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

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.

Sponsor

Martin Cauchon  Liberal

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 25, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

November 6th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have the honour to present a petition from constituents in my riding. They call upon Parliament to reject Bill C-22, to consider parental rights along with parental responsibilities and begin with the presumption of mandatory equal parenting in the event of a divorce.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

October 21st, 2003 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I often meet with Canadian and Quebec women's groups. I heard a comment this week and I would like to hear what the member for Lotbinière—L'Érable thinks about it.

First, people told me that if the House adjourns because of an election and if we in fact move up the implementation of the new electoral map, that will mean that what they have said to their members before the election will get lost. To them, this means that it will take almost a year before they can get an answer or a solution to their problems.

Somebody else asked me: “What do we do about Bill C-22 to amend the Divorce Act? What do we do about Bill C-25 on labour relations in the public service? What do we do about victims of harassment? What do we do about same sex marriage? What will happen with all these bills that people are waiting for? What will happen with poverty and social housing?”

That is what the women's groups were asking and it is also what I am asking my colleague.

Divorce ActOral Question Period

September 22nd, 2003 / 2:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, in February, the Secretary of State for the Status of Women promised to conduct an analysis to determine whether the changes to the Divorce Act in Bill C-22 would have a different impact on men than on women.

The Secretary of State for the Status of Women made this promise eight months ago. We want to know today whether this gender equality analysis has been concluded and when it will be referred to the committee that is studying this issue.

Lobbyists Registration ActGovernment Orders

June 5th, 2003 / 3:05 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act.

We have dealt with the bill before in this place. It has been to the Senate and is back with an amendment. The amendment makes a slight improvement to the bill, but in our humble estimation, it does not go the distance required to ensure that we have before us a piece of legislation that does the task at hand and has provisions for the utmost transparency and the highest of ethical standards. Let us remember where the bill came from, why it is before us and what it was intended to do.

Members of the House will recall that back in the spring of 2001 the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology held hearings on this matter and heard evidence from a wide variety of sources. The committee made recommendations to the House for the development of appropriate legislation in its report entitled “Transparency in the Information Age: The Lobbyists Registration Act in the 21st Century”.

The question for us today is, does Bill C-15 actually do what the process intended to accomplish? Does it take us down the path of legislation that ensures absolute transparency in the work and dealings of lobbyists vis-à-vis government? Have we set the highest ethical standards in terms of this very important aspect of government? We all know how cynical people have become. Our constituents are suspicious of government because of their perception of undue influence by corporate entities, by big money interests, in our society today over the legislation and programming established by government.

This is a very important issue in terms of democracy and in terms of restoring faith in the democratic process. It is very important in terms of assuring the general population that we operate on the basis of the highest standards. I am afraid we cannot say that has been accomplished under the bill as amended by the Senate.

Certainly the bill accomplishes a number of important objectives. Bill C-15 proposes to close some loopholes in the lobbyist regulatory system under the federal Lobbyists Registration Act. Specifically the bill requires that lobbyists who are invited to lobby government will now be required to register. The bill also states that the registration requirements for in-house corporate lobbyists will require more detailed listings of employees who are lobbying. That is very good. The bill also states that because of an amendment made by the House of Commons, a lobbyist for a corporation or organization who had been a public servant, politician or other public officer holder, will have to disclose the past offices the lobbyist held.

Some important changes have been made. Certainly some are on the right path. We are going in the right direction. We are in the process of moving toward greater transparency and higher ethical standards in the whole area of government, but are we there yet?

By all accounts by those who observe this process very carefully and by those who are concerned about the future of democracy in Canada, we are not there yet. We missed the mark. The bill is not perfect and it should be perfect because, goodness knows, we are dealing with a fundamental aspect of parliamentary process and democratic faith in our system.

Let us be clear. Some very key loopholes still remain in Bill C-15. Those loopholes allow many lobbyists to escape registration, to hide key details about the extent and nature of lobbying activities. They allow lobbyists to have inside access and undue influence and weaken enforcement of the Lobbyists Registration Act and the lobbyists code of conduct.

These are significant loopholes and must be closed. Our caucus, all members of the NDP in the House have been saying that time and again. Our critic, the member for Windsor West, has been very diligent and persistent about ensuring that the bill is amended to reflect those very concerns.

Our member for Windsor West told the House time and again that the act fails to address the issue of compulsory disclosure. He has said, and we agree with him, that the act should include a requirement that anyone covered by a federal code of conduct, including ministers, political appointees, civil servants and lobbyists, disclose any wrongdoing of which they have knowledge. It is very important to point out that it has not been addressed by the government.

There is another matter on which the member for Windsor West and also the member for Winnipeg Centre have been very outspoken. It has to do with the matter of whistle-blower protection. The member for Winnipeg Centre has had legislation before the House. He has tried to convince this place of the need to have such provisions entrenched in law so that we have a way to give protection to those in our civil service who know of wrongdoing, who want to report that wrongdoing, but fear for their jobs and repercussions in their working lives.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, reinforced by the member for Windsor West and others, has said very clearly that there must be whistle-blower protection in the legislation. Of course it needs to be in this legislation. We are talking about lobbying. We are talking about those who can exert undue influence on government. We are talking about loyal members of our civil service who observe, know and learn about wrongdoing and who want to report that wrongdoing for the public good, to serve the public interest.

What is holding the government back from ensuring whistle-blower protection in the legislation? As my colleague for Windsor—St. Clair has said, what are they afraid of? What are the Liberals afraid of? Why is this absolute bottom-line requirement, this fundamental position for whistle-blower protection, not in Bill C-15?

Is it because the government is afraid of the results, the outcome of the possibilities that their civil servants, those who work in the departments, know too much, see too much and can do too much damage to the politicians in this place, to members and ministers in the government? Is that a possibility? Perhaps it is because when we get down to it and analyze what has been happening lately with the government and the whole area of public policy decision making, there seems to be an awful lot of undue influence by corporate and monied interests in our society today over the direction of the government's legislative initiatives and over serious propositions that would serve the public good.

I have seen it time and time again in the last little while that I have been here in this place, particularly during the time when I was serving as the health critic and had a chance to observe what happened to important policies and initiatives in Health Canada and how the Minister of Health refused to act on important initiatives. I want to provide a few examples because they are very important to this debate.

I want to begin with an area that should touch the hearts of every member in this place and comes very close to home, and that is the matter dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome. I say it touches this place because members in the House voted on a motion that I presented and almost all members supported it. The motion said that Health Canada and the Government of Canada should require labels on all alcohol beverage containers to warn women not to drink while pregnant because of the danger of causing fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects.

It was an important initiative and I was so delighted to receive the support of members from all political parties and to see the work that was begun by the member for Mississauga South who worked so long and hard on the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome was paying off, that we were making headway in this place and making good public policy.

That was two years ago when the House passed this motion almost unanimously. We expected, perhaps naively, that motion would form the basis for government action. Perhaps it would not be overnight. Perhaps it would take a few weeks, a few months, maybe even a year, but who would have dreamed that it would take a whole two years with still no government response or action? How could this happen? What could come in the way of a very progressive initiative that makes the difference in terms of our battle against fetal alcohol syndrome?

No one in this place, certainly not me or anyone in my caucus, left the impression that this measure was the be all and the end all in terms of fetal alcohol syndrome, but that it was one small step, one measure as part of a bigger package, to help us deal with a very serious problem, a problem that costs our society dearly in terms of financial expenses and personal consequences. It costs millions of dollars over the life of every individual suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome for all society. It costs us dearly in human terms and in financial terms, so every bit we can do makes a difference.

The proposal is to have labels on alcohol beverage containers, which, as we know, is done in the United States. It is required for Canadian beer brewers, wine producers and alcohol producers to put those labels warning of fetal alcohol syndrome on bottles we export to the United States, so it would not take too much to do it here in Canada. Yet the government has refused. The Minister of Health has said that she must study the matter before she can decide, even though this matter has been studied to death over the years. The evidence is in and it is clear that, as a measure which is part of a whole package of initiatives focusing on fetal alcohol syndrome, it is important and it matters.

The question for us today in the context of Bill C-15 is, what undue influence happened over the government and the Minister of Health to cause this important initiative to be put on hold and shelved? I think we can say with some certainty that there was influence from the alcohol industry on the government. There was pressure from the beer companies on that minister. How else can one explain something this important being put on the sidelines? I think there is lots of evidence to suggest that.

The member for Mississauga South a number of years ago worked hard to have this matter dealt with before the health committee, and he proposed Bill C-22.

In a book he produced after that period in our parliamentary history entitled Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Real Brain Drain , he said:

There is no doubt that the alcohol industry killed the bill. They reportedly spent over $100,000 on lobby efforts... The Brewers Association announced that if the bill went through, they would withdraw their $10 million annual contribution to prevention programs that they jointly funded with Health Canada.

That sounds like blackmail to me.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2003 / 6:55 p.m.
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Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Chair, dear colleagues, this is the second time that I have the opportunity to present the estimates for the Department of Justice. I must say that I still find this quite an interesting exercise. Every time, colleagues and members of Parliament have had some constructive input to offer.

I am pleased to present the spending estimates of the Department of Justice Canada to the House.

As I just said, this is the second time I appear before you to deal with the estimates. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight our current priorities and to discuss the latest achievements of the Department of Justice. I would also like to go over some of the challenges we are facing.

First, as we have seen today, one of the priorities of my department is the reform of the cannabis legislation, which I have tabled as the cannabis reform bill.

I want to be clear from the beginning that we are not legalizing marijuana and I have no plans to do so. Marijuana remains a controlled substance and offenders will continue to be punished by law.

What we are changing is the way we prosecute certain offences of possession through the use of alternative penalties.

The bill I introduced earlier today amends the legal provisions with respect to the possession of small amounts of marihuana, which will become a ticketing offence instead of leading to criminal prosecutions.

While introducing these new legal provisions, the Government of Canada will continue to proactively implement its renewed drug strategy to discourage young people from using drugs and to go after traffickers in order to reduce both the demand and supply for illegal drugs.

Through the renewed Canada's Drug Strategy, we will review the legislation to take into consideration the modern viewpoints of Canadians. The strategy seeks to ensure that the provisions concerning possession offences are more consistently enforced and that the penalties fit the seriousness of the crime.

In order to promote health, the use of marihuana must be discouraged and cannabis possession will remain illegal in Canada. However, the new measures reflect the opinion of the majority of Canadians who no longer accept the permanent stigma of a criminal record or a prison sentence that the people found guilty of possessing small amounts of cannabis have to bear.

The debate over modernizing our marijuana laws has been on and off the public agenda for three decades now. The time has come to act. We need strong, enforceable laws that make sense for Canadians and make sense internationally, laws that will send a strong message to our young people, a message saying that marijuana is harmful and will remain illegal.

This reform will address the current lack of consistency in the enforcement of cannabis possession offences across the country and ensure that enforcement resources are focused on where they are most needed by allowing police to enforce the law, but without the complications of going before the courts for minor offences.

The decision to reform the law was not taken lightly. It came as the result of an enormous amount of research, consultation and debate. Cannabis consumption is a complex issue and is first and foremost a health matter. However, one thing is clear, the time has come for us to reform our laws in this area.

The House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended that cannabis be decriminalized. The Senate special committee on illegal drugs recommended that the production and sale of cannabis be legalized.

Recent polling indicates that a majority of Canadians believe that convictions for possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use should not result in criminal penalties.

Again I want to be clear that the government has no plans to legalize the possession of this drug but clearly the current laws do not serve the public good.

However, the commercial growing of marijuana is no doubt a serious indictable offence that has serious and negative consequences on society. Commercial growers generate huge profits for criminal organizations and other stakeholders in this trade.

These growers are everywhere in cities and in houses rented in the suburbs, among other places, and often the owners are not aware of these illegal activities.

Marijuana growers resort to water and electricity meter jumping, which means they rob public utilities and pose a serious threat of fire.

Several law enforcement agencies have found very sophisticated traps designed to endanger the lives of competitors, police officers and firefighters. We must obviously protect the lives of women and men who represent our first line of defence.

I believe that Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code, which was recently referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, will effectively serve as a deterrent. Indeed, it would amend section 247 of the Criminal Code regarding the placing of traps that are likely to cause death. The amendment would provide that, if a trap is used for the purpose of committing another indictable offence, the term of imprisonment would go from five to ten years.

If bodily harm is caused to a person, the term of imprisonment would be 14 years and, if the person dies, the maximum penalty would be life imprisonment, whether the place was used for the purpose of committing an indictable offence or not.

Bill C-32 would also ensure that our laws keep pace with the rapid evolution of the Internet. The amendments in the bill would allow citizens and businesses to take reasonable steps to protect their computer systems and the valuable information that they contain against computer hackers and sly electronic communications that might contain viruses.

The amendments to the Divorce Act contained in Bill C-22 address a top priority of Canadians, ensuring that the best interests of the child remain paramount in decisions made following their parent's divorce or separation. I understand that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights expects to resume hearings on C-22 shortly.

Canadians have already stated clearly that changes to the law are not enough. Improvements must also be made to services, such as mediation and education. Canadians have also demanded a simpler, more efficient court system to accommodate the needs of parents and families struggling with separation and divorce.

In December we responded by proposing the child centre family justice strategy. Together with the provinces, territories and non-government organizations, we have embarked on an ambitious and multi-faceted program of change that includes increased funding for family justice services, expansion of successful initiatives, such as unified family courts, and legislative amendments, such as Bill C-22.

The Department of Justice will make substantial investments in this strategy. In December I announced $163 million over five years to modernize the family justice system in Canada.

Now, another very important issue raised by Bill C-20.

This bill deals with the protection of children and other vulnerable persons. Protecting children is obviously a high priority for Canadians, and the government is listening to them.

Bill C-20, which was introduced recently, provides better protection for children against all forms of exploitation. It reflects the broad consultations and close cooperation with the provinces, the territories, non-governmental organizations and the general public.

The proposed reforms are designed to give children better protection against all forms of exploitation, including sexual abuse and child pornography, and to meet the needs of children and other vulnerable persons, such as victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system, more effectively.

Canada's criminal laws against sexual abuse of children, including child pornography, are among the strictest in the world. Bill C-20 will go even further in strengthening our prohibitions with regard to child pornography. It also proposes creating a new category of prohibited sexual exploitation for those who are between 14 and 18, which will require the courts to examine the nature and the circumstances of the relationship, including the age difference.

Another purpose of Bill C-20 is to make it easier for young victims and witnesses to testify. It proposes to strengthen their ability to provide a clear, complete and accurate description of the events while ensuring that the rights of the accused will be protected and respected.

Another topic that I would like to talk about concerns the protection of Canada's capital markets. I believe that improving the fairness of our system extends well beyond matters of liability and into our capital market. Recent scandals involving corporate malfeasance in the United States have spurred officials in my department to review Canadian laws. I hope to table a bill on this matter in the very near future.

My department will be investing resources and playing a significant role in the integrated enforcement teams that will be investigating and prosecuting the most serious corporate frauds and market illegalities. Justice officials will partner with their peers in finance, industry and the office of the Solicitor General in this coordinated approach.

The other important topic I would like to talk about now is the criminal liability of corporations. Improving fairness in our justice system is indeed an ongoing priority.

The Department of Justice has been working very hard to draft new legislative provisions on corporate criminal liability taking into account the recommendations made by the many commissions and studies on the Westray mine disaster. A series of amendments to the Criminal Code would make business executives more responsible for the safety of their employees.

Another important topic I would like to raise here is access to justice; as we have said, this has been an ongoing priority of my department, which wants to ensure that Canadians, no matter where they live, can use the official language of their choice in all their dealings with federal legislation. This is the whole issue of official languages.

We have made great strides in that respect, working closely with our governmental and non-governmental partners in the provinces and territories, and I am confident we can still improve access to justice in both official languages.

Under the government's action plan on official languages, my department will invest $27 million over the next five years to meet its obligations under the Legislative Instruments Re-enactment Act and the Federal Court's decision on the Contraventions Act.

Another $18.5 million will also be invested in a fund in support of access to justice in both official languages. Together, these initiatives represent a $45.5 million investment in the area of access to justice in both official languages.

Legal aid is another significant component of the access to justice. The government is strongly committed to ensuring that economically disadvantaged Canadians have equitable access to criminal legal aid. I am pleased to report significant progress on initiating criminal legal aid renewal.

The recent federal budget announced increases to the criminal legal aid base fund and committed additional funds for innovative programs developed and implemented by the provinces and territories. Federal funding for criminal legal aid will increase by $89 million in the new criminal legal aid agreement. Of this amount, $83 million will go directly to the provinces and territories.

Over the next three years the government will invest $379.2 million in legal aid. These funds will help ensure that economically disadvantaged Canadians have access to justice.

Now let me deal with another important topic, crime prevention. To work effectively, our justice system must be relevant to all Canadians. It must be directly connected to and be an integral and familiar part of every community.

I am convinced that a relevant system must help citizens recommend, develop and implement effective solutions to community problems. Even though such solutions may go beyond the regular limits of case law, often they are powerful engines of social change.

The national crime prevention strategy has proven to be especially successful at improving the relevance of Canada's justice system. This strategy involves providing financial support for innovative local projects that reduce crime and victimization, and target issues of local concern.

For example, in Surrey, British Columbia, a literacy project would enable disadvantaged Canadians to acquire new skills and jobs. In Fort McPherson, a summer camp program would help instill a new sense of pride in young people at risk. In Ontario, a partnership project with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police would help combat auto theft by educating youth about the negative consequences of that act.

These projects are just a few current examples of our collaborative approach to crime prevention, an approach that has succeeded in enlisting an increasing number of Canadians in the fight against crime. These projects also establish vital links between Canadians and their system of justice. I am pleased to say that over the next three years the national crime prevention strategy will invest $225 million to make our communities safer.

In conclusion, while I am pleased with the accomplishments of my department, I recognize that much work remains to be done to create a system that is fair, accessible and relevant to all. We must broaden our collaboration with the provinces, territories, and with individual Canadians to improve our justice system, prevent crime, and reduce the effect of victimization.

JusticeStatements By Members

April 8th, 2003 / 2 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Madam Speaker, Lisa Dillman's worst fear came true last week when her lawyer said her ex-husband, John Schneeberger, was re-applying to force his two daughters to visit him in prison. This felon was convicted of drugging and raping two females, one of them his 13 year old stepdaughter, and obstructing justice for seven years by inserting another man's blood vial in his arm in order to thwart DNA tests.

I was there two years ago when Schneeberger forced Lisa and her daughters to visit him at the Bowden Institution. I will never forget the terror and horror I saw in those little girls' eyes. An RCMP officer on duty said to me with tears in his eyes, “I have kids at home. I can't believe our justice system is torturing two little girls like this”.

Yesterday, the minister said that Bill C-22 would prevent this. That is just not the case. I plead with the minister to make the necessary amendments now.

JusticeOral Question Period

April 7th, 2003 / 2:55 p.m.
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Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should read Bill C-22, the amendments to the Divorce Act. Essentially the starting point of that bill is the question of the best interests of the children. Taking into consideration the best interests of the child, we list for the very first time some criteria that a judge will have to use in order to come to that conclusion. With regard to the Lisa's law case he just referred to, he should look at the bill as well. In the amended bill, we deal with that situation.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 31st, 2003 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-23, the sex offender information registration act, and I am pleased to follow the discussion and presentation by the spokesperson for the Bloc.

As the Bloc Quebecois member has said, it is clear that we are going to support this bill in general, but with some reservations. We are going to ask the parliamentary committee to look at certain things in connection with this very important bill.

We, like the Bloc Quebecois, want to see a balance struck between protection of our children and protection of our rights. This will always be our goal, and time must be taken to hear witnesses when this very important matter is being considered.

As I tried to say in French, members of the New Democratic Party, like the spokesperson for the Bloc, wish to offer our general support for the bill and indicate that we believe it is a very important initiative. At the same time, as is our wont on all cases pertaining to constitutional matters and legal provisions, we seek to ensure that the rights and liberties of individuals are protected and upheld and that nothing we do by way of legislation in the House takes away those hard fought freedoms.

It is clear that we are dealing with a long overdue piece of legislation. This matter of a sex offenders registry has been before Parliament and in public policy circles for many months. In fact, I think back to a couple of years ago when this place dealt with this subject by way of a motion from Alliance members, I believe. It was subsequently pursued by provincial ministers of justice on a regular basis.

In fact, I think if it were not for the constant push by ministers of justice at the provincial level the bill in fact would not be here today. It is clearly a culmination of a long process and an outcry from Canadians right across this land for action to deal with a most serious and critical matter in our society today.

No one in this place can ignore the agony that families go through when a child or a loved one is raped or sexually assaulted. No one can ignore the fact that in our society there are pedophiles who are at large and will continue to offend and reoffend if serious actions are not taken.

Bill C-23 is certainly one step in the right direction. It is important because it will help police services investigate crimes of a sexual nature by requiring the registration of certain information relating to sex offenders. It is a tool and a provision that will allow the police to keep track of the whereabouts of those who have offended in terms of rape or sexual assault against children or any vulnerable member in our society. That is very important, because one does not have to follow this issue too far to know the extent to which our children and women in our society today are at risk of sexual assault and exploitation.

The primary objective with the legislation is to ensure the effective protection of Canadians. In this case in terms of Bill C-23, we are concerned about the potential victims of sexual crimes, primarily women and children, who are especially vulnerable.

