, either the father or the mother, is found guilty of a sexual offence under the criminal code, the child should be protected from being required to visit the person while that person is in prison. This is in the best interests of the child. A child who is the victim of a sexual offence will be marked forever by this horrible and repugnant act.
So, according to Bill C-400, it would be in the best interests of the child not to be forced to have contact with a parent who happens to be his or her assailant. This only makes sense.
Can members imagine, besides not providing sexually abused children with the proper treatment, forcing them to visit the parent or the mother who has assaulted them? It would be total nonsense.
As the member for Red Dear pointed out when he introduced his bill, the motivation for his initiative was the high-profile case of two young girls of five and six who were forced, because of a court order, to visit their father in prison. The two young girls have been exposed to psychological damage. It is unacceptable.
The purpose of the bill introduced by the member for Red Deer is to prevent other young children from going through that. We must act to protect our children.
The government must put words into action and do whatever it takes to implement the fundamental principles set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have had enough of empty promises that never materialize.
As I said at the beginning, although the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle behind this bill, we still have suggestions to make to the sponsor of the bill.
In its present form, the bill proposed by the hon. member for Red Deer provides that it is the spouse of the person who is serving a term of imprisonment who should decide whether his or her child should visit his father or mother in prison.
The Bloc Quebecois believes, and we will debate this issue in committee if the House gives its support to this bill, that the child should have some say and freedom. Parental authority applies until a child reaches the age of 18. However, if a young person of 16 or 17 decides to visit his father in prison, and if his mother objects to the idea, what should we do? What should take precedence? Worse still, what should we do if the child simply does not want to visit his father in prison, but his mother forces him to do so?
We cannot let parents decide alone. The child must be able to decide for himself what is in his best interests. This is an issue that should be examined by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and the hon. member's bill is an excellent way to launch this debate and find solutions that will promote the best interests of the child.
Through today's debate, we are asking the federal government, and particularly the Minister of Justice, to see how the federal legislation could be amended to reflect the guidelines of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In conclusion, I want to thank the hon. member for Red Deer for raising this extremely important issue. He can be assured that the Bloc Quebecois will support the principle of his bill at second reading.
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2002 / 5:50 p.m.
Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to hear such an inspired speech by the hon. member for Red Deer.
Occasionally I understand the House does in fact have a special way about it and does capture all the members within the House and I think maybe we have the essence of that happening today.
Bill C-400 deals with an important issue. I certainly welcome the opportunity to confirm to the hon. members of the House the government's commitment to safeguard our children and to examine all measures that can better do this.
The government is strongly committed to protecting children from all forms of victimization and recognizes the need to continuously make efforts to strengthen protection in all appropriate ways.
The intent of Bill C-400 is admirable. It is clearly wrong to force a child to visit in jail the person who is serving a term of imprisonment for victimizing him or her even if, or perhaps especially if, that person is a parent of that child. Nor should a child be forced against his or her wishes to visit a sex offender parent in jail.
It is also important that all attempts be made to prevent another situation like the one Lisa Dillman faced. Her ex-husband was a doctor serving a six year sentence in a federal penal institution after being convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting an adult female patient and a 13 year old girl, as the House has heard.
As the custodial parent, Ms. Dillman was ordered by a judge in Saskatchewan to facilitate access visits between her children and their father after he chose, despite his incarceration, to legally enforce the access provisions contained in the court order.
As members have heard, it was a terribly distressing situation for Ms. Dillman and for the children, and it should be prevented from happening again.
That is why I believe it is important to examine Bill C-400. Its objective is to prevent this type of situation and to protect children from inappropriate access visits. The government is open to looking at all proposals that have this objective.
As I understand it, Bill C-400, as presented to the House, proposes to amend section 16 of the Divorce Act. It would add a new subsection 9.1 that would deem that any custody and access order made under the Divorce Act would contain a provision that would suspend a non-custodial parent's child access rights while he or she was serving a term of imprisonment for certain criminal code offences, unless, and a very important unless, the custodial parent consented to that access.
