House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

At the request of the opposition, the vote is deferred until Monday after government orders.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think the whips have informally agreed, in addition to what has just been proposed, that the votes be further deferred until Tuesday at the conclusion of government orders. Therefore, I would seek consent to do that.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to defer the vote until Tuesday after government orders?

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from February 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Judges Act and to amend other Acts in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to initiate the debate on Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Judges Act and to amend other acts in consequence. There are many acts to be amended by Bill C-22.

Since the 1968 passage of the first federal Divorce Act, divorce has become increasingly prevalent in Canada. According to the latest numbers released by Statistics Canada, 71,144 couples divorced in 2000. Before reaching the 30th wedding anniversary nearly 38% of marriages will end. That is more than one-third. One in three marriages will end before even reaching their 30th wedding anniversary.

An important consequence of divorce is more and more disputes over the custody of children and parents' rights to access them. Custody of dependants, usually children, was granted through proceedings in one out of every three divorces in 2000. In the remaining two out of three divorces, couples arrived at custody arrangements outside the divorce proceedings, or they did not have dependents.

The proposed changes in Bill C-22 primarily affect child custody arrangements between parents after divorce. This is important for we should be worried about the impact divorce has on the lives of children.

For far too long family law legislation has perpetuated a battle of the sexes, a war between mothers and fathers.

The justice minister, when unveiling this act, said that he wanted to return family law to its core value, the best interests of the child, by making parenting after divorce less of a battle and less about mothers and fathers. Though males are perceived to be the victims of bias in family law, even that has resulted in some suicides. It is very sad.

A large number of Canadians have been critical of the terms custody and access because in their view the terms encourage too many parents to focus on their own rights rather than on their responsibilities and what is in the best interests of their children. The terms also promote the idea of a winner or a loser in a custody battle. Giving custody to one person takes it away from another. The terms represent a poor start for the future and give the impression that there is a winner and a loser, but the children are often the real losers, and we should do something about that.

Under the proposed reforms, the terms custody and access will be eliminated for the purpose of the Divorce Act. Removing the win-lose connotations will contribute to reducing levels of parental conflict and stress. The new approach used by the act and in legal proceedings will help parents to focus on their most important obligation, which is making sure their children receive the care they need. This terminology simply does not reflect the idea of co-parenting.

The proposed reforms will also allow parents, not the court, to figure out how to carry out their responsibilities to their children. Mediators, counsellors and lawyers will be able to assist if they cannot come to an agreement and judges will issue parenting orders only if mediation fails. The negative consequences for children are aggravated if parents become involved in protracted conflict over separation.

The proposed legislation is based on a parental responsibility model. Its underlying concept is that both parents will be responsible for the well-being of their children after separation or divorce. How they carry out their obligations to their children is largely a matter for them to decide using the best interest criteria as a guide.

The amendments to the Divorce Act include a list of best interest criteria for parents, lawyers and judges to consider when determining the living arrangements of a child involved in divorce.

These criteria include: the child's physical, emotional and psychological needs, including the child's need for stability, taking into account the child's age and stage of development; the benefit to the child of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with both spouses and each spouse's willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child's relationship with the other spouse; the history of care for the child; any family violence record; the child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage; any plans proposed for the child's care and upbringing; the nature, strength and stability of the relationship between the child and each spouse or each sibling, grandparent and any other significant person in the child's life; the ability of each person,in respect of whom the order would apply, to care for and meet the needs of the child; to communicate and co-operate on issues affecting the child; and finally, the safety and well-being of the child.

A mixed race child might end up spending more time with a parent who is considered to be in the best position to provide a cultural education to that child.

In 1998 the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access released its report “For The Sake of the Children”. The Minister of Justice claims that the government has taken an approach to family justice reform that is consistent with the spirit of this special joint committee's recommendations in that it removes the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act and bases parenting decisions solely on the best interest of the child.

However the government has rejected the committee's recommendation, as it often does, that the government adopt the shared parenting concept in which equal access to children is presumed.

While women's groups urged the government to make no changes to the custody and access regime, father's rights organizations campaigned tirelessly, but unsuccessfully, for the inclusion of a presumption in the law that each parent had equal access to children. There is little doubt that children benefit most when they have frequent and liberal access to both their parents.

Father's groups lobbied for the presumption of shared custody because of the widely held perception that courts are inherently gender biased. Judges award sole custody to mothers 60% of the time, joint custody 30% of the time and sole custody to fathers just 10% of the time.

The assumption of shared parenting should be built into the Divorce Act. Shared custody encourages the real involvement of both parents in their children's lives.

Psychologists and social workers tell us that children benefit from maintaining a relationship with both parents after divorce. Many studies show that children's emotional development is enhanced if both parents are involved after divorce. Parents denied a significant role in the life of a child might withdraw gradually, to the detriment of the child.