I will first talk about violence against women. This is a matter that the House must continually come to grips with and I think that through this bill we have such an opportunity. I think we all agree that Canadian women have a right to live without the threat of violence, yet we know that for many women it is a reality. One study shows that 42% of women, and that is in comparison to 10% of men, feel totally unsafe walking in their own neighbourhoods at night. Nearly as many, 37%, are worried about being home alone at night.

We know that much of the violence against women manifests itself through sex related violence. We know that, and we have to continually be vigilant in finding ways to reduce the incidence of sexual violence against women, because we are tired of building monuments to victims.

Let me also talk briefly about sexual violence against children. Understandably, there is a feeling of sickness and rage every time we enter another search for another child's body. This bill actually will help us to channel those justifiable feelings to the positive objective of improving prevention.

There are a few other facts. It is estimated that only 10% of sexual assaults on women are reported to police. In Canada this means that more than half a million assaults occur each year. Another fact: Every minute of every day in Canada a woman or child is being sexually assaulted. Let us not forget in this debate, as in other debates we are having, particularly on Bill C-22, the divorce act, that 98% of sex offenders are men and that 82% of victims surviving reported assaults are women.

Tragically, recent well-publicized incidents confirm the fact that those most often committing assaults are in positions of trust. They are fathers, other relatives, religious officials, doctors, teachers, employers, friends and dates.

There are more facts to be put on the record. There are more examples of the kind of emotional upheaval that families go through when a child, a woman or a vulnerable person experiences sexual assault, but perhaps that is enough for now to highlight the importance of the bill and why we are in general support of Bill C-23.

There are some problems with the bill. We heard the member from the Bloc speak about some of those issues that we have to grapple with. Some of the provincial governments have raised other concerns with the bill. The concerns before us fill the whole spectrum. They range from those who believe the bill is not tough enough to those who believe the bill may infringe on civil liberties, and that is something we must sort out in the next stages of the bill, particularly when it is sent to the standing committee and witnesses are heard and testimony is received. I would suggest that we take seriously all those concerns.

I want to put on the table some of the concerns raised by the provincial minister of justice of the Government of Manitoba, the Hon. Gord Mackintosh, who in fact was central to the push that led to the bill before the House today. It was Gordon Mackintosh, back in September 2001, who actually presented a motion to the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice meeting calling on the government to establish, together with the provinces and territories, a national registry for sexual offenders.

He introduced that motion with the support of many provinces to try to force the Government of Canada to listen and to act. Fortunately today we are in a position where the federal government has listened, has acted and has brought before us a bill that is consistent with the wishes of the provincial and territorial ministers of justice as well as the wishes of many Canadians who are very worried about ensuring that the incidence of child sexual assault and rape of women and children is dealt with on a consistent and effective basis.

The minister from Manitoba, Gordon Mackintosh, has raised some outstanding matters that need to be pursued by the House and by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He raised the issue of retroactivity. That is a matter that has been before us throughout the debate. It is a matter of concern. The position of the Manitoba government is that it makes sense to look at a provision that deals not just with those who offend once this bill is proclaimed, but also gives some consideration to the fact that it ought to apply to those who are now serving sentences for sexual offences.

I think we ought to give that some thought. Our caucus has remained open to the question. I know that there are strong views on both sides and I think we need to really grapple with this whole issue of retroactivity and whether or not we are doing a disservice to Canadians at risk by not applying this provision retroactively to some extent.

The Manitoba government has raised the issue of photographs and whether or not the bill will in fact allow for the use of photos. There was some understanding that in fact the federal government has acknowledged that photographs are important and will be introduced at some time in the future. However, there appears to be no mention of the question of photographs in the legislation before us. I think we ought to deal with that issue here and now; otherwise it is clear that the legislation will have to be reopened and that we will have to deal with this issue all over again once the federal government decides to live up to its commitment to the provinces to include the matter of the use of photographs.

A third issue raised by the provincial governments that I think has to be taken seriously as we pursue this bill is the question of financial support for the new responsibilities that provincial governments will face once this bill is proclaimed. It is clear that there will be additional costs because, as we know from the proposals in the legislation, judges must in fact make written application to ensure that a person convicted of a sexual offence is added to the registry. That takes time.

We know that judges are now overburdened with existing demands and provisions. A new piece of legislation does require the government and all of us to look at the question of what resources are required and whether that is being considered as the bill goes through the various stages. It would be irresponsible on our part to pass legislation that in fact puts all kinds of financial requirements on the table and leaves it to the provinces to sort out. That would be irresponsible and unfair. I think it is important for us to now get commitments from the federal government as we pursue Bill C-23 about how it intends to support, fund and finance the new demands placed on our provincial judicial systems as a result of the implementation of Bill C-23.

I think it is clear that the House acknowledges the importance of having a registry that is mandatory and requires the documentation and identification of those who have offended sexually against children and other vulnerable members of our society. I think that there is this understanding. As a House, we are grappling with some of the intricacies of the bill and with how we can ensure that the balance is upheld between protection of the most vulnerable in our society and the adherence to our charter and our constitutional traditions. I think this is the mandate of the committee and I ask that we all take the process very seriously and ensure that the standing committee is given the time it needs to do this work.

For now let me say that my colleagues and I in the NDP support the broad thrust of the bill. We know that it is long overdue. We know there are some problems, but on the other hand we say thank goodness it is finally here and thank God we have such a proposal before us. Let us ensure that we do not lose sight of the objective at hand and that we do everything we can to make this a fine piece of legislation and a law that will actually work. Not only do we have to ensure that we track sexual offenders and ensure that if they reoffend they are picked up quickly, but through the bill we actually have to ensure that we find a way to prevent sexual assault of our children and vulnerable citizens. We have to do everything we can to make our communities safer and more secure for everyone among us.

Divorce ActOral Question Period

March 25th, 2003 / 2:55 p.m.
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Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that very important question. Essentially he is talking about Bill C-22, the Divorce Act, which has passed second reading in the House.

We put in place a brand new philosophy. We want to ensure that the system is less adversarial. We will change the notion of custody and access moving toward what we call parental responsibility. We want to ensure that we will be using more mediation.

Divorce ActGoverment Orders

February 25th, 2003 / 6:55 p.m.
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The Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the second reading stage of Bill C-22.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 12:15 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak on Bill C-22, the Divorce Act amendments.

First I would like to say that my colleague from Prince George—Peace River has taken the initiative to ensure that the voices of Canadians and everybody were heard when the bill was being formulated and will be heard as it is going to be formulated when it goes to the committee.

I have listened with interest to my colleague from the Liberal side as well as my colleague from the Progressive Conservative side. Both have articulated a very good point, especially the Liberal member from Sarnia when he said that the bill seems to have been drafted by the lawyers in the justice department without major input from the people of Canada, which would be through the House of Commons. Therefore I thought it was important for me to stand up and speak on the bill.

Why do I think it is important? Let me start by saying that for the last three to four years I have received representations in my office from frustrated people who are in divorce proceedings, whose marriage, for whatever reason, has broken down. They have come to my office and have expressed frustration about the Divorce Act and about the way the courts have acted and have passed judgment.

I had a town hall meeting where I wanted to discuss the issues that were in front of Parliament. I was surprised at the number of grandparents who came, pleading that we do something so that grandparents will have access to the children. At the end of the day, grandparents do have a right to their grandchildren.

In regard to these proceedings, we have a lot of experience. We have seen what happened in the past. We know that on many occasions when divorce proceedings take place it is not harmonious. It is a split that leaves bitter feelings. These feelings tend to be used against the children, who become pawns for revenge purposes, regrettably. As many members will know, even in the last year or so in Calgary we have had cases where parents have taken the lives of small children so they could get revenge against the other partner. What a tragedy, Mr. Speaker.

This calls for Parliament, for the people, to look at this issue, because divorce is on the rise. It is a fact of life. There are single parents out there and we need to listen to them and address this issue, because it is there. It is not going to go away. It is not going to be hidden under the carpet. If we are going to leave it to the unelected officials, to the courts, to create the rules or regulations or laws for this, then we are doing a huge disservice to Canadians.

During election 2000 when I went door knocking, I was stunned and amazed at how many times I met single mothers with children. They had returned home to stay with their parents. In talking to them, I heard their frustration with trying to raise the children by themselves. If statistics are anything to go by, for the majority of children who live in poverty it is because of the single parent. Due to the breakup of marriages, single parenting is what is sending children into poverty.

In the budget the government has said it is going to spend so much money for child poverty. Fair enough. Agreed. It is a good point, but the fact of the matter is that we should go to the root cause one step behind this, to where it is coming from. It is coming from single parenting.

How do we address the issue? It goes back to the divorce cases. We need to look at the divorce case issue and come up with not what the bureaucrats or lawyers are trying to do but with what is really out there, what is really happening, where the cracks are that we need to solve. There are the rights of grandparents and shared parenting.

What if we give direction to the courts to say we want shared parenting because it is the responsibility of both? Why should one parent be put on the other side and carry the burden while the other parent feels he cannot participate and feels neglected in society? There have been recent cases of this in Alberta, where revenge has been taken and the poor children have even lost their lives.

The question here is that it is for the sake of the children. The parents may decide they want to be separate and to go ahead with their own lives, and so be it, they make the decision, but we have to take into account what the children need. They love their children. We all use the same words, interestingly, and we all say “for the sake of children”, but what and how?

When the bill goes back to committee hopefully people will come and offer presentations and will fight to make sure that there is an equitable share for both parents in raising the children. That is good in the long term for society and it is good for us because we are investing in our children, the long term future of this country.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I must thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for the non-partisan position taken on a piece of legislation that is so vital and important to the House and to the many people it affects. The member for Sarnia—Lambton always has a spot over here if he wishes to pursue the government the way he has.

Believe me, I hope beyond hope there are more members on the Liberal backbenches who will look seriously at this legislation, dissect it and see what it is doing or not doing for what I consider to be one of the most serious issues facing us as a society today. There are pieces of legislation that come before us, in fact we have five or six today, that deal with very important issues. In my opinion, this is without question the most important issue that will be dealt with in the House of Commons.

I am very fortunate and very happy that I have never had any personal experience in dealing with divorce. However, if members looked within their own personal lives, they would find someone among their family or friends who has experienced divorce. It is one of the most acrimonious circumstances anyone could possibly face.

Bill C-22 is supposed to put into place legislation that would allow this particular circumstance, divorce, to take place between two people with some protections.

The history lesson by the member for Sarnia—Lambton was wonderful. As was mentioned earlier, there was a special joint committee which issued the wonderful report “For the Sake of the Children”. It had 48 recommendations which, if the House wanted to follow, would put into place legislation that would deal with the singular issue that it attempted to do, and that was for the sake of the children, protection for the children.

Some of the 48 recommendations have been implemented. I will not be as strongly opposed to the legislation as the member for Sarnia—Lambton. Some have been included in the legislation. However, there are approximately 13 recommendations, very important and strong, absolutely stand-alone recommendations that have not been included and because of that, the legislation has faults. The legislation is not the right piece of legislation to go forward.

There are two issues. First, in any kind of divorce proceeding, we recognize that there will be acrimony. Once people have reached that point in a marriage, there will be acrimony. There will be, unfortunately, too many things that will not be negotiable between a husband and a wife. Unfortunately there has to be a mediator. There has to be legislation put into place to mediate that. Unfortunately as well, when people have reached that point in a marriage, it is usually most detrimental to the children of the marriage.

In “For the Sake of the Children” there are two issues. One is shared parenting. This is a simple concept. When two people are involved in a marriage and from that marriage come children, then in my opinion and certainly in the opinion of the committee and the opinion of the majority of Canadians, both parents must and still have a need for the opportunity to develop those children throughout their childhood. They must have access. There must be shared parenting.

The Minister of Justice does not like the term “shared parenting” and he does not like the terms “custody” and “access”. The term he will be putting in is “parenting orders”. A word is only a word. Shared parenting means that each individual parent has the right and the responsibility to raise the children.

The committee also said that as part of shared parenting there should be a parenting plan. What a great idea. A parenting plan would be negotiated and worked out between two adults which would allow the children to have as close to a normal upbringing as they could possibly have. But no, that is not dealt with in this legislation.

Instead, as was mentioned, they go off to the courts to decide what is going to happen with joint custody and what is going to happen with sole custody. For the sake of the children, it is necessary to have a mandatory piece of legislation which states that in divorce proceedings it is imperative that the first thing is to say that the children are going to have shared parenting, that they are going to have equal access to both parents. That is the equality and that is the fairness that should be developed in this act.

The second issue, needless to say, is financial, obviously whether there is going to be spousal support, child support, or a financial contribution from one partner to another. In general terms it should not be a gender thing. There should be fairness. There should in fact be a simple, basic premise which states that one member of the marriage should not be a beneficiary to the detriment of the other. One member of that duo should not receive substantial financial support to the detriment of another and have his or her lifestyle change so dramatically that he or she cannot cope.

I have reams and reams of the information provided to us as members of Parliament which speaks of the tragedies with respect to so much being demanded of one parent by the courts that the individual just could not cope. When that individual could not cope, unfortunately in some cases it resulted in suicide, and this is not fearmongering, this is a reality. This is an issue we have to deal with and it can be dealt with in fairness and equity in a piece of legislation.

I am disappointed that the Minister of Justice would bring forward this bill without more thought being given to it, without the ability to put into place a piece of legislation that is going to allow divorce to happen in a much fairer and more equitable fashion.

The issue here is not to try to stop the divorce. We recognize that in our society today there are those who, in their own judgment, do not wish to be a married couple. That is a reality. The reality is there. What we must do as politicians and legislators is make sure that the rules are put in place to make this happen in the most fair and equitable way possible.

As I said, there are two issues. One of them is shared parenting and making sure that there is equal access to children. I cannot think of anything worse than being the father of children and not being able to have access to those children, for whatever reason but in this particular case divorce. As part of that, there has to be the opportunity for access for the extended family. We can talk about rights, whether that be rights for grandparents, and we also know that now we have extended families that in fact should have access, either to grandchildren or to nieces and nephews. That has to be protected in this act.

The other issue is support. There has to be fairness with respect to support, and from both parents, from both sides of the equation.

We will see this legislation go forward to committee. I do not think the member for Sarnia--Lambton has in fact convinced the members of his party to stop it at this level. I wish he could, and I hope he can, but if he cannot it is going back to committee. The only hope and wish I have is that members of all parties, and this is not partisan nor should it be, simply listen with an open mind as to how the legislation must be changed, not should be or could be but must be, changed for the sake of the children.

That is what it is about. It is for the children who are going to be growing up in a home divided, but that home divided does not necessarily have to be an acrimonious home. It does not necessarily have to be a home that is going to have one winner and one loser in a relationship. In fact, that is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to children growing up in a family.

From my party's perspective, we will be at the table at the justice committee. We will be putting forward what we consider to be the necessary amendments to make this legislation so much better. Or perhaps we can start from scratch, by pulling the legislation altogether, and try to put into place what is best for the children.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 11:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill in general terms.

Bill C-22 is further evidence of why representative democracy is dead in terms of the Department of Justice. Section 18 of the British North America Act which gives this House the powers of representation of the public is dead. A motion was made recently by the Minister of Justice asking members of this place to waive their privileges, that is, section 18 of the British North America Act, our counterbalance to the enormous powers of the Crown as represented by the cabinet. Now we have a new evolution in that under Bill C-22.

Bill C-22 is a disgrace. It represents only the wishes and the views of perhaps seven lawyers in the Department of Justice. Bill C-22 is representative of nothing in this place. It is representative of nothing among the Canadian public, yet the justice minister brought it to this chamber.

In the 10 minutes allotted to me, I will quickly trace some of the history of this legislation.

In 1968 Canada's first Divorce Act was introduced. It introduced in some sense a no fault provision. In 1984 the act was amended and the then minister of justice in the Trudeau cabinet, Mr. MacGuigan, brought in some amendments to it. He introduced the concept of the best interest of the child, but, and this was a very traditional Liberal value, the best interest of the child included the joint financial obligations of the mother and the father to their children, and also the principle of maximum contact of the children with both parents.

The Divorce Act of 1984, or Bill C-10 as it was called ironically at that time, died on the Order Paper when Parliament dissolved in 1984. In 1985 the then minister of justice, Mr. Crosbie, brought in an act respecting divorce and corollary relief. He revamped and changed Bill C-10 but retained the best interest of the child concept and the concept of joint financial obligations toward joint and equal parenting.

I will flash forward to 1996 to Bill C-41 which introduced a revolutionary concept about child support. It put in place a regime where one parent, the non-custodial parent, would pay support and the custodial parent had no obligations. God bless those people in the other place because they resisted it. The bill passed on the very clear understanding that a joint committee of Parliament would be formed.

In 1997 that joint committee was formed by resolution of this House and the other place. That joint committee met throughout 1998 and made approximately 44 recommendations about fairness, about equality, about balance and most important, about putting two parents back into the life of a child when those parents divorced. I will read two pivotal recommendations of that committee.

Recommendation No. 5 of the joint committee report of December 9, 1998 states:

This Committee recommends that the terms “custody and access” no longer be used in the Divorce Act and instead that the meaning of both terms be incorporated and received in the new term “shared parenting”, which shall be taken to include all the meanings, rights, obligations, and common-law and statutory interpretations embodied previously in the terms “custody and access”.

Recommendation No. 6 states:

This Committee recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to repeal the definition of “custody” and to add a definition of “shared parenting” that reflects the meaning ascribed to that term by this Committee.

That is all rather interesting. At the same time, a massive public shift of opinion occurred.

A Compas poll showed that 89% of Canadians believed the stress of divorce was more severe than a generation ago, and that 70% of men and women said the courts do not pay enough attention to the needs of children.

In that same poll 62% of men and women said that they feel the courts pay too little attention to the needs of fathers and 80% of Canadians believed that the children of divorce must maintain ongoing relationships with their non-custodial parents. Also 65% of Canadians said that they feel it is a priority that the government should protect the rights of children to relationships with their non-custodial parents and that no custodial parent should be allowed to bar that access.

An Angus Reid poll on May 25, 1998 in the Globe and Mail said that 71% of residents of Ontario believe a woman's child support should be withheld if access is denied. Also it said that Ontarians are equally split as to whether or not jail terms are appropriate for access denial.

The end result was that in May 1999 the justice minister responded to the special joint committee. I quote from “Government of Canada Strategy for Reform” the Government of Canada’s response to the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access:

The Government of Canada is committed to responding to the issues identified by the CommitteeReport. The Special Joint Committee Report’s key themes, concerns and recommendationsprovide a foundation for developing a strategy for reforming the policy and legislative frameworkthat deals with the impact of divorce on Canadian children.

On October 12, 1999 the throne speech said “it will work to reform family law and strengthen supports provided to families”.

With respect to the throne speech of January 30, 2001, at page 8 of the Senate Debates it states:

The government will work with its partners on modernizing the laws for child support, custody and access, to ensure that these work in the best interests of children in cases of family breakdown.

On September 30, 2002 the throne speech said at page 4:

[The government] will also reform family law, putting greater emphasis on the best interests of the child...and ensure that appropriate child and family services are available.

What do we get out of all of that? What does this all mean? It means that in December last year, the justice minister tabled Bill C-22 which reflects nothing. It is not reflective of anything that three committees of Parliament have said ought to be done. It does not reflect anything that Canadians told the committee. It reflects nothing that polls across the country have shown.

A justice minister, who had been the justice minister for three months, arrived and said “I know more. I know better. I will tell you what is in the best interests of children and it is this thing I call Bill C-22”.

The end result is that we are now living in a place where the executive branch has given to the House a bill which reflects only the wishes of the so-called experts in the Department of Justice. We have been given a bill which flies in the face of everything this place stands for in terms of representative democracy. The bill is the status quo or less. The bill does not address children.

The bill brings in a new concept which is turning the Divorce Act into the form of a mini criminal code. It introduces something called domestic violence into the Divorce Act.

Since when did a civil act become a criminal act? Since when did we start passing laws in this place that would criminalize allegations? Since when did we say to half the population, “You have no place in the life of your children because you have divorced and we will allow, not Parliament which has an obligation to protect children, but judges to decide”.

This will continue to foment dissent and great bitterness. Most tragically, we will continue to see a generation of children of divorce who only know one parent, who only know one family and who will be raised under the guise of revolution if we allow the bill to pass. That is why members of this chamber must do what is best for the children of this country, not what is best for a justice minister or his bureaucrats. We must stand and say at second reading, no, we will not accept this.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 11:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, as you know, an MP's life can be a most interesting one. Some 45 minutes ago, I was in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as was the parliamentary secretary I see here. We were discussing marriage, but marriage between same sex partners. Marriage there, and divorce here. Clearly these topics are of interest.

It is also a sign, however, to us all here in this House that what we do here will affect the personal everyday lives of the men and women of Quebec and of Canada.

When we address matters such as marriage and divorce, we must be very careful. We must reflect, listen, study. Unfortunately, with Bill C-22, the Minister of Justice seems to have brought forth a mouse. He has unfortunately not delivered on his promised revolution.

I would like to begin by reaffirming as strongly as possible the Bloc Quebecois' firm belief in the importance of the respective roles fathers and mothers play in the lives of their children, whether outside marriage, during a marriage, or after marriage breakdown.

Every parent, every father and mother has an important and essential role. This philosophical principle, which underlies every Bloc Quebecois intervention in the debate on Bill C-22, will guide us. This philosophical principle, which underscores the importance of the role of the father and the mother, will be present and is present in all our interventions in this bill.

You would not be surprised if I, as a Quebec sovereignist, said that the option preferred by the Bloc Quebecois is simply to repeal the Divorce Act and transfer it to Quebec.