The bill specifically refers to an offence under any provision of the criminal code of which the child was the victim. In addition, 10 additional specific criminal code offences are identified, whether or not the child was a victim. These are the offences of sexual interference, sexual touching, sexual exploitation, incest, child pornography, parent procuring sexual activity, corrupting children, sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon.
Those are all serious sex offences. As I noted earlier, the government is strongly committed to examining ways to protect children from all forms of victimization.
However, I have to wonder why these specific offences were chosen. I also have to ask if this is in fact the most appropriate list. Do not get me wrong, I completely support the objective ensuring that no access order under the Divorce Act would be used to require children to inappropriately visit a parent in jail.
However, if the intent of the bill is to protect children from the trauma of visiting an offender in jail, why not expand it? Why not bring in other offences? In certain cases maybe the offence of murder would be an appropriate situation where one would not want the convicted parent to have access to the child.
This matter needs to be looked at fully by the committee.
It is also important to remember that the practical effect of the bill would be to impose an automatic suspension of access rights in those cases unless the custodial parent gave consent. These access rights would be suspended while the access parent serves the term of imprisonment. The suspension would be achieved through a deeming provision.
How would the deeming provision legally work in practical terms? Would the access rights automatically resume after the period of incarceration? Would a suspension apply retroactively to an already existing access order? Would access remain suspended if the offender parent gets out on parole but arguably is still technically serving his or her sentence?
I would also note that the way the bill is worded, the provision does not provide for any flexibility or discretion and does not refer to any consideration of whether the automatic suspension of access would be, in the classic case, in the best interests of the child. Will this amendment legally stand up under the charter of rights and freedoms? I do not know the answer. Could there be an alternative way to create legally a presumption against enforcing an access order in those cases where it would be inappropriate? Would the onus be squarely on the offender to show why access would be in the best interests of the child?
My point is that I strongly support the intent and objective of Bill C-400 and it is for this very reason that I believe it is important that it be examined carefully if and when it goes to the standing committee for review.
As I started speaking today, I thought of today as being a very special day. It is a day to sit back and reflect on the reflections of the member for Red Deer on this situation. I personally believe it is very important that this matter receive the full consideration of the justice and human rights committee and that we look at this in the most positive light for the benefit of all those who find themselves in this situation, as did Ms. Dillman.
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.
Bob Mills Red Deer, AB
moved that Bill C-400, an act to amend the Divorce Act (limits on rights of child access by sex offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is one of the most meaningful opportunities I have had in the nine years I have been in the House. I am bringing forward a bill concerning two little girls aged five and six, a bill with which I have become emotionally involved.
I believe in putting children first. My experience as a father of six and grandfather of twelve have given me a real feeling for children and what it is all about. I have talked many people about Bill C-400 during the last year. Things like the Sharpe case come to mind. People wonder how a guy with over 500 pictures of nude boys does not get a jail sentence. It is upsetting to people.
In our community a fellow was convicted nine times of being a pedophile and attacking young children. I asked in the House what I should tell the parents of the 10th victim. I was told offenders must be given a chance. A year later he picked up two little girls, a five and a six year old, and was in the process of assaulting them. They were his 10th and 11th offences.
When I get to this case I can hardly describe to members the emotions I feel. I will give the House some quick background. In Saskatchewan a doctor named Schneeberger married a lady named Lisa. She already had two children by a previous marriage, a boy and a girl, and together they had two little girls.
In 1992 one of Schneeberger's patients suspected something was happening on the examination table. The police were called in, blood samples were taken but there was no DNA connection. Lisa then discovered that her 13 year old daughter had been raped a number of times. A drug had been used on her and there had been repeated rapes over the course of about five years.
After taking numerous blood samples from what turned out to be a tube in the gentleman's arm, the police finally took a hair sample. The DNA matched. During that period the divorce occurred. Schneeberger had not seen the two young girls since they were less than two years old.