Some women's groups caution that a presumption in favour of joint custody might lead to its imposition in inappropriate cases and could allow an abusive father to continue to harass his wife and children. However clearly stated criteria would prevent this from occurring. Their position also overstates the occurrence of abuse and portrays men in a negative light.

Children benefit from consistent, meaningful contact with both parents, except in exceptional cases, such as those where violence has occurred and continues to pose a risk to the child.

What counts the most are the children, the kids. They are our next generation, our future and they certainly deserve our best care.

We know that family is an institution. Family is the foundation of any nation. United and peaceful families are stronger families. We need to promote that. Stronger families are prosperous families. Stronger and prosperous families can raise children better for the future of the country.

Do I need to remind everyone that stronger families make strong communities and stronger communities make a stronger nation?

Divorce Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's remarks on Bill C-22. It is important legislation for which parents and, more important, children have waited a long time.

Unfortunately, as he alluded to in his remarks, the government missed the boat entirely. It missed the fundamental principle that was enshrined in the report “For the Sake of the Children”. The fundamental guiding principle of all the 48 recommendations that were contained in the joint House of Commons--Senate report was that of shared parenting.

I would like to refer my colleague to the comments of the Minister of Justice on February 4 when he introduced Bill C-22 in the Chamber. I am quoting from Hansard . The minister said:

The term “shared parenting” has become associated for some people with a presumptive starting point about the appropriate parenting arrangement for children upon divorce. As a result, using the term “shared parenting” in the Divorce Act would have led to confusion.

My belief and the belief of the committee is exactly the opposite. To clarify that both parents upon divorce have equal standing, responsibilities and obligations to their children, we need to have shared parenting enshrined in the Divorce Act. It is the fundamental building block of the whole report.

I would ask my colleague to comment on that.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River for his excellent contribution in the House on the issue of shared parenting. He has done tremendous work on this. I am quite confident that because of his guidance the official opposition has led this issue through to the House in a meaningful way.

It is disappointing that out of the 48 recommendations that the joint committee recommended to the House the government has not listened to those recommendations nor has it followed through on them as it normally does in other cases that we see. Committee work becomes meaningless when members work hard to come up with recommendations and the recommendations go nowhere except for collecting dust on some shelf. That is disappointing.

I think shared parenting is the fundamental foundation of the Divorce Act. If the government does not see that the sharing concept is the fundamental foundation for the Divorce Act, it is leading the nation in the wrong direction. Whatever we decide to enshrine in the law will not be effective, will not be meaningful and will not strengthen the institution of families.

I am definitely in favour of the point the hon. member highlighted. We do need to clarify that equality does exist in the Divorce Act. When parents divorce or separate they need the opportunity to have equal responsibility for the children. That is a fundamental building block of the family. It keeps the lives of the children meaningful, and they would not miss either of their parents. That is important, and the government must understand that, absolutely.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, we just referred to the confusion that was suggested by the minister when he introduced the changes to the Divorce Act.

I want to ask the member who just spoke if he does not think that there is already a good amount of confusion that happens in the children. We are supposed to be operating from the premise of the best interests of the children. I think that we will find a lot of confusion in the children.

Does the member think we should be more concerned about the confusion we cause in the lives of children rather than the confusion we might cause in the courts?

Divorce Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Again, Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the very important point he has raised. Confusion is a serious issue. It is hard for young and small children to understand, when they love both parents equally, why they are denied access to their parents or why the law has determined that they should not have equal access to both parents. It is very disappointing for them.

I am disappointed about the government's general attitude toward dealing with the various issues. It does not listen to Canadians. I know it does not listen to the official opposition for political reasons. However the government should listen to the hundreds of thousands of psychologists, social workers and parents who are affected by the whole misconception of equal access and responsibility of both parents by the government enshrining this into law.

We already know that there have been perceptions that courts have been biased toward females. I have gathered data on males, the fathers, who have committed suicide one after the other. That is very disappointing.

Not only that, the justice minister himself does not understand the issue. His confusion definitely will be reflected in the way the government members vote on the issue. I believe the justice minister should understand and listen to at least the hundreds of thousands of Canadian psychologists, social workers and parents, if not the opposition members.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to pose a second question to my colleague. At the outset, obviously the debate is about to end on second reading of the bill. It then will proceed to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I look forward to that process because it will give Canadian Alliance members the opportunity to bring forward meaningful amendments on behalf of the children of Canada to try to correct the inadequacies, and there are many, in the proposed legislation, Bill C-22.

The question I want to pose to my colleague concerns the confusion when a government on behalf of the citizens of the country ratifies a United Nations convention, then turns around and brings in legislation like Bill C-22. I refer my colleague to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Canadian government ratified in 1991. Therefore it has been supported by Canadians through their government.

Part of article 9 states that parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interest.

Could my colleague comment on that? It is confusing when a government on behalf of the citizens ratifies something like that and then brings in legislation that does not reinforce the concept of shared parenting and the rights of the child.