In 1867, when the British North America Act, which is nothing more than an act passed by the British Parliament, was passed, anything that had to do with family law was left in the hands of the provinces under section 92 of the Constitution. The only exception was marriage and divorce, which, let us not forget, was basically for religious reasons.

Quebec was mostly Catholic and Canada and Ontario mostly Protestant and some feared that one of the provinces was imposing its views on the religious minority there.

Now that Quebec and Canada accept religious diversity and varying points of view, the federal government's appropriation of divorce and marriage, this tiny section of family law and civil law, no longer has its place. There is no longer any reason for this.

In this regard, the Bloc Quebecois is part of a long and illustrious tradition. For many decades, Union Nationale, Liberal and Parti Quebecois governments have all asked that family law be repatriated to Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois made this request again in 1998 when the joint committee on child custody submitted its report and it is a request we are reiterating today. We cannot be accused of inconsistency.

In the unfortunate event that the government rejects this option, changes would still need to be made to Bill C-22 introduced by the Minister of Justice.

I will simply address a few of the main points. When I met with Justice officials to discuss Bill C-22, they told me—unfortunately the briefing was conducted in English—that the words access and custody should be removed to effect what they called a conceptual shift in the approach to children's rights and to try to eliminate any notion of winner and loser in the debate on the custody of children.

Whether the words custody and access are removed or not, the fact remains that the child, boy or girl, will have to spend x number of days with mom and y number of days with dad. So, change wording as we may to call it something else, in actual fact, one parent will have the child for a period of time and the other will have him and her for another period of time.

All this to say that I seriously doubt that, in practice, the conceptual shift sought by the justice minister will be very meaningful.

Another aspect is the interest of the child. The minister's bill maintains the principle of the child's interest in determining custody and making various orders regarding the parents by setting out a number of criteria to take into consideration in determining what is in the interest of the child.

First, the interest of the child is already covered in subsection 16(8) of the Divorce Act, as well as in section 514 of the Quebec Civil Code, with respect to separation from bed and board.

All the minister has done in connection with the best interests of the child has been to codify existing criteria from the jurisprudence. Decisions rendered across Canada were reviewed, and actions determined to have ensured the child's best interests were included in the legislation.

In the system of laws that governs us, jurisprudence is very important. All this to say that codifying jurisprudence hardly qualifies as new law. It does not change the law; it changes absolutely nothing. It only makes a cosmetic change to that part of the act. Once again, it reinforces the idea—and this was the point I was making at the beginning—that the government has brought forth a mouse.

There is another major problem with Bill C-22. The unified family courts. The government wants to make sure there is a unified family court in every province. Again I will remind the House that in 1998, when the joint committee released its report, the Bloc Quebecois opposed this idea and, surprise, surprise, it is still opposed to it now.

The way the federal government sees it, a unified court would bring every aspect of family law under the Quebec Superior Court, whose judges are appointed by the federal government.

In Quebec, courts that have jurisdiction over family law, except, of course, for marriage and divorce, come under the Quebec court, whose judges are appointed by the Quebec government.

We are opposed to the principle of a unified family court as planned by the federal government. If it persists in this direction, we will ask respectfully but firmly that it transfer to Quebec the money set aside to establish a family court in Quebec, so that Quebec may keep its distinct character in the way it manages family law, which, I remind members, is under provincial jurisdiction. Quebec is the only province with a civil code.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will oppose Bill C-22, but it is our sincere hope that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will hold the broadest possible consultations, because whatever we decide in this House will have far reaching consequences for millions of Quebeckers and Canadians.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 11:40 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance 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.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 11:35 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance 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 ActGovernment Orders

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

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance 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?

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 20th, 2003 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that on some of the bills there is perhaps not much debate left, but for greater clarity and for the benefit of all colleagues we will be calling Bill C-3, Bill C-19 and Bill C-22 in that order this morning.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 20th, 2003 / 10:15 a.m.
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Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been further consultations and I wish to be quite clear. Pursuant to the same terms as a moment ago I would like to move that the following items be disposed of as follows. I move:

That the amendments to Bill C-3, Bill C-19 and Bill C-22 be deemed to have been withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker, I am moving that the amendments be deemed to have been withdrawn, nothing else, that is, all amendments and/or subamendments on Bill C-3, Bill C-19 and Bill C-22.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 20th, 2003 / 10:10 a.m.
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Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we discussed these things this morning. I hope I have it correct. I apologize to members if there is anything that is a little different, but I hope not. There are another two here on which I think we have agreement.

I move that in Bill C-19 and Bill C-22, the amendments to the motion for second reading are deemed to have been withdrawn and that a recorded division on the motion for second reading be deemed to have been requested and that the vote take place at the conclusion of Government Orders on February 25, 2003.

That is a recorded division on Bill C-19 and Bill C-22.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

February 6th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
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Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will start with the rest of this day and then go on with the future agenda.

If the opposition follows through with its offer, as promised during question period, to withdraw its motion today on the strength of the commitment made by the Prime Minister to, on the first day following military deployment should there be one which we all hope of course there would not be, call a votable opposition day that would free up the rest of the day.

Following that, this afternoon we would then deal with Bill C-19. Should there be any time left we would call Bill C-22, although I suspect that there would not be that much time, and perhaps Bill C-19 would take us close to the end.

Tomorrow we shall begin the third reading stage of Bill C-6, the Specific Claims Resolution Act, followed by Bill C-2, an act to establish a process for assessing the environmental and socio-economic effects of certain activities in Yukon.

Monday next, and Thursday as well, shall be allotted days.

Tuesday morning, we shall be resuming consideration of Bill C-13 on assisted reproduction. After oral question period, we shall begin consideration of Bill C-24 on political financing. Wednesday, we shall resume consideration of any unfinished business, with the possibility of continuing debate on Bill C-24.

Family MediationStatements by Members

February 6th, 2003 / 2 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to express my support for the “Helping Families Succeed” initiative that has been launched by Family Mediation Canada, a national organization dedicating its efforts today to raising public awareness of the benefits of mediation.

Canadians have clearly signalled that families need services like mediation when parents separate or divorce.

While the amendments proposed in Bill C-22 are a very positive and timely step forward, changes to the law by themselves are not enough to improve the family justice system in Canada. Services are needed to ease the conflict and stress that come with separation and divorce and to help parents while they are making decisions about the care of their children.

Some parents need support to make decisions about their children's care. They need tools to help them minimize conflict, cooperate and work out child focused parenting arrangements. Alternative methods of resolving conflict, like mediation, can help Canadian families achieve these goals.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

An Alliance member is asking how that affects divorce? We are talking about creating a strong environment for family units. Members across the way addressed that as one of the major issues relating to breakups and divorce. I was addressing their comments as previously stated in the House.

Those are some of the things that could specifically happen in regard to creating a strong environment for family units. We know that the House has discussed the issue. However, it has not been acted upon and has not led to any action. This is one of the important factors that needs to be addressed.

Legislative changes are happening. I would like to point out that legislative changes are important. We cannot ignore the difficulty with legal aid and legislative changes. We know that women earn less and are less able to purchase effective legal services. Legal aid has been cut quite a bit in B.C. and Ontario is reinstating some of the legal aid cuts. However, legal aid has been a tool that has been reduced in this country.

We need to make sure that legal aid is available for people so that they are able to go through these processes, to make sure that they have strong opportunities to be able to put forth their cases for their actual situations.

Another issue with regard to legislative changes is that the terms of custody and access will be eliminated for the purposes of the act and the new model will be based upon a parental responsibilities framework. It is outlining more of the jurisdictional aspect over the framework. To some extent, I think that is actually good. It is jargon in the sense of the framework tool, but perhaps defining these things more will be very helpful and actually provide some framework and, more important, some obligated responsibilities.

However, like a lot of other issues, the courts cannot always legislate people to do things. We have to provide the proper environments and the proper tools for people to be effective, and that simply is not happening with the set-up we have right now.

In addition to changes to the Divorce Act, amendments will be made to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. They are important in consolidating some of the things we have out there. I have had a number of constituents call me with concerns in regard to being able to access the supports that were given to them through a legal process. Parents not having the ability to get those resources directly affects the child. That is one thing that needs to be addressed, as well as, potentially, the backlogs in the system so that people can actually get the resources that have been derived for them.

I would like to touch briefly as well on the fact that the bill still seems to isolate divorce as being a one-family situation. This does concern me. It is important to start to move toward understanding that it takes the whole community to raise a child, that it is the community's responsibility, not just that of the parents. The parents obviously are very important in this, but bringing children into the world and rearing them requires the support of the community. Just putting the fault on two people, on the fact that they could not get along, is not sufficient in the debate. There has to be a healthy environment and there have to be the tools necessary for them. As well, we have to provide the necessary supports for them.

We know that right now, regardless of who has custody, women have a greater challenge with single parenting. This is an important thing to recognize in single parenting. We know right now that households led by women earn less. We know that. It is an additional challenge that they are going to have to face and society has to have the supports there. We know right now that there is not access to day care. It is very important for single mothers to be able to access affordable day care that is going to be a nurturing environment for their sons or daughters.

There is a fundamental question. Whatever the family structure, a child's adjustment is associated with the quality of parenting and not the structure of the family itself. This is a fundamental question to debate. Once again it goes back to the fact that obviously the parents, in a strong environment, are going to be a great asset, but when that situation does not happen we have to ensure that the proper supports are there.

I believe the government can do that by moving to more comprehensive strategies to eliminate child poverty. That is going to ensure that at the end of the day the children who have to go through the system are going to have the supports there. It will not be whether or not someone is going to pay up somewhere down the line or whether someone is going to show up for the child. There must be proper supports for them. That is going to be very important in the future.

In summary, I will conclude my remarks by saying that it has taken a long time for the government to address the situation of child poverty. Our issue with regard to Bill C-22 is going to be the struggle on how it is going to relate to being able to advance the beneficial elements for children. The struggle will be whether or not it is going to be part of a process to eliminate child poverty or part of a process that is going to further create that problem. I think that is a loss for the country.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to talk about this important bill. Bill C-22 will have important ramifications on the social fabric of Canadian life. It is a good thing that at least we are talking about it. We will go to committee next and that will open up some more discussion, more debate, and potentially bring some improvements. However, the jury is out on that right now and we will see what will happen.

I would like to address a couple of comments that were made by the government side this afternoon with regard to its role, its involvement, and its thoughts on Bill C-22 and what to do next.

The first deals with comments made with regard to prevention. The words that were chosen related to the first person to dare to take this way to talk about the actual prevention aspect of divorce, and front end was also used with regard to that. This is a bigger issue with regard to the family unit and it also touches the front end. However, the government has done a horrible job at keeping families together. It has done a horrible job of ensuring that people have the opportunities to succeed, not only in the family unit but also in the economy.

One of the examples the member mentioned, and I agree it is an improvement, is employment insurance. It enables women on maternity leave to stay at home longer and spend a longer period of time with their infant. As well, there are expansions to parental leave. I think these are improvements, but it goes without saying that the government has robbed workers and employers of these funds for years.

It has taken credit for balancing the budget and deficit cutting off the backs of those very people. It has been very proud in talking about that aspect and at the same time it is offering a crumb back to the people. It is important to note the importance of a strong family unit.

Another issue is day care. Why not universal day care? Absolutely. Where has the government been on day care? We know that most women right now cannot access day care that has a format and actual standards. There are lots of issues with day care.

I recently went through that issue. I have been very fortunate. There is someone who is providing care for my young daughter. We lucked out. There are settings out there that are very difficult to get into. Parents are scrambling around at the last moment and there is a lot of pressure on them, and women in particular, because they must balance the child and the workforce. That gets even more problematic. It is important to recognize that the government has not taken the lead with that.

With regard to the new family unit, there is student debt. I have spoken about this and want to highlight it a bit as well. We are talking about younger families getting involved with procreation and creating the opportunity to start a family. They are doing so over a longer period of time now, from the time they finish their education to the time they enter the workforce. Their undergraduate degrees take them to a certain point in time with a certain amount of debt. Then from that, a graduate degree is often required now.

People are finishing an undergraduate degree, which one almost needs for a minimum wage paying job right now. One needs an undergraduate degree for just about everything now. Then they have that debt that they have to pay back. They are already in their young twenties. From that they go on to a potential graduate degree and from that go into the workforce.

The opportunity for a young couple to start a family is delayed or challenged even further. That is an important thing to recognize because the debt that is incurred, the instability of the workforce, and getting a meaningful job that has benefits to support a family, is becoming increasingly harder in our country. It is becoming more difficult. That is setting people up for difficult problems.

By the government's own admission, it has identified economics as a major factor in the breakup of the family. A number of different colleagues across the way have identified that as an important issue. Therefore, when we are increasing the student debt on students and delaying their families, delaying the years they are able to create and plan out their full lives, we are setting them up to certain conditions which are very difficult.

There was also reference to reuniting families. Specifically, the member was talking about new immigrants. I agree with the member that it is a very important issue. I can tell members from my past experience working with new Canadians that the head tax is a welcome to Canada debt that they have to pay. When they add up their family members they are in debt. We have set them back. They have to find employment, training, understand the community they are living in, and they often have language barriers. All of these circumstances make it difficult for people to move and be able to create a strong family and future.

I think it is in the interests of Canadians to ensure that they thrive during these difficult times, that they prosper and are able to plan. We look at their contributions across the country and it is one of the major reasons why Canada has become such a great country. However, we are delaying and creating problems whereas we could be supporting the family unit a lot better.

Another regressive issue that we have is the GST and how it is applied on all the different things that relate to families. The GST is a regressive tax. I know the government wanted to get rid of the GST. We are still waiting. Nevertheless, regressive tax measures such as the GST are not good and not positive for family units.

I will touch on Bill C-22 and the legislation, as well as some of the other factors that can be improved and need to be addressed. An objective that was identified in the throne speech was modernizing the family justice system. The first objective was to minimize the potential negative impact of separation and divorce on children. Second, to provide parents with the tools they need to reach parenting arrangements that are in a child's best interests. Third, to ensure that the legal process is less adversarial and that only the most difficult cases go to court.

Those were the three pillars. I think there should have been a fourth pillar relating to family justice. Family justice is about poverty, education, social involvement, and ensuring that we are supportive as a government to the family unit.

The government has a responsibility with regard to affordable housing and low income wages. The government must address the fact that Canada's minimum wage is ranked quite low and needs to be improved.

The government is still debating health care. I know the Prime Minister is meeting with the premiers right now. However, he will not attend a meeting including first nations and this is problematic. The reality is that health care is another strong pillar. I know that families have difficulties with regard to affordable prescription drugs and that too is an important aspect when raising a family.

I will now move to the actual bill itself and the services for families. The minister stated:

Services are needed to ease the conflict and stress that come with separation and divorce and help parents while they are making decisions about the care of their children. The Government of Canada will devote $63 million in new funding over five years to the provinces and territories for family justice services.

We have heard a lot about that before. I would like to see the promise fulfilled. However, there are other issues the government could be working on that would address that and one of them is taking care of the affordable housing issue in our country.

Right now we have the opportunity to create sustainable homes and environments that are positive for people that would have a long-lasting benefit to the family unit.

One of the things that campaign 2000 outlined was the creation of affordable homes. It advocated 20,000 new affordable home units each year for 10 years and the rehabilitation of 10,000 affordable units per year, requiring an investment of at least $1 billion per year over the next five years.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 5 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's speech. He brought up many important and relevant points about the need to change the adversarial system.

The one thing I found of great interest in the debate today is that almost every speaker has talked about the best interests of the child and the children. I take that at face value. I believe that every member, regardless of political affiliation, whether they sit on the government benches or those of any one of the four opposition parties, are very sincere when they say that they want to see change that is in the best interests of our children.

I do not see how that can happen and how there can be a substantive shift in the way in which courts treat those disputes between parents, which are a minority, that end up in court. We can only wish that all the parents would join the majority and settle their issues, especially where it concerns the children, before they go before the court to battle over the children. As many speakers today have pointed out, they end up using children in many cases as pawns in this tug of war between the mother and the father.

We hear that everybody wants to keep the best interests of the children close at heart, but I do not see it in Bill C-22. As I have said repeatedly today, the minister and the Department of Justice have missed the fundamental building block of the report “For the Sake of the Children”. The report calls for a dynamic shift from the focus being on parents, whether it is the mother versus father rights to see their children or someone wronged someone or someone is a better parent, to the focus being on shared parenting. We need to recognize that both parents, both mother and father, not only have rights to see their children and to participate in parenting their children, but they have obligations to their children. When I heard the minister this morning say that he chose not to put into Bill C-22 the term “shared parenting” because he thought it would be too confusing, I knew the battle had been lost.

I will try again to bring forward amendments at committee stage to get that inserted into the legislation. Without it I fear we will not see any shift in the thinking and in the way in which courts rule on these cases where they pit one parent against another, or they reinforce a parent being against another, or they exclude grandparents or siblings. There are all too many cases. Every MP, regardless of political stripe, has people coming into their constituency offices, if not every day, I am sure every week, with tales of horror of how lawyers, judges and the justice system have wronged them in this important and critical area of parenting.

Could my colleague comment on this? How will we ever send the message to the courts that it is not acceptable to try to view the mother or the father as a better parent? No matter what we call it, it is still custody and access. We can change the wording, but it is still the same. Unless there are proven cases of abuse or neglect, which are few and far between, in the vast majority of cases parents should have equal rights, responsibilities and obligations. The only way to do that is by enacting shared parenting.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 4:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a revelation for the hon. member across the way. The reason that both the mother and father in most Canadian families are forced to work outside the home today is because his government continues to put taxes up to a level where families cannot make it on one income. The government is taking away the choice for Canadians so they are forced out of their homes. We support mothers who want to work outside the home but they should not be forced to do so because of excessive high taxation, and that is what is happening.

I question whether the hon. member has even read Bill C-22. Hansard will show that at the end of his comments he made reference to grandparents. Grandparents are mentioned in the bill but not sufficiently enough, and I will be the first to agree with that. However they are mentioned under the criteria in clause 16.2. As one of the criteria for deciding access and custody and parenting, judges should consider:

the nature, strength and stability of the relationship between the child and each sibling, grandparent and any other significant person in the child's life.

I wanted to enlighten the member about that because he mentioned it at the end of his speech.

When the Canadian Alliance brings forward a motion amending the bill to ensure that grandparents do not have to apply to the courts and throw themselves on its mercy to get access to their grandchildren, will he support that amendment? I assume he will.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 4:25 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to my hon. colleague's comments about Bill C-22. I note that one thing we share as well as being Canadian Alliance MPs is that we both have been divorced. I do not take any pride in saying that and I am sure she does not as well, but we are both lucky in that our ex-partners believe that both mothers and fathers deserve an ongoing, loving relationship with their children. Thank goodness for that. Unfortunately, many others are not that fortunate, as we have noted during this debate.

I note as well that the member has hit on what is really the greatest deficiency in Bill C-22, which is that the government failed to enact the very basic fundamental principle of the report “For the Sake of the Children”. It was all enshrined around the concept of shared parenting: that both parents were equal, that if both parents were deemed good parents before the marriage ended then we must presume they would be good parents, given the opportunity, after the marriage ended and they were divorced.

Without this, how does my colleague believe that we can really send the message that we must send to the courts and to the judges, the message that shared parenting, except in proven cases of abuse or neglect, should become the norm? It should be automatic that the courts in their rulings, if the parents cannot come to an amicable decision whereby they both have an equal share in their parenting chores, must assume that. I wonder about that.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 4:05 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to 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. The amendments pertain to child custody arrangements between parents following separation or divorce and are to provide a greater emphasis on parental responsibilities versus parental rights.

I do not think there is anybody who has found themselves in a situation with regard to divorce who does not feel that there is a need for major change in this legislation.

In the year 2000 there were 70,000 divorces in Canada. Although people would say that yes, in a perfect world everybody finds the right partner and ends up married for life, reality says something completely different. I know I join the ranks of one of the divorced persons in the House. I know for a fact that I am not alone. There are many of us.

It is not because the two players in the marriage did not try. It is not because we did not feel that when we made a commitment that it was for life. It is just the reality of the situation of what happened in the period of time we were married that a decision came that, for the sake of the children and each other, it was better to go separate ways.

That kind of decision is made daily by Canadians. It is nice to believe that when this decision is made, the parties coming to that kind of arrangement or agreement always put children first. However I know, not from my own experience but from others whom I have had come into my office, that is not always the case.

Unfortunately in our legal system, our legislation, the acts that pertain to divorce and the courts themselves have not encouraged a more amenable separation of a relationship, of assets and of child custody. Our courts have for whatever reasons increased the adversarial nature of marriage breakdown.

Over the almost 10 years that I have represented my constituents in the House, the saddest tales are those of individuals who find themselves at loggerheads because of the court system, with either an inability to use the courts because they cannot afford the process or an inability to get court orders enforced because nobody really cares and considers it to be civil.

What I perceive as a female is the biases of the courts toward females in any kind of child custody decisions and biases of the courts toward females against the males in a lot of situations that come out of a breakdown of a marriage. Although I have seen how it has happened, I do not think it is right. There has to be a complete overhaul of how our court system deals with the breakdown of marriage and all that occurs from that point forward.

To be quite honest, I do not think a band-aid solution, as I see in this bill, will really help. There is a lot more to it than the bill addresses.

Until we change the whole attitude of our court system when dealing with these kinds of family matters and until there is a change in the attitude of the judiciary which presides over these decisions, I do not think the minor changes or these band-aid solutions before us really will help.

There has to be a major overhaul and the primary focus of any legislation dealing with the breakdown of a marriage, the breakdown of a family unit, has to put the interest of the children before all else. They have to come to grips with the reality that a child needs not one parent, but two.