He was convicted in November, 1999. He was given a six year sentence for the assault and rape of a patient and of his 13 year old daughter. He was then sent to jail. The woman and her two little girls moved to Red Deer which is my constituency. Schneeberger managed to be transferred to Bowden which is some 30 kilometers away from my community but still in my constituency.
In the process Schneeberger made an application to a Saskatchewan court that the two little girls should pay forced visits to him on the last Sunday of every month and phone him every Monday and be on the phone for an hour. Of course the little girls cried each time this happened. They could not believe they would have to go into a jail setting.
This was appealed in a Red Deer court but the judge said it had to go back to Saskatchewan. A single mother on limited income trying to start a new life was told she had to go back to Saskatchewan to fight the case. She did not have the money. We managed to raise some money but not enough.
On May 27, 2001, a day I will never forget, we finally heard the news. The night before the visit was to take place we were told Lisa's five and six year old daughters would have to go into the prison to visit the man they had not seen for so many years, the man who had raped their sister in their home.
I was in a parking lot. I was to speak at a Kinsmen meeting some 15 kilometres away from the prison in Innisfail. I got the message when I stopped the car. I immediately called the local radio station to tell them the bad news. I told the Kinsmen club about it in my speech. The truckers broadcast it on truck radios across the province. They said if people were in the vicinity of Bowden on Highway 2, a busy highway, they should stop the next day to let people know they cared about the mother and her two kids.
Sunday morning came. It was a cool day. We went to a local hotel. A news conference had quickly been put together and was packed with media people. Lisa was there. Her daughter who had been raped was there. She is probably one of the bravest young girls I have met. She is now 19 years old and is carrying on with her life. She is a totally open and brave young person. At the news conference the usual questions were asked. Nevertheless they had to go to Bowden. The fine would have been $5,000 if they had not gone to Bowden prison that day.
When I arrived at the news conference I was surprised by the hundreds of people who were there. Big rigs had stopped and the police were there. I have so many memories of that day. I am sure it is the same for Lisa. One memory is that the people there wanted to block entry. They wanted to protect the mother and the two young girls. They said it was wrong that this had to happen in Canada. An RCMP officer told me he would love to be part of the protest because he had young children. The tears coming down his face had an impact on all of us but he was there to do his job. He had to provide entrance to the prison.
Lisa and the girls arrived. I cannot imagine what the drive must have been like for them. If it was traumatic for the adults in the crowd let us imagine what it must have been like for them. Lisa, the two girls and a psychologist arrived at Bowden some 35 kilometres away. The outpouring of support gave the adults strength. The common emotion everyone had is something I had never experienced before.
The crowd parted. The psychologist, the two little girls, Lisa and myself proceeded into the prison. We then entered the security area. The deputy warden met us. The guards made a point of saying they were not the ones making this happen. They did not think it should happen. They wanted us to understand that. Prior to that I had asked the attorney general if we could take them to a hotel somewhere under guard so the visit could occur there. I was told the man was too dangerous to take out of the prison.
We went through security. We were told this was to make sure we did not have weapons. There was tension as we passed through the gate. I have visited the prison before. Hon. members will recall that about 80% to 90% of the inmates are sex offenders. I will never forget the tension that was building in us. We entered the doorway. The door slammed and there we were in the waiting room.
Schneeberger felt he had a victory. He had used the court system and the Divorce Act against the lady who had testified against him. He hated her. Divorces are war. The two little girls, a five and a six year old, were the pawns that Sunday afternoon. As they entered the room and saw the man who had raped their sister they started to cry. They started to sob and then they grabbed their mother.
At that point I said this could never happen again. It cannot happen in a country like Canada. Fortunately we had a psychologist with us. The psychologist said it had to end because it was too traumatic for the children. She immediately ended the visit, took the children back to the vehicle and out of the prison.