I go back to my earlier adult years when I lived in a community that had a lot of contact with aboriginal communities. At the time my husband of the day was a social worker. They would go into aboriginal communities and remove these kids because from the outsider's perspective the kids were in peril. From an outsider's perspective, the community was not looking after these children.

I remember one case when a well-meaning social worker went in with a school bus, after the payment for the firefighting was received and the party was going full blow, and picked up all the kids and took them out of the community because the kids needed protection.

What she did not understand was the community, knowing that this was going to happen, had its own resources. While it was not the parents looking after the children, they had the grandmothers, aunts and uncles looking after them. It was a lack of understanding in that the kids were far better off being dealt with in a different way. The kids were removed from what they knew and from what they were secure. They were put in a strange environment, a process that terrified them. One could even probably question whether they ever overcame the harm that was done to them.

Although we seem to be well-meaning and it seems to be logical thing to do at the time, there are many times when decisions are made because the interests of the children are not put first. It is the conscience of the adult, or the conflict of the adult, or who can afford the best lawyer or who can stay the fight longer than the other person. It is not what is best for the children.

I know from my own experience that the relationship between children and their father is equally important in the long run as it is with the mother, and I say that as a mother of four boys. I know that I have a special relationship with my boys that they do not have with their father. I also know that for their complete development, they have to have a relationship with their father. Whether it is a strong and prideful relationship or whether it is a different kind of relationship, that relationship is fundamental to who they are as an adult.

Any time the courts feel that they are in a position to choose one or the other, they are ultimately denying that child the ability to have a relationship with both parents, and that is fundamentally what the bill fails to do. It fails to recognize that for the well-being of children, they must have that relationship. It may be a relationship based on anger or disappointment but they need to have some relationship with both parents.

Without that lack of appreciation by our courts, courts pick sides and winners which is wrong. I appreciate there is sometimes abuse by a parent but our courts for the past number of years have accepted testimony, particularly from mothers, that the abuse is one-sided.

I know that the abuse can also be from mothers. I think there have been some instances where we have infanticide and other convicted felons, if we can call them that, of mothers who have abused their children. However for a long period of time courts automatically assumed that if the mother came in and said that the father was either sexually or physically abusing that child, they would take her word for it.

I have a situation where a father has not only made that complaint in the courts but he has substantiated it with professional psychologists, psychiatrists, others in the medical community and God knows who else who have dealt with the children. He has not only been denied access to the children but they have been left in a perilous situation with the mother simply because the courts have assumed the mother is the best caregiver.

I would not for a moment say that the mother is not important in the raising of a child. There is a special relationship between a mother and a child. Sometimes the kids may not realize it, but it is there. A mother, for the most part but not always, is the one who is most likely to give unconditional love, who is quite easily, because of her compassionate nature, and I am not saying that men are not compassionate, more willing to perhaps look beyond the slight and feel the pain, but not always. It is equally important that a child who might use the mother for the compassion, softness, forgiveness, and the warm and fuzzy stuff would have access to a father who will say to the son or daughter, “You should have known better and you could have done better”, and bring in a different approach to parenting.

Any time children are denied that parenting perspective, they are being denied part of who they are. I would suggest that there comes a time when children are old enough and mature enough to decide what kind of relationship they want with their parents. It may be a more hands-off relationship or it may be a much closer relationship, but unless they have been allowed over a period of time to continue a relationship, they are not going to be in a position to make those kinds of decisions when they are a little more mature.

I want to reinforce the seriousness of the government ignoring a report that put children first and said that one of the most important things for children to have is equal parenting, and that when a divorce happens, unless there is proof beyond proof that there is physical or emotional abuse that is not healthy for the child, there should be dual parenting.

I want to go back to this report. The government in plural, because it was a joint Senate-Commons committee, sat for a couple of years, I think, well beyond a year. It heard testimony after testimony and came up with what I thought was a very sensible report. It certainly was not a small report. I remember trying to find the recommendations. It was a very large report, with 48 recommendations of what the committee saw that needed to happen in order to put children first and to make sure that children did not become victims of a divorce. It is amazing to me that the government can for the most part completely ignore the work of that joint Senate-Commons committee, because it went through the effort that I have not seen the ministry go through, quite frankly, in order to properly understand what needs to happen.

It is one of these things whereby the government puts a lot of money into having committees set up to investigate, hear testimony and make recommendations, and then we completely put it aside. Again as a female person, I would suggest it is largely because of the lobby of the women's groups. The women's groups were quite concerned with the direction that this report was going to take. I remember one occasion when women's groups were not going to even show up at a hearing because a men's representative group was going to be there at the same time and they would not be seen in the same room. That is precisely what we need to get away from.

There is nothing that distresses me more than a guy coming into my office and telling me that he has court access to his children, that he moved from Ontario to British Columbia so that he could be close enough to see his kids, that he gave up a very well paying job in the aerospace industry in order to be close to his kids and see them, and that his ex-wife will not allow him to see his kids. A man gives up his career and moves 2,000 miles away so that he can have a relationship with his children and some female person puts a blight on all of us by refusing him access to his children.

If it were only one case, perhaps I could say that it is only one case, but I hear this over and over again. Not only do I hear it from people coming into my office, I hear it from friends and family members. The anger against the ex-spouse is so strong that it overrides any thought of what is best for the children. Whether it is a man or a female who does it, I do not care; it is wrong. The anger between two individuals about the breakup of a family, a fight over assets, or a fight over who got more out of the marriage should never come down to fighting over the kids.

That we would allow, through legislation before the House or through our court system, adults to make kids victims through a legal proceeding is shameful. We as legislators need to address the reality that one-third of marriages end up in divorce. That will not change. It would be nice if it did. It would be nice if everybody could live happily ever after, but it is not reality. We continue to allow the courts to follow through and allow our children to become victimized. Are we paying a price for it? Yes, we are. Is it because of divorce? No, not really. We allow the divorce proceeding to victimize the kids. We allow a judge to select a winner and to pick a loser. We allow our court system to allow an adversarial situation in which adults fight with each other and the kids get ripped apart as a result. We allow that.

We are allowing it again with this legislation, because we are not dealing with the fact that in a divorce proceeding the children should be granted equal parenting. The children should be granted that, not the father or the mother, but the kids. The kids should be allowed from the very beginning to have free access to both parents, and then it needs to be supported by the community and by the establishment. If any parents take it upon themselves to use their child as a pawn, to use their child to get even, to use their child to get back at or send a message to their ex-spouse, they should be punished for doing that. I do not care if it is a female or a male. Any adult who uses a child to attack another adult does not deserve to be a parent, because a parent who is legitimately concerned about a child and the child's development and wants to ensure that the child does not end up with problems as an adult would not want to use that child as a tool or a vehicle for attacking another individual.

I do not know how much time I have left, but I have made it pretty clear what I think of the government's legislation. It has missed the essence of what needs to be done, which is to put our children first, to protect our children's right to have both a mother and a father involved in their raising. Let the child decide what kind of relationship that will be. We should not let the courts or the angry parent decide that. Let the children decide whether they will have a close warm relationship with both parents or whether one parent will end up with a more distant relationship. Let the children decide that. They are capable of it. It is up to us to make sure that they get the opportunity to grow up knowing both parents.

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February 4th, 2003 / 3:55 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will endeavour to be brief because I see that some of my colleagues would also like to ask the minister questions.

I appreciate her comments and listened very intently. I do not think anyone could doubt the minister's sincerity in what she was saying. I am a bit disappointed that she limited her comments to the enforcement aspects of Bill C-22, because of course there is so much more to the legislation.

Enforcement is important and I do not think anybody questions that parents who do not live up to their obligations when it comes to financial support for their children should be held accountable, but it is a very small minority of cases where it actually has to go to garnishment in order to collect the money. Research I have done over the years since I have been a member of Parliament indicates that because of Canada's adversarial justice system, unfortunately in some cases non-custodial parents, primarily fathers, feel that they have no other choice but to hold back money because they do not have access to their children. That is why our party, the Canadian Alliance, is such a strong supporter of the joint committee's report “For the Sake of the Children”.

Would the minister agree with what my research has shown, that increased access results in increased compliance of support and therefore would detract from the need for greater enforcement?

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February 4th, 2003 / 3:40 p.m.
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Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Jean Augustine LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join with my colleagues here in the House to address Bill C-22 at this stage. The bill proposes to modernize the family justice system in Canada by promoting a less adversarial system that will benefit children, their families and ultimately Canadian society.

I want to focus my remarks on the issue of enforcement because the bill also would improve support enforcement and enhance and strengthen existing provincial and territorial support enforcement programs.

These improvements are being proposed through Bill C-22 by amending the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

As I know we are all very interested in ensuring that we work in the best interests of our children, I will speak about the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. This is a federal statute enacted in 1986 and it is divided into three parts. The first part speaks about the release of information that may assist in locating persons in default of a family provision. The second part speaks to the garnishment of specified federal money to assist support provisions. The third part of the act refers to the denial of certain federally issued licences, including passports to those persons in persistent arrears under a support provision.

The federal government provides locating information for 14,000 requests from provincial and territorial enforcement services annually. That is a good deal of requests. In the last three years between $80 million to $90 million has been collected annually through federal garnishment services.

Several changes are being proposed to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. The processing of electronically transmitted applications for tracing information by the provincial enforcement services will be improved by the removal of the requirement to file an affidavit in support of that application. This requirement is not needed because it is already a condition set out in the agreements entered into between the provinces, the territories and the federal government under section 3 of the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.

Additionally, the binding period of a garnishee summons is extended from five to twelve years. Recent analysis shows that 75% of garnishees that reach the five year maximum are renewed. This amendment in Bill C-22 reflects the upper range of the life of a family support obligation and will better support efficiencies in program operation.

A major amendment proposed to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act is the creation of a mechanism whereby the Minister of National Revenue may demand that a debtor who is subject to this act file a tax return.

The Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act provides tracing and interception services. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, along with Human Resources Development Canada and other federal departments and agencies, is an important partner in the delivery of these two services. Currently, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency will, at the request of the Department of Justice, search its files for address information to assist in the tracing of support debtors.

It is important that the partnership between Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and Human Resource Development Canada and other federal departments and agencies be really affirmed. This would help departments to search files to determine whether a support debtor has a tax refund that can be garnished. The effectiveness of this would be significantly reduced when a support debtor does not file a tax return.

The creation of a mechanism whereby the Minister of National Revenue could demand that a debtor who is subject to this act file a tax return would improve the effectiveness of the tracing process and would further confirm our commitment to ensuring that children continue to benefit from the financial support of both their parents after separation or divorce.

Let us keep in mind that everything we do, and the direction of this bill, is in the best interests of the children.

The CCRA and the Department of Justice would closely monitor the operation of this amendment.

Bill C-22 proposes amendments to the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. That is a federal statute enacted in the early eighties to provide for the garnishment of federal salaries and other moneys. It consists of two main parts: garnishment procedures to satisfy the payments of judgments and orders, including those for family support; and the diversion of pension benefits to help satisfy financial support orders.

In addition to a number of minor technical amendments Bill C-22 proposes amendments that would provide the federal government the option of paying the garnisheed funds to a provincial enforcement service where this is allowed by provincial law, because it is not allowed in every provincial area. It would introduce in part I of the act the notion of recovery of overpayment, and that is already in one of the sections of the act, but the amendment would reflect current practice as well as provide greater uniformity within the act. It would allow for the diversion of more than 50% of a net pension benefit where there were no provincial limits to satisfy arrears, arrears that could be set out in an order or decision. This would provide greater clarity concerning the interpretation of the section as well as ensure its uniform application. We are again working in the best interests of the children.

Lastly, this section speaks about providing legislative authority to make regulations, to amend schedules, and thus ensure greater flexibility and ability to reflect changes to pension legislation that is in the schedule. We were looking for greater transparency. We hope this would be achieved in federal enforcement legislation by including specific provisions concerning the research and monitoring functions.

These functions would help us to determine if policy objectives are being met. This is legislation that speaks to policy, policy change and decision. We must see the bill as providing us with a kind of direction which is backed by the necessary research so that we do the best we can, and again in the best interests of children.

Provision has been made to ensure privacy by setting strict limitations as to whom disclosure of the monitoring and research information can be released. I am sure we are in a period of time where privacy is very important, where information cannot be provided indiscriminately to everyone who asks, so there is cognizance in the bill to ensure that measure of privacy.

There is a major amendment that is being proposed to the Garnishment Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. We are talking about the creation of a priority for family support obligations over other judgment debt, thereby acknowledging the pre-eminence of family support obligations over other debts. In other words, the family comes first, before other debts are looked at.

Both judgment debt creditors and family support obligation creditors may apply under the act. There is currently no section in the act that addresses the situation where a debtor has both support and judgment debts.

Five years ago Canada's governments launched the national children's agenda, engaging Canadians in every part of the country on how to ensure that all Canadian children have a good start in life and that families with children have the tools they need to provide care and nurturing.

We made a presentation at the United Nations regarding the elimination of discrimination against women. We were asked questions about families in our country, the situation of our children, and the issue of child poverty. What we do in all the pieces of legislation that we put forward, especially in this area, is keep the interests of the family and children at the top of the list.

In the Speech from the Throne of January 30, 2001, the government identified as one of its top priorities that no Canadian child should suffer the debilitating effects of poverty. We have been working in this area with programs and policies. We have been looking at all of the possibilities that are before us as policy makers and government to meet the issue of the effects of poverty on our children. Creating a priority in favour of family support obligations over other debts would support this goal. Putting the family first, putting debt toward the family and support obligations before all other debts, must be pre-eminent and supported in this legislation.

Bill C-22 forms part of the government's stated goal to reduce child poverty and reform the family justice system.

Much has been debated and I think all members on every side of the House would agree that we must ensure that the quality of life for families and children is really at the base and the root of everything we say and do in the House.

I applaud all members who have participated in the discussion. I look forward to the work in committee as we ensure that whatever we do as legislators and policy makers will ensure that in supporting Bill C-22, in whatever necessary changes or however the discussion goes, that we come back with something where we keep in mind the best interests of our children.

We want the justice system to work for all of us and in such a way that it will ameliorate and lessen the issue of conflict that arises and brings to some of our families the kinds of distress that faces them on a daily basis today.

This is legislation, not only for today, but for tomorrow. This is legislation that will improve our community and improve relationships. This is legislation that is trend-setting because there are many jurisdictions that are looking at us as federal legislators for the guidance and the policy route that we must take in the best interests of our children.

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February 4th, 2003 / 1:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with great interest that I read 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.

As the Bloc Quebecois critic for the status of women, I want to tell this House about the concerns of Canadian and Quebec women regarding this bill.

While we feel that the committee has made some efforts to improve the Divorce Act, we think that the legislator, or the committee, will have to go back to the drawing board. We are asking that committee members hold hearings, so that all groups, that is those representing both men and women, can express their views.

The reason we say all groups is simply to acknowledge the fact that there is currently a strong lobby of men's groups working to ensure that their rights are recognized, because, apparently, some judges are not granting them access and custody rights.

First, I remind the House that Canada does not even have a real family policy, and it does not have a policy promoting women's equality and the well-being of their children within the family.

During the World March of Women, which took place in the year 2000, the Canadian committee for that march made a number of recommendations, namely: to eliminate poverty and violence against women, to ensure equality for women in the workplace, pay equity, employment equity, universal, accessible and affordable daycare services, social assistance programs, a comprehensive civil law legal aid program, comprehensive social programs, specific measures to meet the various needs of women and their children, public and universal health care services and so on. There was also a specific request that had to do with the changes that we wanted to the Divorce Act.

The bill now before us turns the responsibility for one's family into a private affair. However, I, like other women, feel that since children are the future of a society, the responsibility for them falls on all citizens.

Too many studies show that the rise in child poverty is due, for the most part, to higher poverty rates among women. Not everyone is convinced that the child-centred family justice strategy does indeed minimize the negative impact of separation or divorce on children as it claims to do. Take, for example, the current guidelines for child support payments, which stipulate that in cases of joint custody, the support payments be dramatically reduced or even eliminated.

In reality, a great many women today find themselves caring for children alone and without child support payments, despite joint custody agreements. This problem only adds to and exacerbates the already extremely high poverty levels experienced by single mothers, leading to some of the worst situations of social and economic hardship in Canada.

Driven to such poverty, many mothers become much more vulnerable to harassment and threats of violence.

Women are also very concerned about proposals to entrench a model based on shared parenting.

In June 2001, the National Association of Women and the Law submitted a brief to the federal-provincial-territorial family law committee. In it, the association recommended against creating a legal presumption in support of joint custody or shared parenting. Imposing this type of formula on recalcitrant parents guaranteed disastrous results.

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February 4th, 2003 / 1:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, Bill C-22 seeks to make some amendments to the Divorce Act of Canada. I believe we have not had changes to the Divorce Act since 1986.

Members will talk today in the House, in committee and as we go through the various stages of legislation about the best interests of the children and putting their interests first. There will be all forms of description of somehow trying to shift the focus away from couples in dispute and to their children.

Why have parliamentarians and other groups around the country, such as the judicial system, recognized that children are in distress when it comes to divorce situations? That question twigged my interest back in 1997. I penned a monograph, only about 80 pages long, called “Divorce--The Bold Facts”. It struck my interest because I learned that in 1967 there were 11,000 divorces in Canada. Some 30 years later we had gone from 11,000 divorces up to 90,000 divorces, a significant change. Fifty per cent of marriages in 1997 ended up in divorce, which shocked me. What happened in our society that all of a sudden the percentage of marriages ending in divorce would go from 10% to 50%? What are the consequences?

As parliamentarians, we are concerned about issues such as child poverty. We are concerned about the Young Offenders Act and our criminal justice system. Well here are the facts and why I wrote this monograph.

The monograph says that lone parent families represent about 15% of all families in Canada. Lone parents are those who are no longer in a married relationship or have a partner. However they account for 54% of all children living in poverty. Fifteen per cent of the families account for 54% of children living in poverty. Why then, when we talk about child poverty, do we somehow have to talk about giving money here and there? If we really want to address child poverty, clearly we have to address the one issue which is the cause of more than half of it, and that is the breakdown of families.

In addition to that, the Department of Justice reported that 70% of young offenders come from broken families. Do members think that children are affected by the breakdown of the Canadian family? Do members think that maybe there is an opportunity for us to address the criminal justice system as it relates to young offenders?

Children are not born bad. Children are a function of their environment, and the breakdown of the Canadian family is the single largest cause of poverty and youth crime in Canada. That is why we must address the Divorce Act. That is why we must make absolutely sure, in making changes to the Divorce Act this time around, after so many years and after so much study, that we do not have a false start. We cannot afford to let our children down. This is all about children.

Earlier a member spent most of the speech talking about domestic violence. I have a report produced by Statistics Canada in 1999 on behalf of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. It is the most recent information available. It reports that there were 690,000 incidents of violence against a female spouse and 549,000 perpetrated by a woman against a man.

The conclusion of the survey was that we were getting very close to where the incidents of domestic violence were equally perpetrated by men and women. This is shameful. Something is wrong out there and we need to be extremely careful not to be relying on anecdotal evidence of the past about the existence and perpetration of domestic violence or abuse because it does affect children.

We know from the research that has been done in Canada that children who witness abuse are as seriously affected by that abuse as if they had been abused themselves directly. That is how serious it is. That is why as we approach this I think it is absolutely critical that we take into account the full range of impacts on children.

It is not simply that Mommy and Daddy are breaking down and are going their separate ways. The children have to witness that. The parents may hate each other and abuse each other but the children are the ones affected. All of a sudden there are two homes to care for. Mommy's and Daddy's incomes did not change but expenses sure went up because now there is a second residence.

Anyone who enters into a family breakdown relationship had better know real quick that their financial viability will go south. The financial burden on couples when they break down often manufactures poverty. Many families, when they are together, statistically and however we measure family poverty, would say that they are not in poverty. However, once they split up, once they have a second residence, and once they have ongoing legal and court costs and all the other things attendant to an acrimonious breakup, those families in a lot of cases end up living in poverty. It is not economic poverty due to economic circumstances. It is economic poverty due to social circumstances. It is a social poverty; a manufactured poverty.

We have to understand that children always are the victims. When we worked through the joint Commons-Senate committee on custody and access we talked about these issues. We heard witnesses over a two year period. There was no disagreement and recommendations were made in the December 1998 report, “For the Sake of the Children”. It reflected the theme and the principles on which we should approach our Divorce Act.

One of the key issues the committee talked about was the whole concept of custody and access. Custody and access would tend to indicate to parties that there is a winner and a loser. The committee disagreed with that based on broad, expert testimony from across the country over a two year period that said that we should get some things straight. It said that each parent had an important contribution to make to the lives of their children and they should have that opportunity, and that children had the right to love both parents equally, even if the parents hated each other. These are important, base foundation principles that must be taken into serious account as we look at the Divorce Act.

Many members will come forward with horror stories from their constituents. We will hear stories about the concept of parental alienation syndrome. This is a situation where a parent pits a child against the other parent and makes the parent look bad. Usually it is the custodial parent who perpetrates this.

Even though there are court orders and access orders stating that a non-custodial parent can have access at certain periods, we will hear stories that access is actually denied by the custodial parent. The recourse to the parent who has been denied access is to go to the courts. All of sudden we need lawyers again and we need the courts. In the meantime, the family has exhausted all of its resources and liquid assets fighting a battle that basically would allow them to see their children.

I will talk about the fathers out there but first I will explain why I say fathers. The evidence is clear that about 80% of custody orders go to women when they go to the courts. However, it is even worse than that. The lawyers for the fathers who want access advise their clients that the climate is such or their circumstances are such that they do not have a hope. They tell them that since it will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the case only to lose that they might as well not go.

It is not just 80% of custody orders going to the mother. When we take into account all the fathers who just cannot afford to go bankrupt trying to express their love for their children and wish to have access to those children, they are not even in the game and are not included in the statistics. However, when all is said and done, probably closer to 90% of custody is held by women and, therefore, the incidences of parental alienation and the incidences of denial of access are predominantly to the disadvantage of the fathers.

We have fathers' groups set up all across the country that have been crying out for a little bit of equity within the Divorce Act. These fathers want the opportunity to love their children and to play a role in their children's lives.

One of the important aspects of how we deal with parents who decide to split up has to do with a parenting plan. What a lovely concept that parents, before they leave the table, before they go their own ways and before they pick up the pieces of their lives, that they will have a parenting plan that will lay out visitation privileges, education and medical decisions, religious arrangements and anything else to do with the lives of those children. It respects the principle that parents will have the maximum exposure possible.

The question of access or visitation of non-parents, like grandparents, was an issue raised by some members and certainly by witnesses before the committee.

A parenting plan sounds like a good concept. It should be there, not just imposed for those cases where there is a custody dispute or a disputed split up. I believe that a parenting plan should be there for all parties, whether children are involved or whether they have a harmonious relationship or not, and it should be protected by the courts.

I think it is very serious to violate a parenting plan, to deny access, to perpetrate parental alienation, to take flight with a child or to simply not respect the provisions of a parenting plan.

When the committee discussed this, and in some of the testimony that was given, it was said that if parents were not going to play ball, if parents were not going to understand that children needed protection and if parents were not going to respect the provisions of a parenting plan, they needed to understand that they were breaking the law and that it would jeopardize their right to have custody of that child. That is how serious this is.

As we go through the legislative process I hope members will seek to ensure that the changes that we make to the Divorce Act will protect and enshrine the fundamental principles that came out of that very important committee work through the joint Commons-Senate committee on custody and access.

I do not think there is anything more important than children when it comes down to dealing with this issue. I have heard some members express some concern for balance because one size does not fit all. We need to have some dynamism within our legislation to take into account unusual circumstances, such as the case of a mother who has custody of the children. If she has special training but a job is no longer available in her community should she be able to relocate to another community where there is real work? I think there is good argument in that case but what about a case where it is a little bit grey? Obviously there are concerns there.

The bill ought to have some dynamism. It should not be black and white. It should not be rigid.

I have spent a lot of time following the development of the debate on the Divorce Act. I have given a number of speeches to groups, ostensibly fathers' groups, fathers who were fighting to have access to their children, fathers who have lost everything they had trying to get access to their children and could not find justice in Canada.

If we honestly believe that both parents have an important contribution to make to their children and that we should do everything possible to make that happen, those who would break that bond and not respect that principle should understand that it would be against the law to do so and that there would be consequences for denying a parent their legitimate and important right to have access to children.

The bill is at second reading. Rather than getting into too much detail and into each individual clause I want to hear more. I want to hear some of the experts and legal experts comment on the provisions of the bill, the true intent, the effect and to see whether it is happening.

I also hope that the committee will look at the recommendations of the joint Commons-Senate committee. Over 40 recommendations were embraced by members from all parties, including members of the other place. It is important that the committee look at each and every recommendation to understand the genesis of those recommendations and to understand what is appearing now in Bill C-22 that reflects that important work that was done by Parliament.

If any of those recommendations are not there, and I know many are not, parliamentarians on the justice committee and those who will appear should make their case as to why they should or should not be there. I think we have to vet that particular report.

I received a report from Mr. Brian Jenkins who is very active in a fathers' group. Mr. Jenkins is fighting to get a bit of equity in our system. I would like to put into the record a couple of his concerns that I hope the committee will address. He raised the concern about the terms custody and access. He said that the vocabulary changed but that it would not correct the divorce law regime. I hope we will address that.

He also said that the bill did not change the current substantive policy of presumptive sole custody and control that makes fathers mere visitors in children's lives and that it did not address the problems of parental alienation. I think he has a good point. I think the bill should if it does not.

He also said that the bill would repeal subsection 16(10) of the Divorce Act which provides for children to have maximum contact time with each parent, both custodial and non-custodial. I do not have a problem with that. Why would the bill repeal it? I want the committee to ensure that it investigates and examines the true intent.

The bill also does not address the lack of enforcement of custody and access of court orders which result in the parental alienation of children. Why?

I could go on but I know I will have other opportunities. I think members should be aware that this an important issue. It is a children's issue more than it is a parenting issue. Members should also know of the importance demonstrated around the world in other models where counselling after breakdown should and will help. We would like to find out how come these rules do not also apply to the breakdown of common law couples with children. Are these children not as important as the children of married couples?

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February 4th, 2003 / 1 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak on behalf of the children and on behalf of the many parents and families who go through the great tragedy of separation and divorce and see their families being divided.

I want to look at two or three of the committee recommendations and glance at the UN resolutions before I get into the legislation itself.

The committee recommended that the Divorce Act be amended to include a preamble alluding to the relevant principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I looked to see what those might be and I found article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified in 1991 by Canada, which states:

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

I am aware that phrase was in the divorce code even before these revisions and it has not helped much. It is good to know there is a stronger focus on that now. We agree with that idea.

Article 9 states:

States parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.

We must keep that in mind.

The committee also recommended that the Divorce Act be amended to repeal the definition of custody and to add the definition of shared parenting that reflects the meaning ascribed to the term by the committee. The Minister of Justice has insisted on ignoring this recommendation and still does not want to discuss the real meaning of shared parenting. The change recommended by the committee indicated more than simply a change in terminology.

I have to ask, have members been there? I do not necessarily mean have they been there personally, but have they been there with more than just a personal issue? Were members there when parents moved from the happiness of their marriage into a time of debate and quarrelling and battle? Were members there to calm and encourage and help parents? Were members there when that was not successful and the parents went to court? Are members aware of the things that happen within the courtroom? Have members been there? I dare say a large number of members have not been there in that capacity.

I have been there in all of those cases. I have seen it in my own family. I have counselled many families who have gone through this. I have sat in the courtroom and heard the verdicts. The Divorce Act is in bad need of repair. We believe the repair being offered today falls short of what is needed.

Who is impacted by the ongoing injustices imposed by the courts in the present adversarial winner takes all approach? Every child and every parent who goes through that situation is impacted and it does not end there. There are thousands of grandparents across Canada who have been cut off from access to their own grandchildren. They cannot see them. Maybe they see them on rare occasions but in a number of cases there is no occasion at all. When that happens the grandparents are severely impacted. I can also speak to the bill from that aspect. I have grandchildren who have suffered through divorce. I know how badly they are impacted.

The impact goes on, not just for the wife and husband who go through the breakup, the separation and divorce. The judgment is so often the final spike in the heart of that couple. It goes on to perhaps another family when the mother or the father establishes a new relationship in a new home with another family perhaps. Other ingredients are added. The impact goes on and on. The innocent party in the new relationship often is put through agony because the new spouse is being driven into the ground or is agonizing over the loss of contact with children from a previous marriage.

It does not end in the courtroom. If only it did end in the courtroom. Even though the parents get divorced, the relationship between them does not end; it changes drastically but it does not end. We must especially remember that parents do not divorce their children. There is a relationship and we need to be extremely careful in how we handle it. There needs to be an ongoing relationship between the children and their mother and father and their grandfathers and grandmothers. That needs strong consideration.

We are talking about the best interests of the child in the legislation and let us leave that as the top principle. I agree with that. But let us also realize that we have a responsibility to the mother and the father to do the best we can to assist them through that traumatic time in their lives and see a proper outcome.

Subclause 1(1) of Bill C-22 states:

The definitions “custody” and “custody order” in subsection 2(1) of the Divorce Act are repealed.

That is wonderful news in itself but as I look at Bill C-22 very carefully, although the wording has changed, I do not see the veil yet removed. I see the same things simply said in other words and in other terms. We are going to see the same thing continue to happen. We could have done a better job of making that clearer. In fact, just today the Minister of Justice in his presentation said that the government could not accept the concept that one parenting arrangement was better than any other.

Well, I suggest and I dare any member to argue with it, that there is one parenting arrangement that is better than any other and that is to have a child with its natural mother and its natural father in a happy relationship. The Canadian Alliance would have been laughed out of this place had we made a statement like that, that there is not a situation that is better than another. There is one.

We can look at the statistics across the land and across North America as a whole and find the awful tragedy that is imposed upon fatherless homes where there is only one parent. I am sure there are also tragic statistics for the family that has only the father in the home. I believe that we are made in such a way that we need the influence of our mothers and our fathers in order for us to develop to our greatest potential.

The minister said that the government could not put shared parenting in because it would lead to confusion. We are already confused. This act as is has led to confusion. Even though it talks about the best interests of the child, we are confused because no one seems to be really concerned about the best interests of the child. The child is shuffled off to one side or the other, whichever way the judge perhaps feels is the expedient thing to do. I can think of cases where this was not in the best interests of the child, but was for the convenience perhaps of the court.

One thing that is put forward in the new bill is parenting orders. Again, even though these new terms do not say custody, they are still veiled and weighted. Let me read subclause 16(1):

A court of competent jurisdiction may make an order relating to the exercise of parental responsibilities in respect of any child of the marriage, on application by

(a) either or both spouses;

Then it goes ahead to mention other people. It says either or both spouses.

I agree that my education, experience and background is a bit different than the norm in this place, but I remember something from when I studied theology. There is a principle when one is taught how to study the Bible that the first mention of something is always the most important thing to consider in considering a matter. Ladies may have a little trouble relating to this because when they go into a store it is never the first article they see that they want to buy, at least not until they have checked the rest of the mall. Men like to go into a store, pick out the shirt on the first rack that fits and buy it. We are attracted many times to the first thing we see.

Subclause (a) says either or both spouses. I think we could have had a little stronger language. Maybe this is a small point, but perhaps it should have said that a judge could write the order to both spouses or to either. I think we should at least imply that the first order of things should be to consider these spouses in an equal manner before the court.

I suggest that one of the reasons there is so much confusion around the term “shared parenting”, and there is not as much confusion as the hon. minister implied, is because there are those who have attempted to ensure that there is confusion and that it is obscured. There are those who have run the idea that shared parenting would dictate that every couple that walked into a divorce court would get fifty-fifty time with the kids and the kids would have to shuttle back and forth. That is not the idea that most would have on shared parenting.

When parents walks through the courtroom door, it is a real tragedy of justice when the judge, with the entry of those people, has already made up his mind on his verdict, as recently told in one case in Saskatchewan. The judge literally slept through the divorce proceedings and at the end made his ruling. That is a travesty of justice. That happened only because he already knew what would do, which was the same thing that he had been doing, and on and on it goes.

Parenting orders is a good change from custody but at the same time we need to understand that the parents need some sort of equality until it is demonstrated that one of the parents in their relationship would bring harm or has brought harm to the child in the past.

The legislation talks about parenting time. It talks about the time they spend with other people. I want to read subclause 15(5). It states, “The court may, in an order under this section, allocate to either spouse or to both spouses”, and there is that wording again “either spouse” or by a wild change maybe to both, “any combination of those individuals, parenting time, responsibilities for making major decisions”. It goes to say that they would be responsible for making other kinds of decisions. I think we are starting to get the point that responsibility for making decisions can be assigned and divided under this.

First, it says that parenting time is something that they can order by way of a schedule. I looked at that and I realized there has never been an adequate way of enforcing, encouraging or handling the time schedule. Yes, some of the court orders read with wonderful terminology. That I cannot deny. It all looks good on paper, but when one parent is given the run around week after week, shuttled to the end of the line, shuttled to the end of the month and then shuttled to another month and not allowed to have decent time spent with their own children, something needs to be in the legislation as to how the breaking of that order can be enforced, because the failure of the paying parent to pay can be enforced and that is done quite readily. There are contact orders and also guidelines under that.

The legislation talks about ensuring that we do it in the best interests of the child. The court shall take into consideration only the best interests of the child. Perhaps we understand that is the highest, but I think we need to mention also the inherent rights of the child and perhaps even of the parents.

One thing that has improved is the putting in of the list of criteria that the judge needs to consider to determine the best interests of the child. However, as we look at this, there is no guidance given or indication that a disqualification in any of these categories has to be proven. It can only be alleged and that is all that is required. Because it does not have to be demonstrated that it would not be helpful, it leaves it very vague.

The legislation talks about including the child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including aboriginal upbringing and heritage. For one thing, why do we single out one race? Whose heritage? Whose religion and whose culture?

We are leaving so much up to the judge that I am afraid the adversarial system of the past will simply be passed on. I am afraid we will continue to disengage some who will not go to court, or will not pursue the interests of the child, or will not pay or will not be responsible. I would suggest the reason so much of this happens today is not so much because we have deadbeat parents, or deadbeat dads or deadbeat moms, but because the court system, in the way it has interpreted this past legislation, has issued radically unfair and not charter proof rulings. I do not think this legislation will keep that from continuing to happen.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 12:45 p.m.
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Western Arctic Northwest Territories

Liberal

Ethel Blondin-Andrew LiberalSecretary of State (Children and Youth)

Madam Speaker, I am honoured today to speak to Bill C-22.

I was in the House this morning when the Minister of Justice spoke. I was listening very intently, as many Canadians were, to hear the tone of the presentation of the Minister of Justice. I was so overwhelmingly pleased that in every aspect of the changes of this legislation it was child centred. In every comment that the Minister of Justice made, it always returned to the fact that it was in the best interests of the child.

As the Secretary of State for Children and Youth I am particularly touched by that because I know, from my own personal experience, as well as those of many Canadians and worldwide citizens, that divorce is not something one intends; it is something that happens as a matter of circumstance and other things that occur.

We bring children into this world to perhaps have as good a life as we have had, if not better. We bring them into this world to dream big dreams, achieve great things, and perhaps achieve the unachievable. We bring them into this world to attain their highest goals in search of excellence. We do not bring them into this world and put them in a circumstance of victimization from their very early years on to their teen years when they go out on their own. In a sense, unfortunately, circumstances of divorce have prevailed that upon our children, and our youth. It is very unfortunate.

In listening to the Minister of Justice this morning I am happy about the important steps the government is taking for children of divorce in Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act and other acts.

What greater assets do we have in this country than our children? Yet we often feel powerless or unprepared to help them when they experience the breakdown of their family. It is clear that in introducing this bill and the child centred family law strategy the government is committed to improving outcomes for children of divorce.

Prior to the Divorce Act reforms, federal, provincial and territorial governments held public consultations to learn more about the views of Canadians on parenting after separation and divorce. Some of these consultations were conducted with youth. I am particularly interested in this as I am the secretary of state for youth. In one of these groups a young participant wondered whether we could make a law that would force parents to be responsible.

While laws may not effectively force parents to act in a certain way, they may help them to see things differently, but primarily they provide protection for children and youth.

This is the essence of Bill C-22: helping parents focus on their responsibilities; ensuring that parenting decisions are based only on what is best for children; providing help and guidance to parents and others who must make these difficult decisions; and encouraging parents, when appropriate, to resolve their differences out of court. In an ideal world we would not have these circumstances, however we live in a great world, but not all circumstances are ideal.

Often children are the ones who suffer the greatest consequences because of what happens. They do not make the decisions; they have decisions made for them that shape their lives.

By moving away from the current terms “custody” and “access” to an approach based on responsibility we are shifting the focus from the parents to the child. In this new system parents would decide how they would each carry out their responsibilities, including the time they spend with the children and the decision making responsibility that they each would have with respect to the children.

The issues families would need to deal with would remain the same. It would not eliminate the acrimony and the hard feelings that occur sometimes when there is the situation of divorce, or the history that those people share, or how other people get involved. It becomes a whole family situation and some of it is not good. The main thing is that children are victimized. In this circumstance all that could be there, but the government and the legislators have put something forward to protect the children.

The bill would continue to provide the court with discretion to make decisions on parenting arrangements that are in the best interests of the child. However the bill would provide greater guidance on how decisions could be made. For example, parenting orders can vary greatly in terms of how responsibilities for the child are distributed between the parents. By outlining the various types of parental responsibilities that may be allocated, the new Divorce Act approach would facilitate the work of parents when they sit down to tailor an arrangement to suit a particular child.

Too many times in the past it has been about the win-lose situation; who got custody of the child or access to the child. It was all around and about the child. It was not for the child. It was about the people around the child or children.

Parents are generally best placed to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Parents can work out arrangements themselves or with the help of a mediator, counsellor or lawyer. Where a judge is needed to make a decision, for example, where parents cannot agree or are in high conflict as well as family violence cases, judges would be able to issue a parenting order allocating parental responsibilities, because this is purely in the interests of the child.

The addition of the best interests criteria to the Divorce Act would play an important part in helping all parties focus on working out arrangements that are the best for the child in his or her unique circumstances. The criteria would help people understand the factors that a court must consider when making a decision on the basis of the best interests of the child. There is currently no list of factors and the court is directed only to make a decision that is in the best interests of the child.

In the new approach there are at least 12 best interest criteria. This list is not exhaustive and no one factor is more important than another. The weight to be given to each factor would depend upon the importance to the best interests of that particular child. These factors are not intended to direct particular outcomes, since this would not be consistent with the child centred approach. Rather they indicate important issues that the court must consider in the circumstances of the particular child.

Parents often need to make the best decisions about their child's care after separation and divorce. Family justice services, such as parent education courses, mediation and court-related services, all help parents focus on their children's needs. Children would benefit when parents would use these services.

This bill would require lawyers to discuss with their clients the mediation and family justice services available in the community. We expect that by requiring lawyers to inform clients about these services early on, this would result in timely and more amicable settlements that in turn would reduce the pain of divorce for children.

I have many cases and examples of people who are in pain, adults who are engaged in divorce or who have been divorced for a number of years. These people have issues of separation anxiety, the pain of going through a divorce, and being separated from ex-spouses as well as their children, but the underpinning of this is not about them. It is about what happens to those most vulnerable and most at risk, the children.

The technical aspects are about how to dissolve a relationship. The fallout is about the children and the parents, but we must provide protection for those children. The best laws are not based upon individual circumstances or instances. There must be a universal application that has the broadest breadth of application that does the best for those who are most at risk. Again, in this case, those are children.

What we must keep in mind is that besides dealing with the legal aspects of divorce, families have many emotional issues to deal with.

To quote another youth who said during the consultations, “Divorce is about law and about feelings; you need to make sure both are in the right place”. No law is going to fix the problems associated with the feelings. For the reforms to work, everyone from judges and lawyers to mothers and fathers must recognize that children's need for love, attention and support should be paramount. The most important thing should be the love the children get, the attention they get and the support they get.

That was very well reflected in the minister's speech. By focusing on parental responsibilities rather than parental rights, Bill C-22 along with other components of the child centred family justice strategy, will bring about improvements to the family law system that will have important benefits for children and their families as well as long term benefits for Canadian society.

Another a youngster said, “Kids should come first. We are the future”.

Given all of these considerations, we have to reflect on some of the provisions in the bill. People will want to know such things as what a parenting order is; what parental responsibilities are; what decision making responsibilities are; what is parenting time; what are the implications of having taken out the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act; and contact orders. Do people know that contact orders have to do with the provision of contact between the child and a person other than a parent, such as a grandparent, in the form of visits or oral or written or other methods of communication? People need to know this.

When the special joint committee recommended the removal of the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act some people believed there was the presumption of shared parenting. There was not. The special joint committee did not recommend a presumption of shared parenting. Instead, the committee's recommendation focused on the best interests of the child. That should be clear.

Although the committee has not recommended establishing a legal presumption in favour of either parent or any particular parenting arrangement, the committee did see the value of shared decision making and even substantially equal time sharing where appropriate, but always in the best interests of the child.

Today is another good day for children in Canada. It is a good day because in listening to and reflecting on the remarks of the Minister of Justice, I can see that after a long period of acrimony, confusion and a lot of the fallout from very difficult circumstances, children have a chance of surviving the economic fallout, the emotional fallout, the acrimony, all of those things that happen to children in a divorce. They become the victims of what happens. It is not in all cases, but too often that has happened.

I would like the House to know that I think this bill is a good thing for Canada. It is good for children. It is good for all parties concerned and we should support it.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 12:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member touched on a number of points that I think are quite useful for the House's consideration. I have read a book with regard to the issue of divorce. One of the lines that really impressed me was that when a couple divorces, “a small civilization” is destroyed. The author was referring to the family tree in that the separation of parents meant that access to grandparents, uncles, aunts and couples suddenly was taken away from the child. Children have to be put first in this.

What is really happening out there, because custody is so prevalent for the mothers, is that we have a lot of fathers out there who are having difficulty seeing their children. They are subject to what is called parental alienation syndrome, whereby the child is pitted against the father. We have numerous cases where, notwithstanding visitation rights specified by the courts, access is denied to those fathers. Fathers then have to go to court and exhaust all their resources in simply trying to see their children.

I hope that the member will give his comments on what is really happening out there. I wonder if he would also agree that Bill C-22 does not change the current substantive policy on presumptive sole maternity custody, and also that it does not address the lack of enforcement of custody and access court orders and the resulting parental alienation of children, and that possibly it does not address the denial of access of children to grandparents and other extended family members.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 12:10 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, first, I congratulate the member for Winnipeg North Centre. She is consistent and puts her positions forth with passion. However I have a couple of questions.