The two young girls are still receiving psychiatric treatment. They still wake up screaming in the night. They were forced to go into the prison to go through that. As I say, I did not need any more motivation for creating Lisa's law, Bill C-400.
After that Mr. Schneeberger said he would not make them come back. However the law is still on the books. Every time the phone rings in Lisa's house she does not know whether it will be him on the other end of the line saying next Sunday she must go back to the prison. Next time there would be a lot more support for Lisa across the country. That is gratifying. It has given me hope for us all because thousands of people have phoned, written and communicated with Lisa. They have called their members of parliament and talk shows to say what they think should happen.
Every member of parliament should have received a card with a picture of Lisa on it. I had originally written the notes for the back, with Lisa's permission of course. However she wrote me a letter to give to all members of parliament, and when I read the letter I simply threw away my notes and put Lisa's letter on the back of the card. The letter on the back of the card is a true message. I did not edit it. I did not even talk to her about writing it. It is a true message from the bottom of her heart.
What do I want to accomplish with Lisa's law? It is not about access to children in prison. Everyone must understand that. All the lawyers I talked to advised me to make it specific. It is about sex offenders and pedophiles who force their children to visit them in prison probably to get at the other partner. It is not about wanting to see the kids. It is about the force involved.
Maybe the bill is not perfect. I have talked to a couple of my colleagues on the other side about how it could be made better. I trust the justice committee to make it better and fix it. I am not married to the wording. I am not a lawyer. However I want the bill to work and I want the problem to stop.
I think all members would agree that it is not a partisan issue. It is about not forcing kids to go into prisons against their will to visit pedophiles. It is not about kids visiting prisoners. That is a whole different issue. The bill does not cover that. Bill C-400 is about kids who are forced to visit sex offenders.
I will put something on the record so everyone understands. If after consulting with experts there is a mutual consent between the parents that having the kids visit would be good for the children and the prisoner, that is fine. That is not what I am after. I am after what I saw on May 27, 2001.
I believe that to be a slight defect in the Divorce Act. It can be fixed by this minor amendment to the Divorce Act. Lawyers tell me that it can be done very quickly. We must do it quickly so it will never happen again.
Some would say that we should not force judges or make decisions for them. In a case like this, it seems to me that all of us in this House were elected to make the laws. Yes, the judge needs guidance and needs to look at the child's best interest but the judge in this case said that because it was not written in the law he really did not have a choice and could not prevent access to those children. That was his interpretation.
What I am saying is that we need to clear that up for judges. The bottom line is that we need to make sure judges know what parliament thinks about pedophiles, about children and about putting children first. I look forward to suggestions from other members.
Lisa and her two young daughters are the people who should receive credit for this bill. They are the ones who went through this. They need to find confidence in this parliament, which I think will help us all. No matter what party we are from, I do not think this should ever have a party name on it. This is Lisa's law. It is dedicated to a single mom out there who is trying to make a life for herself.
Lisa is afraid of the publicity but she has committed to doing this. I think that is very important. She just happens to be a constituent of mine. I would not want any other MP to ever have to experience what I did on that Sunday in May. It was something that no one should ever have to go through.
Therefore I put forward today Bill C-400. It is the most emotional thing I have ever presented to the House. I feel more strongly about this than anything I have ever done. If we can make it better we should make it better. If someone votes against it, I and I do not think Lisa will be able to believe it. As I say, most of the people I have talked to right across the country would agree with that.
I thank all members who will be speaking on this and I trust that they will vote for it.
October 15th, 2001 / 3:40 p.m.
Bob Mills Red Deer, AB
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-400, an act to amend the Divorce Act (limits on rights of child access by sex offenders).
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce what I will be calling Lisa's law.
The motivation for this is the visit of two young girls of five and six to Bowden prison to visit their father because of a court order. At that point, I never wanted that to happen again to any Canadian children. I feel these kids are psychological victims and are continuing to suffer because of that judgment.
I know that this will receive all party support. A great many members have talked to me about it. It is my pleasure to introduce it at this point.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)