She talks of the gender analysis, and I agree with that. However she also talks about seeking balance. In cases of divorces there is more than just simply abuse and violence. There are other areas that have to be dealt with which also have to seek that balance. Those areas obviously are financial supports and shared parenting and custody. We are not necessarily in all cases dealing with violence and abuse.

My question is twofold. In dealing with the gender analysis and issues of violence and abuse, is she prepared to keep that same open mind to seek balance with respect to both parties in divorce when dealing with other criteria such as financial support as well as shared parenting and custody? It is imperative that we ensure that we have that balance between the mother and the father in a situation that deals with children and divorce.

The second question is probably more of a rhetorical question. The member said initially in her debate that she was prepared to send this forward to committee. I concur with that but she perhaps gives committee a bit more confidence than perhaps I share by going to committee, trying to develop some better changes to the legislation, then bringing it forward to the House so that all factors can be dealt with. Does she believe that the committee is prepared at this time to have an open mind and listen to amendments that make this better legislation than what is being proposed right now in Bill C-22?

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to indicate to the member for Mississauga South that I am not trying in my presentation during this debate in principle on Bill C-22 to inflame an already emotional issue or polarize matters any more than they are.

In my opening statement I wanted to simply try to ensure that the House was aware of the fact that one cannot look at custody and access matters and legislative changes to the Divorce Act without taking into account the impact on women and without considering the prevalence of violence against women in our society today.

It is clear that we are operating on different premises and assumptions. I want the member to know that I believe he is wrong when he suggests that violence in the home knows no gender, that gender is not a factor in when analyzing domestic abuse. All the statistics show the opposite and those statistics have not changed over the years, certainly from the days when they were reported during the special House-Senate study on the issue.

I do not believe that the member can deny the fact that when we look at the statistics over the years of spousal abuse where convictions occur, well over 90% of the offenders are men and almost 90% of the victims of those offences are female. I already made that point in my remark.

I want to further quote from Jane Ursel who is an expert in this area. She looked at 562 convictions in the same period to which I just referred. She said:

--89% of the accused were male and 76% of the victims were female, with the remainder male and female children who were victimized. In the case of elder abuse, 91% of the accused were male and 81% of the victims were female.

She concluded by saying, “It is a sad statement about our society that the factor that makes a person at risk is vulnerability”.

That must be taken into account in this debate. So many experts already have said that legislation on divorce and provisions on custody and access have an impact on women and could create for a situation where violence in the home is perpetuated, not diminished. We need to look at all the facts. I am not an expert in terms of this whole area but I know one thing. We must be open to the testimony, the facts and we must ensure that our legislative proposals do not have a deleterious impact on women who are already vulnerable and facing domestic violence in the home.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 11:45 a.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at second reading of Bill C-22. This is a very important piece of legislation on amendments to the Divorce Act and other statutes.

As others have already noted in the debate, this is a very critical issue for many in our society today.

This is a policy that affects a large number of families, children, women and parents in general. It is critical that the House of Commons study these issues and develop a bill that will bring solutions to these problems.

As many Canadians have already indicated in the steps leading up to the bill, this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive and serious way by this chamber. The legislation has been eagerly awaited and some would say it is long overdue.

Today we have the opportunity to discuss the broad principles of Bill C-22. As others have already indicated, we believe the bill is so complex and the issue is so full of emotion and competing views that the bill must be sent to the justice committee as soon as possible. I support the recommendations made by members previously that this bill must be addressed in great detail and that we must be receptive to a great number of witnesses and expert testimony.

It is clear that the goal of these changes to the Divorce Act is to attempt to take into account the concerns and hopes of those who are calling for changes and those who want the status quo to be maintained when it comes to how divorce proceedings are handled.

Clearly the bill is an attempt to bring a balanced approach to custody and access and divorce based on a number of years of consultations and indepth study and research. I do not need to remind members of the rocky path that has preceded this moment with the bill before the House.

It is important for us to remember that the bill is an important phase in a long process that started in 1997 when, in exchange for Senate support for the child support guidelines, the Minister of Justice at the time agreed to create the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access. The hearings at the joint committee were emotional. There were a number of heated presentations throughout the course of the committee hearings across the country. For many the end result was not satisfactory. It left a bad taste in the mouths of many who participated and it reflected some very serious divisions in our society.

Certainly there were very emotional and heated presentations from what has come to be known as the fathers' rights lobby. There were some angry words and hostile reactions in that process to the work of the feminist community, to the work of the status of women organizations which have devoted many hours and years in pursuing a just policy that reflects our goal of gender equality in this very important policy area.

Not surprisingly, given that kind of emotional testimony and heated debate throughout the special committee hearings, the report that was tabled in 1999 entitled “For the Sake of the Children” was met with a great deal of concern and criticism. There is no question about that.

Concerns were raised by individuals and organizations across Canada about the recommendations which included mandatory joint custody and shared decision making, maximum contact, parenting plans and mandatory mediation, coercive sanctions targeted against the non-cooperative parent and criminal sanctions against women who make false allegations. That is a summary of some of the contentious recommendations that were made.

Clearly the issue was not resolved with that process. Most would agree that in the report there was a lack of balance and a lack of evidence of sound research to back up the recommendations that were made. As a result the Minister of Justice promised further consultations on proposed law reform options.

In the spring of 2001 the Department of Justice and the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Family Law Committee released a consultation document entitled “Custody, Access and Child Support in Canada: Putting Children's Interests First”. It was recognized that this was an important step in terms of breaking the impasse. However, that process also generated considerable controversy and concern.

Many of the women's organizations, including the National Association of Women and the Law, felt that the process was not conducive to a serious review of the issues and was not founded on what they would consider to be a fundamental stepping off point, which is a gender based analysis. They decided to boycott those consultations and to show a concern with what they considered to be an undemocratic aspect to the consultations initiated by the government back in the spring of 2001.

The Department of Justice has taken the process a step further. Today we have a bill that seeks to address some of those concerns raised over the past five years but which still raises many unanswered questions.

The New Democratic Party position is that the bill be sent as quickly as possible to committee for indepth consultation with the proviso that there be adequate time to hear from a wide range of witnesses and to receive expert testimony with respect to the provisions in the bill.

At face value Bill C-22 seems worthy of support. By the New Democratic Party's recommendation today to send the bill to committee, we are indicating a measure of support for the provisions. We accept that there is an attempt here to find a balance and to address the outstanding concerns of many organizations in Canada.

The changes being proposed to the Divorce Act seek to remedy the often confrontational situation that exists in divorce. In the bill there is the possibility that children's interests are paramount and that is important. The bill, rather than focusing on which parent will get custody, puts in place a responsibilities framework where the responsibilities of both parents in the case of a divorce will have to be worked out. The bill attempts to strengthen the enforcement of child support guidelines and agreements.

My party also acknowledges that beyond the changes to the Divorce Act, the legislation seeks to expand the unified family court program in order to ensure that there is a specific grant to the judiciary oriented toward family issues and concerns. We understand this will include increased funding and the hiring of at least 62 new family court judges. This is absolutely imperative. There are also provisions in Bill C-22 to increase provincial and territorial family justice services, including mediation, parent education and other court related services.

After a preliminary analysis of the bill, there seems to be an important attempt to find balance and to address outstanding concerns. However I want to make a couple of points and to give further examples of why we believe the bill must be addressed at committee and full hearings held before we give full support to it.

The first point has to do with a very legitimate concern raised by the women's community. Has a gender analysis of this legislation taken place? By all accounts that has never happened. The women's community and status of women organizations in this country have repeatedly called for such an analysis. The government does not seem to be taking those recommendations seriously.

That does not surprise me given what we have been going through in the last few days with respect to the reproductive technologies legislation where the Minister of Health vetoed an amendment from the health committee pertaining to gender parity on the new agency to oversee reproductive technologies. It does not surprise me given that we have just been through a long and arduous process in terms of reforming Canada's immigration and refugee legislation and there was no gender analysis.

The need to have a gender analysis with respect to every legislative proposal, every program and every policy is part of Liberal government policy. It has been stated that this is a fundamental imperative for government. To this day it is hard to discern where that policy comes into play and is actually practised.

Today we call on the government to ensure that a gender based analysis is done and is presented to the justice committee so it can be taken into account during the hearings on Bill C-22. It is a very important issue. We are trying to grapple with the impact on women living in violent situations in the context of this important debate around custody and access. I want to remind members of why this is so important.

The National Association of Women and the Law very clearly stated:

[The association wants]... to ensure that changes to family law be made not only in the best interests of children, but also that they not jeopardize the autonomy and equality interests of women in the family. We believe that government policies must promote women's equality if Canada is to live up to its charter obligations and to its commitments made in the Beijing Platform for Action and other international instruments.

That association and many other status of women organizations have written to the Minister of Justice and to many of us in the House to make a similar point. I will quote from a couple of those sources, beginning with NAWL which said:

Making joint custody and shared parenting mandatory, enforcing a rule of “maximum contact” between father and children and imposing a “friendly parent rule” can all be used by abusive or dominating men to bolster their power over ex-wives, forcing them to remain in oppressive relationships.

I will quote from a couple of other submissions made to the Minister of Justice and to all of us. A member of the Kitchener-Waterloo sexual assault support centre said:

I expect that any changes to the federal Divorce Act will acknowledge the prevalence of violence against women and put provisions in place to ensure that child custody and access arrangements protect women and children from exposure to violence and abuse on the part of former partners. These provisions are entirely in keeping with the federal government's national and international commitments to end violence against women.

I would also like to quote from a letter sent to the Minister of Justice by the Association des francophones du nord-ouest de l'Ontario a few weeks ago:

This letter is to ask if you have fulfilled your duty, as a minister, to ensure that a gender-based analysis be done of all aspects of this federal legislation that is likely to have a significant impact on women.

There are many other organizations and expert advisers who I could quote. I want to reference very briefly the Vancouver Custody and Access Support and Advocacy Association, which is a very important organization to take into account. It was the first group in Canada to identify how the cycle of abuse was perpetrated beyond intimate relationships through custody and access mechanisms. That organization has done a very indepth examination of the whole area of custody and access and ought to be taken seriously in the process of careful scrutiny of Bill C-22.

Also, I want to reference the British Columbia ad hoc custody and access coalition which has also made that very important link between divorce law, custody and access arrangements and the way in which it can have a deleterious impact on women already in precarious situations of domestic violence, something that is critical in this day and age.

As we have heard many times before, I want to remind members how serious this issue is. I refer to an expert from my own community in Winnipeg, Dr. Jane Ursel who is with the department of sociology, University of Manitoba and with the Winnipeg Family Violence Court. In 1998 before the special joint committee, she said, “This data has indicated that of course family violence is serious and endemic in our community”. She makes that point in the context of reviewing child and custody and access arrangements and proposed changes or amendments to the divorce law because of the interrelationship between domestic violence and arrangements pertaining to custody and access.

There is no shortage of evidence to help us understand the vulnerability that women face in domestic situations and to come to grips with the significant extent of family violence in our society today.

The information by Jane Ursel at our committee meetings five or six years ago was very important for understanding the links and reinforcing the need to take seriously this very important issue. I want to reference a couple of her statistics.

In a study she did, based on her assignment with the Winnipeg family violence court, she said:

First of all, unfortunately, in the three-year time period that I have the data for you today, there were 5,674 cases of spousal abuse. The court indicates that 92% of the convicted offenders were male and 89% of the victims of those offences were female.

This was said in response to some of the testimony that we heard before that special committee suggesting that when it comes to violence in the home, domestic assaults, really there is no difference in terms of gender and that should not be a factor in these discussions. The fact of the matter is that by and large women are the victims in cases of family violence and men are the perpetrators. We need to be very conscious of that and we need to be prepared to scrutinize this legislation from that point of view.

Our job today is to take the benefit of the advice and knowledge out there in so many different organizations and apply it to the work at hand. We need to get down to a serious indepth analysis of Bill C-22 knowing that our demands and obligations require us to seek balance. We need to do everything we can to ensure that we do not make more serious a grave situation of family violence in our society today.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Quebecois critic for Justice, I have the pleasure of being the first speaker from our party in this debate on Bill C-22. This is a very important bill and, if passed, it could considerably change the legal framework for marriage and its dissolution.

In fact, anticipating this bill, several people have already contacted me, and I have had the opportunity to meet with many citizens from my riding, who shared their hopes and concerns about this bill with me. I am thinking of, among others, Ms. Lafortune, who very eloquently expressed her views.

When we met, this lady pointed out the serious hardship unfortunately experienced directly or indirectly following a divorce by people like a second spouse or the children of the second spouse.

All this to say that the debate that got underway this morning is very important because it will affect the personal, daily life of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

I am calling on my colleagues to ensure that, as we debate this whole issue, we do so bearing in mind these men, women and children who are unfortunately adversely affected by a marriage breakdown and that, in our consideration of the various clauses, we never lose sight of these people. This is not just a matter of coldly dealing with words written on a piece of paper; this is about the lives of individuals.

Bill C-22 will amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Judges Act and other existing acts.

On December 10, the Minister of Justice unveiled a new legislative initiative known as the Child-centred Family Justice Strategy. The minister says he wants to upgrade and modernize the various existing acts to try to harmonize to some extent relations between spouses who eventually decide to break up. We know that such an ordeal, affecting a huge segment of the population in Quebec and Canada, causes major wranglings, over children in particular.

Divorce is difficult and sometimes tragic. The harsh reality of divorce, which is the break-up of a loving, emotional relationship between two people, is that, too often, it involves children who, also too often, feel as if they are being torn in two. It is essential to remember and, above all, to explain to these children that their parents' decision to separate has nothing to do with them and that they will always be loved and cherished.

As I was saying, the minister's bill aims for relative harmony, sometimes achieved with great difficulty, the ultimate goal being the well-being of children. However, I would say that, despite his efforts, the minister has missed the mark. On behalf of children and in his quest for happiness, the minister has missed an important issue in this debate, which is the harmonization of the various applicable acts regarding divorce.

During my speech, I will endeavour to demonstrate how the minister could have simplified his approach, better promoted the well-being of children, and in a more relevant way, while helping them through something as difficult and as complex as divorce.

The goal of the child-centred family justice strategy is to assist parents who are divorcing or separating and guide their attention to the needs of the children. The Minister of Justice's approach is based on three specific aspects: family justice services, legislative reform and expanding the unified family courts.

I must first clarify and repeat the fact that the Bloc Quebecois, because it opposes Bill C-22, will present a firm and very structured opposition to the minister's initiative. My colleagues and I will clearly show how and in what way the minister is going about this all wrong, and what would be the right way to reach the initial objectives, which should be those of society as a whole.

As is usually the case—and those who listen to us are aware of this—the Bloc Quebecois, despite its opposition to the bill will actively participate in all stages of the legislative process to try to drag a compromise out of the minister and thus make an effective contribution to this overhaul of divorce legislation. As always, our general attitude will be guided by indepth research into the situation, since the Divorce Act involves numerous considerations and affects a great many people.

Furthermore, we hope the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will hold extensive consultations on the matter because the impact of this legislation could become a determining factor in the lives of thousands. I also strongly hope that when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights holds hearings on the matter, it will not only listen to certain groups, such as lawyers, associations that defend the rights of spouses, children and so on, but also make a concerted effort so that children, ordinary people, the average citizen will also have the opportunity to come and give us their point of view on a bill that affects them so closely.

Not everything in Bill C-22 is new. For instance, the criterion related to the interests of the child is a recognized principle in current divorce legislation and in the Quebec Civil Code. Similarly, the well-known list of criteria in the bill with regard to the interests of the child, is basically a consolidation of existing jurisprudence. It is not new legislation, but simply the consolidation of existing legislation.

From this perspective, we will take advantage of this debate to highlight the elements of the proposed reform that cause us the most concern with respect to some of the practices that are specific to Quebec.

Our political party, true to its primary objective of defending the interests of Quebec, opposes the very principle of the bill because we feel that, in fact, the Divorce Act should be repealed. We think it would be better, more appropriate and more efficient if Quebec had full jurisdiction over matters of divorce. This call for full jurisdiction over family law in its entirety has been Quebec's traditional stand.

In fact, for decades all governments of Quebec, whether the Parti Quebecois, the Union Nationale or the Liberal Party of Quebec, have called for this power to be transferred from the federal to the Quebec government. This, along with marriage, being the only area of federal jurisdiction over family law, its would be both appropriate and advisable for it to be transferred to Quebec and included in civil law.

Before continuing with this debate, I believe it is important to draw attention to the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access and its considerable accomplishments during the 36th Parliament.

When its task was over in December 1998, after months of intense efforts, the committee tabled a thick report which, unfortunately, did not take into account the specific nature of the Quebec reality. Nothing new there; it is too often the case.

The Bloc Quebecois therefore felt obliged to express a dissenting opinion on the contents of this report, based solely on its desire to see legislation on divorce be made the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces.

This position, you will understand, has not changed, and the arguments we made at the time are as relevant today as ever.

I will quote, if I may, an excerpt from the Bloc Quebecois dissenting opinion on the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access:

—all matters relating to the family, education and social services are clearly within the jurisdiction of the provinces, as are any questions relating to separation from bed and board.

The report goes on to say:

In Quebec, separation from bed and board is covered by articles 493 et seq. of the Civil Code of Québec. On the other hand, divorce is under federal jurisdiction, by virtue of the Constitution. The vast majority of divorces are settled out of court. In most cases, agreements regarding child custody and access are made when a couple separates. Since separation from bed and board is under provincial jurisdiction, it would be logical for legislation on divorce to be as well.

Accordingly, we recommend that the Divorce Act be repealed and that jurisdiction over divorce be transferred to the provinces.

It would also be logical to repeal the Marriage Act and transfer that jurisdiction to the provinces. The celebration of marriage, as well as division of property, the civil effects of marriage and filiation are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, while the substantive requirements (capacity to contract marriage and impediments to marriage) are under federal jurisdiction. In Quebec, for example, the Government of Quebec has legislated to permit civil marriages. In our view, this is another example of the pointless and outdated division of powers. It would be much simpler for all family law to be under the jurisdiction of a single level of government: the provinces.

As an aside, I can tell you that, for the sake of logic and rigour, this is also the position the Bloc Quebecois will defend when the time comes to debate the whole issue of whether of not homosexuals have the right to marry, which is currently under consideration in committee.

I could go on and on quoting Senator Beaudoin, a renowned expert on the Constitution if there was ever one, about the division of powers at the time when the federation was established, in 1867. The national duality at the time also reflected religious division.

So, the decision of the Fathers of Confederation to confer upon the federal government constitutional authority over divorce was essentially predicated upon a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants concerning the dissolution of the bond of marriage.

I will now read on:

What was appropriate in 1867 no longer is today. Given that the religious issue no longer has the same significance, our laws ought to reflect reality. Our recommendation would mean that the provinces could have complete jurisdiction over their family law and could legislate in that field as appropriate to their own social context.

Naturally, this includes everything having to do with marriage and divorce.

As Senator Beaudoin stated further in his report entitled “La constitution du Canada, institutions, partage des pouvoirs, droits et libertés”, and I quote:

The question then arises of whether the field of marriage and divorce should not be returned to the provinces, thereby enabling Quebec to have more absolute control over its family law, an important part of its private law, which is different from the private law of the other provinces.

I would point out that this is a quote of comments made by a federalist Conservative senator from Quebec, and not a sovereignist.

This illustration of the issue and the Bloc Quebecois' approach reflects the long term historic claims made by Quebec and its governments.

Allow me to highlight some of the most significant steps taken by the Government of Quebec in this approach.

Take the government of Daniel Johnson, Sr., from 1966 to 1968. Members will recall he was a unionist premier, in other words, from the Union Nationale political party. His government demanded that the constitution be amended to include divorce as an exclusively provincial area of responsibility.

Later, in December 1969, at a first ministers conference, the very federalist premier, Jean-Jacques Bertrand, said that marriage and divorce should come under Quebec's jurisdiction under the constitution, in which case the decision to establish family courts would be up to it.

During the second term of the great René Lévesque's government, in the early 1980s, he made proposals in the area of divorce. The Parti Quebecois government at the time was proposing that divorce become a concurrent jurisdiction, even though Quebec law would override federal legislation. As such, a province could exclude the federal Parliament from divorce if the province wanted to.

Finally, in 1985, the Government of Quebec said that the division of constitutional powers should be reviewed in order to grant Quebec exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce.

This proposal was laid out in a document prepared for the federal government by René Lévesque entitled “Projet d'accord constitutionnel—Propositions du gouvernement du Québec”.

Obviously, Canadian federalism being what it is, the changes Quebec has called for are not likely to come about any time soon. Federalism is increasingly heading toward standardization and uniformity, rather than the other way.

As a result, in view of the fact that for now divorce unfortunately remains under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we will review the minister's proposal and we will endeavour to preserve Quebec's particular and specific character in the reformed legislation.

The immediate impact of this type of government initiative is certainly too important and will affect so many people that we must remain ever vigilant and, understandably, beware of the intentions of the Liberal government.

Bill C-22 proposes radical changes to the Divorce Act, by including a new approach to agreements reached between parents with regard to the children, one that is based on parental responsibilities.

Rather than issuing custody or access orders, the court will issue “parenting orders”, which will establish parenting time blocks, as well as decision-making responsibilities in such matters as health, education and religion.

The court will also issue “contact orders”, establishing the nature of contacts that the child may have with persons other than the spouses.

A detailed study of the proposed clauses in Bill C-22 indicates the nature of these orders. These two types of court orders are based on the notion of the best interests of the child.

The minister took the time to establish a non-exhaustive list of criteria that the court must consider. The enactment also makes amendments to the Divorce Act by anticipating questions related to the nature and scope of such support orders when the spouses reside in different provinces.

That was a brief overview of Bill C-22. As I stated when I began, the proposed legislative measures would amend various other acts presently in force. Of these, I would mention the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

This legislation will make family support obligations a priority, include powers of monitoring and research and provide for protection from liability.

In this regard, and I know that many of my hon. colleagues are aware of this problem, it is important to point out that there is an organization in Quebec defending the rights of second spouses. In fact, the Association des secondes épouses et conjointes du Québec represents the interests of women with regard to support orders paid to former spouses. According to this organization, many divorced women are abusing the current system by using support payments for their own purposes instead of making an effort to take control of their lives.

The existing Divorce Act does not set a time limit on support payments when the divorce is granted. These payments are, therefore, a type of lifetime pension which, being a “pension”, is indexed and can be revised.

Of course both parties may avail themselves of this right. However, if, for instance, an ex-husband requests a variation he is not the only one involved. The assets, income, insurance, and pension plans of his new spouse—married or not—all come into play. It is slightly different when an ex-wife requests a variation. Citing a difficulty of some sort, she can take advantage of the arrival of the new spouse to have her pension increased.

It is easy to see the potential disputes inherent in such provisions. I feel it would be wise to address this issue head on in committee, and to make sure that this problem is examined at length when Bill C-22 is studied.

It will be important to meet with the Association des deuxièmes conjointes, the second wives association, and its equivalent for first wives, and listen to what they have to say, to ensure that the committee makes a thorough examination of this problem that affects so many people.

Bill C-22, introduced by the Minister of Justice, also specifies some related and rather technical changes to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

However, in amending the Divorce Act, one of the crucial elements of Bill C-22 is the inclusion of a list of specific criteria for parents, jurists, lawyers and judges, so that they will take into account the best interests of the child. The purpose of this list is to reaffirm and implement the basic principle of family law, which is that the interests of the child are paramount.

We would like to remove the terms “custody” and “access” from the legislation. A new model based on parental responsibilities will be developed to eliminate any connotation of winner-loser and any notion of possession that some people associate with these terms. According to the minister, this change will contribute to reducing parents' levels of conflict and stress and supposedly allow them to focus more on their most important obligation, which is to make sure that their children receive all the care they need.

The intention is certainly laudable, but it will not change the perception of parents, especially in such a conflict situation, that there is a winner and a loser in a court-decreed arrangement.

Whether the words access and custody are removed or not, the fact remains that the child, boy or girl, will have to spend x number of days with mom and y number of days with dad. Change form and wording as we may, it does not change the fact that one parent will have the child for a period of time and the other will have him and her of another period of time.

Cooperation between the parents will also be encouraged, but we must recognize that happy, amicable divorces are rare. Unfortunately, it seems somewhat unrealistic to want to raise the parents' awareness of their parenting responsibilities, and particularly of how they intend to carry them out, when a case is before the court and, all too often, the parties are communicating only through their lawyers.

It is well known how painful divorce is. Emotions run high, and this may get in the way of an amicable settlement between spouses.

Parents would be provided with the services of a mediator or lawyer to achieve the department's objectives. However, need I insist that this is an approach that has been favoured for many years in Quebec, Quebec once again showing its leadership in this regard?

Taking a step back and looking at the bill as a whole, we must recognize that the proposed amendments to the Divorce Act are not the revolution they were made out to be by the Minister of Justice. Without being overly pessimistic, one cannot rely on this bill to overhaul current legislation and its enforcement.

Where the interests of the child is concerned, the Bloc Quebecois has taken a clear philosophical position. In their dissenting opinion in the 36th Parliament, my colleagues also asserted their recognition of the principle of the best interests of the child. It read, and I quote:

—a child must not be the victim of conflicts between his or her parents, and the child's interests must not be confused with those of the child's parents or extended family.

The principle of the best interests of the child is not a new idea in law. It strikes me as appropriate in this connection to draw attention to subsection 16(8) of the current Divorce Act, which states the following:

In making an order under this section, the court shall take into consideration only the best interests of the child of the marriage as determined by reference to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child.

This does not strike me as much different or broader than what the minister is proposing today.

As well, the principle of the child's best interests is part of the philosophy of Quebec, and is moreover set out in section 514 of the Quebec civil code. It reads as follows:

The court, in granting separation from bed and board or subsequently, decides as to the custody, maintenance and education of the children, in their interest and in the respect of their rights, taking into account the agreements made between the spouses, where such is the case.

The courts have spoken on numerous occasions on these provisions and have, in connection with them, already established a list of criteria to which they refer when interpreting what constitutes the child's best interests.

The only thing that is new about this list of criteria is that it is now included in the law. What the minister has done is merely to codify existing criteria from the jurisprudence. This cannot be considered new law.

However, I will be pleased to share my views as to whether it is appropriate to enshrine it in the act. I wonder if this change will have the effect of setting criteria that will help determine the best interests of the child. Could this way of doing things have the opposite effect, that is restrict the judge's options? These are important issues that I intend to raise in committee, and I hope that we can get some clear answers.

I will follow very closely the work relating to the various legislative stages of this bill. I am especially looking forward to working in committee to examine and debate every aspect of the bill, and particularly the possible impact of the list of criteria regarding the best interests of the child, when these criteria are considered by the courts.

I mentioned this in my introduction, but I want to repeat it: in my view, this bill does not represent the innovative and revolutionary approach that the Minister of Justice would have had us believe when he introduced this legislation. Once again, the government has very little to show for all the promises it made.

In many ways, it seems that the only thing that has changed is the terms used for principles that are already recognized. The government uses some fine sounding terms which, unfortunately, do not reflect, far from it, the harsh reality experienced each year by thousands of couples or former couples.

Even though the terms custody and access are removed, the fact remains that, in reality, children will have to spend x number of days with their father and y number of days with their mother.

The minister argues that avoidance of anything suggesting winners and losers will help reduce the level of conflict and stress between parents. This is, theoretically, a step forward. In actual fact, however, it does not really do anything to change parents' feelings.

The legislative measures proposed are based on the model of parental responsibility. According to this model, both parents will be responsible for their child's well-being after separation or divorce. It is up to them first and foremost to decide how they will agree to fulfill their obligations to their child.

Should a major impasse occur, as for example when parents do not manage to reach agreement or in cases where there is a high degree of conflict or family violence, the court will in future issue a parenting order setting out the responsibilities of each parent. In my opinion, this reflects the way the courts are already handling the cases submitted to them. Despite the minister's claims, we wonder about the true impact of this change in terminology.

Before I end my remarks, I have a duty to raise one other important aspect of the minister's family justice strategy, namely the unified family courts.

When the new child-centred family justice strategy was announced, the Minister of Justice announced the expansion of the unified family courts. According to him, these courts will improve outcomes for children and families through the following advantages: a single place with jurisdiction over any matter of family law, ready access to a full array of family justice services, specialist judges who are experts in family law, and a user friendly environment with simplified procedures.

I would remind those listening that the Bloc Quebecois spoke out in its dissenting opinion on the December 1998 joint committee report against one recommendation that:

—the federal government continue to work with the provinces and territories to accelerate the establishment of unified family courts, or courts of a similar nature, in all judicial districts across Canada.

It is still clear to the Bloc Quebecois that the Quebec government does not endorse the unified family court. The reason is quite simple, since the approach currently favoured by the federal government is to grant jurisdiction for all matters pertaining to family law to the provincial superior court, for which the judges are appointed by the federal government. Quebec would rather combine all jurisdictions in this area under the Quebec court, which would, naturally, mean amending the Constitution.

In this regard, I would remind all my hon. colleagues that, in terms of the unified family courts, civil law and the administration of justice are the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces. I believe that it would be appropriate, however, since the federal government has announced increased funding for the unified family courts and since Quebec does not wish to set up such courts, for Quebec to receive its fair share of the federal funding to deal with this matter in its own way, according to its character and specificity.

That, then, as an introduction, is the position that the Bloc Quebecois will defend throughout this legislative process. We strongly hope that the government will hear our point of view and understand the scope of our line of reasoning, the first cornerstone of which is the fact that all family law, including marriage and divorce, should be under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, should they so wish. This is the basis of the Bloc Quebecois' philosophical and political action. It is, naturally, on the basis of this philosophy, on this solid basis, that we will base our action in Parliament when the time comes to take other positions on Bill C-22.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed unfortunate that the minister's duties called him away from the chamber so that he is unable to answer the questions that my colleague would like to put.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important legislation before us today. The government's Bill C-22 is an attempt to reform the child custody and access provisions of our divorce laws. However, like a baby's first faltering steps, Bill C-22 is a very timid, tentative attempt at reforming the antiquated Divorce Act. After so many years of waiting, the government should have been able to do better. Certainly the children of divorce deserve better.

Of all our Canadian laws, the Divorce Act is perhaps the most important to Canadians because it directly affects our families and their lives. With this in mind, it is especially important that we as parliamentarians embark upon debating this legislation with the utmost seriousness and careful consideration of the impacts it would have on Canadian families and, in particular, Canadian children.

Unfortunately divorce is an all too common occurrence in our society today. For some couples their marriages do not work out and require an annulment to provide a divorce of their relationship as husband and wife. To that end, governments provide a mechanism for people to separate under the laws that govern our nation.

The history of divorce law has constantly changed over time, evolving to meet the needs of society. The earliest form of divorce legislation enacted by the federal government was as recent as 1968. Before that time, married couples could obtain a divorce only under provincial legislation, using the strictest of conditions. Husbands could file for divorce on the grounds of a wife's adultery, yet the wife could file only on exceptional grounds, like incestuous adultery, rape, sodomy or bigamy, to name but a few. In Quebec and Newfoundland, a divorce required a private act of Parliament.

Thankfully, divorce laws provide a more accurate reflection of the realities Canadians face in their lives today. However, they still require improvement.

Although originally divorce legislation was created for the sole purpose of facilitating an end to a marriage, as a matter of consequence it also determines parenting arrangements for children of a relationship. For those families going through a divorce in the court system, children should be protected by the courts and the law. Ideally divorce law should provide a mechanism for a marital separation and deal with issues pertaining to the children of a relationship independently. After a divorce, both spouses still maintain their roles as parents and our laws should reflect that reality.

The Canadian Alliance has been a long time advocate of reforms to our divorce law. Article 27 of the Canadian Alliance declaration of policy states:

We will make the necessary changes to the Divorce Act to ensure that in the event of a marital breakdown, the Divorce Act will allow both parents and all grandparents to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and grandchildren, unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the children.

The Divorce Act as it is currently written has a chaotic set of rules dealing with parenting arrangements. The act uses terms such as custody and access to describe how children are dealt with by the courts. Bitter divorce cases over child custody often come down to declaring a winner and a loser. The “better” parent, as determined by a judge, gets custody of the kids while the other parent is only allowed access to them. As a result, the law fosters an adversarial, divisive focus on parental rights versus the best interests of the child.

For kids who have always lived with both parents, a divorce is a bad enough shock for them. The prospect of not being able to see one of their parents can be devastating. The concept of custody and access is completely foreign to children. Six year old children do not understand why they are only allowed to see their mother or father every other weekend. That is because they do not realize that a judge has decided when they can see their parents. However, in our world today too many children are forced to become acquainted with these stipulations.

Furthermore, we should not ignore the valuable role that other family members have in a child's life. Under our existing divorce law, grandparents' and other related family members' contact with the children could be substantially reduced after a separation. There are no provisions in the current Divorce Act to guarantee grandchildren access to their grandparents. In fact, grandparents must seek leave from a court before they may even apply for an access order.

Child custody arrangements are in one area of family law that invokes heated debate. Canadians are sincerely upset with how our legal system fails children. Since the government introduced this legislation on December 10 of last year, my office has received many e-mails and telephone calls on the subject of child custody and access. There is one e-mail in particular that I would like to mention because I feel it provides an accurate depiction of the capabilities of our current divorce laws. This e-mail came from a father describing his personal experience. His e-mail reads:

I'm a father of three children, ages 11, 13 and 15. On November 1, 2002 my wife was granted an ex parte order removing me from my home and our children. I believe I've been treated unfairly. Here is a brief summary of the recent events:

October 23: [I] learned my wife was having an affair with her boss.

October 24: I locked myself in our bedroom and called “911”, after my wife became enraged; kicking on the bedroom door, screaming, yelling, swearing, all within earshot of our children. The police came and found her foot stuck in the door.

October 29: My wife was served with my petition for divorce.

November 1: I received an ex parte order, after my wife lied to the judge convincing him that I was unpredictable and erratic. She also suggested I had become mentally ill. (This is a complete lie!).

December 2: The same judge acknowledged that the ex parte order was in error, however he still ruled in her favour where she now has “sole” custody of our three children and exclusive possession of the matrimonial home.

I'm self-employed, and had been working from an in-home office since 1995. My lawyer tried to convince the judge that I had been the primary caregiver, as my wife worked outside the home.

I believe the justice system favoured my wife because she is the mother. I have been a great father and husband! Can you offer me some help?

This is a very sad case and unfortunately all too representative of many others. Divorces such as this one happen way too often and they have nothing to do with mothers' rights versus fathers' rights. They are symptomatic of a legal system that simply does not care for the needs of children.

Having been through a divorce, I can say that not all divorces need to have such a devastatingly negative impact on children. Negative, yes, there is no question of that: When parents separate there is a negative effect on their children, but it does not have to devastate their lives for years to come. At the time of our separation my ex-wife and I knew that although our marriage had to come to an end, it did not mean our relationship with our children had to as well.

I want to speak for just a few minutes, not as a politician, but as a parent, for parents. About a month from now it will be five years since my separation from my former wife and three and a half years since my divorce. Even though my marriage of 25 years came to an end, my role as a parent did not. That is because it is the one job that never ends, and as parents we sometimes joke about this, but almost always in jest.

Being a parent is a terrific honour. It is something that is impossible to adequately explain to someone who is childless. That is why I fervently hope that all MPs who are also parents or grandparents and even a few who are geat-grandparents, I suspect, will take the time to really study Bill C-22 and look at these proposed changes from the perspective of a parent rather than a legislator to truly consider what is in the best interests of the children. Members must try to imagine the bill as it would apply to their families.

As I said, I want to take a few minutes to explain my own personal circumstances. About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 50th birthday. My children came to a surprise party here in Ottawa. My children now are 24 and 22, and my son is going to be 20 very shortly. They are young adults and I am extremely proud of these three young people.

They came to my birthday party and presented me with what is now one of my most prized possessions. It is upstairs in my office today, on a shelf. It is a pewter mug engraved with “World's Greatest Dad”. It is inscribed as well with “Love from Holly, Heather and Heath”, my three children. It is one of my most prized possessions, because I believe the most important job I have is not that of being a member of Parliament, although that is important, the most important job I have is that of being a parent and hopefully someday a grandparent. They are the roles that I think are most important in life. I have enjoyed the relationship I have built with my three children, at every stage of their lives. I often hear parents complaining a bit, perhaps, that their kids go a little off the rails when they are in their adolescent years, but I can truthfully say that although there were some trying times the love saw us through those tough times.

I have enjoyed the relationship I have been able to build throughout my lifetime and I cannot imagine not having had the opportunity to build that relationship with those three children. In fact, I cannot imagine a worse living hell than having anything bad happen to my kids. Every time we hear of children who are lost, like the seven young children lost in the avalanche a couple of days ago, our hearts go out to those parents and those families that suffer that indescribable grief.

However, I think a close second would be the frustration and anger that would well up in me if I were denied access to my children, for whatever reason. I cannot imagine anything worse than having my kids somewhere on this planet and not being allowed to have contact with them. I was lucky. As I said, my ex-wife was extremely reasonable. We just automatically decided that joint custody under today's laws was the way to go. There was no question about it from the beginning. We both recognized that we were both terrific parents and wanted that relationship to continue for our children. I was lucky. Unfortunately, so many are not.

Every effort should be made to isolate children from the negative impacts of a marital breakdown. Enhancing the roles both parents play in raising children after separation can mitigate some of the harmful influences. Our laws need to acknowledge the best interests of children by allowing them to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents and even with grandparents after a divorce, with the natural exception of circumstances that are clearly not in the best interests of the child.

The best method of facilitating this legislative change is to provide an automatic shared parenting role for both parents. Instead of using the adversarial language of custody and access, the Divorce Act should only use a single shared parenting term to reflect custody arrangements.

I listened to the minister's speech a few moments ago. To be quite blunt, I was appalled with the fact that he said that the use of the term shared parenting in the Divorce Act would have led to confusion. That was his summation. Yet that was the centrepiece of the “For the Sake of the Children” report.

The many married couples who separate on amicable terms today already benefit from shared parenting, as in my own personal example, which I have revealed to the House. They benefit by working cooperatively together on matters affecting their children. Shared parenting does not mean that parents equally split up the time they spend with their children. It means that parents share the rights, the responsibilities and the obligations to their children.

Naturally, given the wide diversity of individual situations, we must also acknowledge instances where children should not have a relationship with a parent. Under very serious circumstances such as domestic violence the courts would not use shared parenting and one parent would be denied access to the child. My colleague from Red Deer has a private member's bill on this very topic. His bill, commonly referred to as Lisa's law, would protect children who have been sexually abused by a parent by not allowing judges to grant forced visitation to that parent.

Shared parenting should not be a foreign concept in our legal system. In 1989 the UN brought forward the convention on the rights of the child signed by 191 countries, including Canada. Within the convention, the United Nations recognized the need for children to have a relationship with both parents.

Of the many articles included in the convention article 12 refers to a child's guaranteed right to free expression in all matters affecting them. Article 3 states:

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The most pertinent article I would like to mention is article 9 which states:

Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.

It goes on to read:

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 interests.

The UN convention is clear on the matter of parental access for children. More important, Canada is bound by the convention due to our ratification in 1991. The United Nations is not alone in recognizing the merits of shared parenting. There are several places in the world that have properly guarded the rights of children during a divorce. Countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and many individual states in the United States, have all established shared parenting laws. Some of these laws may vary on the individual details, however the objective remains the same. Both parents retain their shared parental responsibilities for their children, regardless of any changes to their marital relationship.

With other countries implementing a shared parenting strategy, why does Canada not have any shared parenting provisions in its family law? Canadians want the best for their children, yet it is not reflected in our laws.

Canada has refused to take the lead on providing the best for our children, nor has it followed. Instead, our government seems content with the status quo ensuring not to rock the boat by upsetting special interest groups.

The last time Parliament amended the Divorce Act was in 1997 with Bill C-41. During that period many Canadians were genuinely upset that grievances with child custody laws were not being addressed. As with any issue of importance to Canadians members of Parliament and senators heard many demands for the government to take action. After folding to public pressure the government authorized both the Senate and the House of Commons to form a special committee to examine this critical issue.

The Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access had a straightforward objective. It was vested with the mandate to:

...examine and analyze issues relating to custody and access arrangements after separation and divorce, and in particular, to assess the need for a more child-centred approach to family law policies and practices that would emphasize joint parental responsibilities and child-focused parenting arrangements based on children’s needs and best interests;

As the committee prepared to hold its first public meeting in February 1998, all members were aware of the importance and the complexity of the work they were about to embark upon. In total 55 meetings were held across Canada allowing over 520 witnesses to testify before the committee. These presentations provided an insightful look into the many different aspects of divorce and separation, from stories of heart-rending personal experience to social workers who worked with children of divorced parents on a daily basis. Committee members heard testimony regarding all aspects of divorce law.

The end result of the committee's work was a comprehensive report to Parliament laying out 48 recommendations for improvement. The final report entitled “For the Sake of the Children” provided an accurate representation of where the government could take action to help children. Each individual recommendation would make an important improvement. I do not have time to read all of the recommendations, but I will touch on a few.

The first recommendation calls for a preamble to be included in the Divorce Act making reference to pertinent principles of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. As I mentioned earlier, I specified three articles that should be included in such a preamble.

The second recommendation reads:

This Committee recognizes that parents' relationships with their children do not end upon separation or divorce and therefore recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to add a Preamble containing the principle that divorced parents and their children are entitled to a close and continuous relationship with one another.

That is a great recommendation, but not one which we find in Bill C-22.

Number five calls for the terms “custody” and “access” to no longer be used in the Divorce Act and instead that the meaning of both terms be incorporated and received in the new term shared parenting. This is the very term that the minister has just mentioned that he did not want to use because it would be confusing. This term would then be taken to include all the meanings, rights and obligations, common law and statutory interpretations embodied in the terms “custody” and “access”.

To effectively implement shared parenting we must eliminate any cause of bias between parents in our legal system. Recommendation number eight calls for the common law tender years doctrine to be rejected as a basis for making a parenting decision. The doctrine is used by judges to help them determine the better parent for the child during the early part of its life. Many years ago courts automatically assumed this role could only be fulfilled by a mother, however today, it is not an accurate reflection of our society.

Shared parenting arrangements may not be ideal for every divorced couple, however our laws must encourage parents to work together on providing the best for their kids. The committee's report suggests that all parents seeking a parenting order from a judge should first submit a parenting plan with the court. Those parents who do not submit a plan would have to attend an education program to help them become aware of the post-separation reaction and detrimental impact that divorce has on children and the child's developmental needs at different ages. These parents would learn about the benefits of cooperative parenting after divorce and of mediation, and other forms of dispute resolution mechanisms available to them. By requiring a parenting plan, parents would be forced to at least consider the children by attempting to work out an agreement with each other.

Recommendations 15 and 16 are also very important. They call for amendments to the Divorce Act to require parents and judges to consider the best interests of the child and provides a list of criteria for deliberation. Recommendation 26 says:

...in matters relating to parenting under the Divorce Act, the importance of the presence of both parties at any proceeding be recognized and emphasized, and that reliance on ex parte proceedings be restricted as much as possible. Ex parte orders are directives issued by judges after only having heard one side of the story in a court case. These types of court orders are only supposed to be used under rare and exceptional circumstances, however all too often they are issued based upon false testimony.

The one area in which I find myself in disagreement with the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access is on the issue of presumption. Again, this is an area on which the minister touched on in his remarks. The report says that the committee did not believe the courts should be constrained by presuming, because in divorce, one size cannot fit all. I believe it is somewhat of a contradiction to state that shared parenting should be the norm, but we should not presume both parents are good parents and therefore quite capable of properly raising their children.

To those opposed to this presumption, I say that our entire justice system is based upon a fundamental basic presumption. We are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is not up to those accused to prove their innocence in court. It is up to the Crown to prove their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. It therefore puzzles, frustrates and angers me that the court does not apply the same principles consistently to divorcing couples. If both parents were believed to be good parents prior to separation, then why should the courts not presume them to be after divorce?

If we were to begin from the premise that shared parenting is in the best interests of the children, then the natural conclusion is that we must presume that both parents would be worthy of maximum contact with their children unless proven otherwise.

That being said, the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access is a quite a valuable document with lots of sensible proposals put forward despite the few areas I would like to see more heavily emphasized.

The members of the committee, regardless of political affiliation, and I know, Mr. Speaker, because you sat on that committee yourself, worked collaboratively on writing a persuasive report. Shamefully the government has dragged its heels on implementing these critical changes. It has taken over four years for the government to finally table legislation, but what it has presented before us is a shy and timid representation of what the report called for.

Let me explain by going over the government's reforms to family law. The first change would remove the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act. At first glance this appears to be a positive change however upon closer examination we find the terms are replaced with parenting order and contact order. Whether this change is merely semantics is anyone's guess. We do know that it is not shared parenting and it would not provide a presumption that children deserve access to both of their parents after a separation. If the government were serious about reforming divorce law it would not simply play around with the wording of the legislation.

The government has removed the maximum contact principle in subsection 16(10) of the existing legislation that would require judges to ensure children receive as much time with each parent as possible. In Bill C-22 there are no clauses that would replace this maximum contact principle.

The one area where the government's bill vaguely mentions this principle is in a new section that would require judges to consider the overall best interests of the child when granting a parenting order. The list of criteria overall is not bad. It loosely implements recommendations 16 and 17 of the committee's report, however, having a judge consider the amount of contact a child has with a parent along with 11 other decisive factors weakens a very important principle. It must be complimented with stronger statements in other sections of the bill.

Overall the criteria which comprises the best interests of children in clause 16.2 of the bill is nearly identical to those recommended in the committee's report. It provides a helpful guide to judges when deciding on parenting arrangements for children after a separation. One specific criterion was not mentioned in the “For the Sake of the Children” report. The government took the liberty of adding “The history of care for the child”, as another decisive factor for the courts to consider.

For all intents and purposes a spousal agreement regarding the care a child receiving preceding a divorce has absolutely nothing to do with what parents would agree to is appropriate care after divorce. Understandably couples make tough decisions when children enter their lives. They must decide who will take care of the child and who will continue to work to provide an income. For most families the higher income earner will continue to work outside of the home or perhaps a parent who has better than most maternity or paternity benefits will stay home with the child.

Parenting arrangements before divorce should have no relevance on the care a child will receive after a separation between parents. By examining Bill C-22 it is apparent that the government has gone through the “For the Sake of the Children” report selectively choosing which recommendations it wishes to legislate. If the government wants to provide Canadians with the real change that they are so desperately seeking, it should have brought forward a bill including all the relevant recommendations. After four years even the government should have been able to do much better.

Since becoming a member of Parliament I have worked very hard to change the Divorce Act to allow children a better opportunity to be with both parents after separation. I have introduced a private member's bill on the subject some five times since 1996. In 2001 my bill overcame many obstacles to finally be debated on the floor of the House of Commons.

Even then the government turned its back on the children of divorce. As I mentioned earlier, it argued that by using a one size fits all approach to parenting after divorce would hurt children in the end. It will use the same old argument, indeed the minister did already this morning, against shared parenting.

It is true that for each divorce case before the courts there are individual circumstances that must be considered, but we must acknowledge the assumption that both parents deserve an equal role in raising their children.

Just before I get to my summary, I want to refer to another letter that I received. I think this letter probably went to all members of Parliament of all parties. I will not have enough time to read the entire letter but I think members will get the drift. The letter is dated July 2, 2000 and it was sent to the Prime Minister. It reads:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

I am the 14-year-old daughter of Darrin White, the father who recently took his life in British Columbia as a result of the frustration and hopelessness caused in dealing with Canada's family justice system. Although the justice system was not 100 percent the cause of his death, based on what I and members of my family have seen, it was the biggest factor. My father took his life mostly in part because of the injustices being perpetrated against him by what many Canadians say is a biased and morally corrupt Canadian family justice system. Our family justice system seems to allow good fathers to be destroyed while it allows vindictive and revengeful mothers to rule over the court.

Prior to my father's death, he told me of the anguish he was going through trying to see his children. He told me of the abuse that his wife subjected him to. She did not want him to have a relationship even with me, his own daughter, because she was jealous. He told me of the frustration in dealing with the courts and the lawyers. He told me how the court did nothing except put further barriers to him seeing his children.

As a young Canadian I can only say that I am utterly ashamed to see how the country I call Canada treats fathers in its courts. It is a disgrace! I know my father was a good man and a good father. He did not deserve to be pushed over the edge as he was. He did not deserve to be kept from seeing his children. He obviously reached a point where he could see that justice was beyond his reach and for reasons that only God will know, decided that taking his life was the only way to end his suffering.

From what I have learned about the family justice system in this country, Canada is not the home of the proud and the free. In my view, Canada has become a safe haven for corrupt lawyers and biased judges who think nothing about the lives of the children and parents they destroy every day in our family courts.

I have learned that Canada's Justice Minister...has been stalling legislation about shared parenting which is intended to prevent the kind of tragedy that has been forced upon my family. I understand that a special committee recommended that the justice department should promote a concept called shared parenting. If shared parenting had been in place before my father took his life and if our system of justice guaranteed the rights of children to see their parents, I have no doubt in my mind that my loving father would be alive today. All he wanted was to see his children, but it seems that our justice system would not give him that.

The letter goes on and on. This is from the 14 year old daughter of a gentleman who felt his only way out was to commit suicide. It was signed by Ashlee Barnett-White, the daughter of Darrin White from Prince George in my riding.

In summary, the Canadian Alliance is opposed to Bill C-22 as it is presently worded for the following reasons.

First, Bill C-22 completely misses the basic fundamental principle laid out in the report “For the Sake of the Children”, that modern Canadian society is best reflected by shared parenting.

Second, Bill C-22 would not ensure that our courts and judges receive the direction that first and foremost it is in the best interests of the children to maintain maximum contact with both parents following divorce.

Third, Bill C-22's passing reference to the relationships between children of divorce and siblings and grandparents in clause 16.2(i) is insufficient to ensure the survival of those vital relationships following divorce.

Fourth, any agreement made between the parents regarding the best parenting arrangement prior to separation and divorce is completely irrelevant following separation and therefore any reference should be removed from clause 16.2(c).

Fifth, Bill C-22 drops the so-called friendly parent rule that at least provided some direction to the courts.

For those and many other inadequacies addressed in the 48 recommendation of the “For the Sake of the Children” report, we will be proposing substantive amendments at committee stage to fix these deficiencies.

I sincerely hope that, unlike so many previous bills on so many issues that I have seen go through the House in the last nine years that I have been an MP, the government will allow those amendments to pass so that not only the Canadian Alliance can support Bill C-22 but all Canadians.

I also have an amendment. I move, seconded by the member for Edmonton North:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:

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 not now read a second time but that the order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2003 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that 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.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa and the Francophonie for his support for this important bill.

I am most pleased to rise today to begin debate at second reading of Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act and other Acts in consequence. As I have already mentioned clearly on numerous occasions, these reforms deal first and foremost with children.

In December I announced that the federal government would be providing $163 million over five years to support the child-centred family justice strategy. This bill deals with two of the three pillars of this strategy: legislative reforms to the Divorce Act and expanding the unified family courts.

Combined with family justice services, which received $63 million from the government, this bill will allow us to fulfill our commitment from the 2002 Speech from the Throne to improve Canada's family justice system.

The breakup of a marriage often leads to tremendous stress and suffering. Every member of the family undergoes an extremely intense emotional experience. Unfortunately, those who are often the most directly affected by the stress of a family breakup are the children.

This child-centred family justice strategy will attenuate the often negative effects of separation and divorce on children by providing parents with new tools to carry out their parental responsibilities in the best interests of the child.

When parents are unable to resolve their problems on their own and must turn to the courts, this strategy will help to put in place a simpler legal system, expand services, and provide access to expanded information programs and services, public legal information programs, and professional training to make it easier to determine what is in the child's best interests.

In this context, Bill C-22 promotes an approach based on the needs of children. It reaffirms that solely the child's interests must be considered when decisions about the child's care and education are made. It drops the terms “child custody” and “access”. These terms reinforce the notion of “winners and losers” in a context and at a time when it is important to minimize conflicts between the parents and promote their cooperation, whenever possible.

Rather, this bill introduces a new approach to parenting arrangements for children. This new approach is based on “parental responsibilities”. It is flexible and allows parents and the courts to establish the best interests of each child, as well as how responsibilities regarding a child's needs and education must be exercised.

Each parenting agreement or parenting order could grant “parenting time”, which is the time during which each parent is responsible for the child. Each parenting order could also grant one parent, or both parents, decision-making responsibilities regarding the child's health care, education, religion and other matters. The court will also be able to include a dispute resolution process in a parenting order for future disputes regarding parenting arrangements, if the process has been agreed to by the persons who are to be bound by that process.

Our approach, however, does not presume that any one parenting arrangement is better than others. We believe that such presumptions tend to focus on parental rights rather than on what is in the best interests of a particular child, which we believe should be the key aspect that we should focus on.

In its report, the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access rejected the use of legal presumptions when it comes to parenting arrangements and stated:

In view of the diversity of families facing divorce in Canada today, it would be presumptuous and detrimental to many to establish a “one size fits all” formula for parenting arrangements after separation and divorce.

The Government of Canada agrees with the special joint committee. Therefore the proposed approach allows for a wide variety of parenting arrangements that can be tailored and should be tailored to each child's needs.

It is important that any new Divorce Act concept not be interpreted as preferring a particular parenting arrangement. 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.

Bill C-22 also introduces some specific criteria respecting the needs and circumstances of the child, in keeping with the recommendation of the special joint committee. This list of best interests criteria reflects the bill's child centred approach.

The statutory list is intended to help parents make child focused parenting arrangements and to assist family justice system professionals in helping parents through mediation or parenting education courses. Also, legal professionals will be guided by the criteria which provide a foundation for their discussions with parents and any negotiations about parenting decisions.

Finally, the bill directs judges to consider the list of factors when assessing each child's best interests. All relevant factors must be considered including, but not limited to, those specifically mentioned in the bill. The criteria are not prioritized, reflecting the principle that there should be no presumptions. The weight to be given to each individual criteria will depend on the needs and circumstances of the particular child.

Everyone agrees that children need the love and attention of both parents but even such basic principles can become complicated in some situations. The benefit to the child of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with both parents is indeed an important factor for the court to consider and is included in the list of best interests criteria.

The current maximum contact principle has had the unintended effect of discouraging parents from disclosing the existence of family violence. As a result, and consistent with the recommendation of the special joint committee, the importance of the relationship between a parent and a child has been included in the best interests list, to be weighed and balanced along with other factors that speak to the best interests of the child.

Children also require a safe environment. The difficulties that children experience when their parents separate or divorce can be compounded by the presence of family violence. We all agree that family violence is a serious problem and that all too often children are its silent victims, whether through direct experience or harmful exposure to it. This is why the best interests list identifies violence against members of the family as a factor to be considered.

Furthermore, family violence is defined in a non-exhaustive manner, and the bill clarifies that the civil standard of proof will be used to ensure that all relevant evidence is considered.

While it will always be important, in assessing the best interests of the child, to weigh this factor against other important considerations, in some cases due to the severity, persistence or impact of family violence, this criterion and the need to ensure a child's safety may be given primary consideration in a parenting order.

In light of concerns about the issue of family violence, the current past conduct rules of subsection 16(9) of the Divorce Act would be removed. However it is not that this would change the longstanding rule that conduct should only be considered if it is relevant to the ability of a person to act as a parent to the child. The best interests criteria require the courts to consider the ability of individuals to care for and meet the needs of the child. There is no requirement to consider conduct that is irrelevant to the best interest of the child.

Many important factors are included in the best interests list. Although I cannot comment on all of them today, I would like to stress the importance of considering a child's views and preferences to the extent that these can be reasonably ascertained. As one young person put it during our public consultations, “Don't make decisions for us; make them with us”. Adults have an obligation to create situations that encourage children to talk without fear of recrimination, and children should not be forced to choose one parent over the other.

The bill also introduces a new type of order, a contact order. Contact orders will apply to individuals such as grandparents who wish to maintain a significant relationship with a child and who need a court order to facilitate this. Like parenting orders, contact orders will be governed solely by the child's best interests. As is currently the case, leave from the court will be required to make an application for a contact order to discourage adversarial and unnecessary litigation.

I will now move on to one of the essential components of the family justice system, namely the duties of lawyers. Often lawyers are the ones parents turn to for advice in the event of family breakdown.

In order to facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the strategy, this bill also proposes an expanded role for lawyers. In addition to informing the parents about mediation services, they will also have to provide information on family justice services such as parenting courses. As a result, parents will be more aware of the existence of alternative solutions.

As well, lawyers will be required to explain to their clients their obligation to comply with any court orders under the Divorce Act. We have heard of too many cases of parental non-compliance with orders, whether in connection with financial obligations or their responsibilities as a parent to put their child's interests first.

These new provisions acknowledge the important role which lawyers have played, and continue to play, in recommending cooperation between the parties and respect for the law.

Bill C-22 also establishes a new procedure for making variations to a support order when the parents live in different provinces or territories or one lives outside the country.

It is particularly complicated to use the services of a lawyer in a jurisdiction other than one's own, so the bill facilitates the process for families in this situation by making it possible to make a written application accompanied by evidence to the jurisdiction of the beneficiary. The court with jurisdiction over the area in which the respondent resides will request provision of supporting documents by the respondent.

If additional evidence is required from either party, the court may obtain this in the fairest and most expeditious manner possible, for instance by conference call.

Children also need to be protected from the economic consequences of family breakdown. This means there must be assurance that the financial assistance required for their care is received in full and on time.

Many parents continue to fulfil their parental obligations after separation. Nevertheless, the problem of deliberate non-compliance with parental obligations remains.

In addition to the changes to be made to the Divorce Act, there will also be amendments to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act with a view to enhancing the efficacy of the programs for enforcing support orders.

A major change to the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act is that family support obligations take priority over other judgment debts. This is an unequivocal acknowledgement that the needs of the child are a priority and reinforces our government's child-centred family justice strategy.

Additionally, the effectiveness of federal enforcement legislation is reduced when a child support debtor does not file a tax return. Consequently, federal legislation will be amended to introduce a mechanism to require a child support debtor to file a tax return.

These are the major components of only one of the pillars of the child-centred family justice strategy. The second pillar of our strategy is the expansion of the Unified Family Courts.

As the name suggests, Unified Family Courts unite jurisdiction over all family law matters within one court. Currently, a family undergoing marital breakdown must turn to the Superior Court for a divorce and division of family property. The court that has jurisdiction to grant interim support and custody is either the provincial court or the Superior Court, depending upon whether an application for divorce has been filed. This division of jurisdiction is indeed confusing for families. Under our proposed strategy, one court that specializes in family law issues will deal with all issues related to one family's separation and divorce.

The UFC also offers the benefits of a specialized bench. The judges of the Unified Family Court are experts in family law. These specialist judges fully appreciate the extent to which a decision may affect all the members of a family and are committed to achieving better outcomes through effective use of court processes and family justice services.

The bill would amend the Judges Act to provide resources for 62 additional judges for Unified Family Courts, a commitment that would permit significant expansion of these courts across the country. Various forms of the UFC currently exist in seven Canadian jurisdictions, and interest in this model continues to be strong given the benefits it offers.

One goal of the UFC is to encourage the resolution of issues in a constructive and less adversarial forum to the greatest extent possible. Integral to achieving this goal is the availability of family law services, either attached to the court itself or based within the community. For example, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and conciliation can result in settlements that satisfy all parties and are achieved in a non-adversarial setting.

In conclusion, developing this strategy, as elaborated in our legislation, will take time. There will be a legal framework to support these changes, but they will not come about on their own.

It is sometimes difficult to change the collective mindset. Putting the emphasis on the interests of the child and parental responsibilities—and not on rights—promoting parental cooperation, reducing conflicts and ensuring the security of families will be at the forefront of all our efforts to promote positive outcomes for children who go through breakups.

The federal government cannot do this alone. As a society, we must make an effort to reduce the human, social and economic cost of divorce and separation, and develop a broader and more integrated system of family law that supports families in transition and reduces the vulnerability of children.

Bill C-22 will greatly contribute to meeting the needs of Canadian families. I recommend that the House pass this bill.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

January 30th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, let me start with the parliamentary agenda.

We will continue this afternoon with Bill C-13, the reproductive technologies bill, followed by, if there is time, Bill C-20, the child protection bill, as well as Bill C-22, the family law bill.

Tomorrow, we will call third reading of Bill C-3 regarding the Canada pension plan. The next item will be Bill C-6, the bill regarding specific claims for aboriginal people.

On Monday, we would return, if necessary, to Bills C-6, C-20 and C-13. We will continue this business on Tuesday morning, but in any case at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, it is my intention to call Bill C-22, the family law bill.

I will be consulting with a view to returning at some point to debate on the Senate amendments to Bill C-10A, the Criminal Code amendments.

On Wednesday, we will continue the debate on Bills C-13 and C-19 if necessary, at whatever stages they are at then.

I wish to announce that Thursday shall be an allotted day.

Colleagues across the way particularly have asked about what they claim to be a principle that military intervention has a vote. I have a number of them here.

For Korea in 1950, there was no resolution in the House and no vote. For Sinai in 1956, there was no vote. For the Congo in 1960, a recorded vote was asked for but no division was held. For Cyprus in 1964, there was a debate before deployment, the motion was agreed to on division with no recorded vote. For the Middle East in 1973, the motion was agreed to with no division and no recorded vote. For the UNIFIL mission in 1978, there was no motion and no vote. For Iran-Iraq in 1988, the motion was agreed to with no division. For Namibia in 1989, there was no vote. For the Persian Gulf in 1990, it was debated after deployment, with a recorded vote and a division.

There were many cases where there were no votes, no debate, no uniformity.

We have established the coherent system which we enjoy today. We have utilized it as late as last night.

I am also prepared to offer to other parties, should they want it at some point, perhaps as early as next week, yet another evening to debate the situation in Iraq. I know many colleagues on my side of the House would like that. We are quite prepared to offer that.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

January 27th, 2003 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, while being totally happy about the continuing support we will be getting from the opposition for our legislation, let me indicate to the House the legislative program for the following days.

This afternoon we will continue the consideration of Bill C-20, the child protection legislation. If and when this is completed, we will then turn to Bill C-19, the first nations' fiscal bill in the name of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Tomorrow we will commence report stage of Bill C-13, the reproductive technologies legislation. On Wednesday we will call report stage of Bill C-6, the specific claims bill. On Thursday we will resume consideration of legislation not completed and add to the agenda Bill C-22, the family law bill. On Friday, my present plans are to call Bill C-3 respecting the Canada pension plan.

Consultations have taken place between the parties. I believe that you will find unanimous consent for the following motion that I would now like to move for a take note debate.

I move:

That, Wednesday, January 29, 2003, a debate pursuant to Standing Order 53.1 shall take place concerning the situation in Iraq and, that after 9:00 p.m. on the said day, the Chair shall not receive any dilatory motions or quorum calls.

Business of the HouseThe Royal Assent

December 12th, 2002 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, my response will not be in prose and verse. I just have not been hit yet with the attack of Jingle Bells , which undoubtedly seems to be striking here and there in the House.

We will continue this afternoon with the prebudget debate.

Tomorrow we shall consider report stage of Bill C-3, the Canada pension plan amendments. If there is any time left, we would then proceed with Bill C-15 respecting lobbyists. I intend to speak to other House leaders about that.

I shall communicate directly with members concerning the order of business, when we return from the adjournment on January 27. This will include any of the aforementioned business not completed, which includes: Bill C-3 and Bill C-15, obviously; Bill C-2, the Yukon bill; Bill C-6, specific claims; Bill C-10, the Criminal Code amendment; Bill C-19, the first nations bill; Bill C-20, protection of children; Bill C-22, the divorce legislation; and Bill C-23 respecting certain offenders.

As members can see, there are lots of items on the legislative agenda.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my best wishes for the holiday season and, of course, a happy new year 2003 to all hon. members, our staff and pages, not to mention the busboys.

Divorce ActRoutine Proceedings

December 10th, 2002 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved for leave to introduce 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

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)