Thank you very much, and thanks for having me.
I'm a co-founder with Mr. Colman of Lawyers for Shared Parenting, and I'm here today on behalf of the Canadian Association for Equality.
In 2014, I participated in the drafting of Bill C-560. I was the one who came up with the operative language of a presumption, unless it could be established on evidence that the needs of the children would be substantially enhanced by a different parenting plan. That remains, in my view and the view of many you're hearing from, how to advance the best interests of children.
The fact of the matter is that adding a list of other criteria and continuing to hear about a unique and individualized approach in each case will subject the children of this country to a continuation of the litigious environment that results in the conflict that all the studies say is the principle damage to the children. They won't be damaged by equal parenting. They're damaged by the conflict over two parents, one of whom wishes to be the primary parent, hence the litigation, and the other one who is willing to share the child and co-parent.
In a sense, while you've heard from an organization representing 36,000 lawyers, you should hear from your constituents.
For over 20 years, public opinion poll after public opinion poll has reiterated that the Canadian public has a terrible experience with the current system, and that is on par with public opinion polls across North America. The current system does not work to advance the best interests of children. It says that's the goal, but in practice, if you're a family lawyer seeing what happens out there, the current system damages children. It forces parents to triangulate the children. It causes conflict. It is maintained at immense cost, billions and billions of dollars.
There is no science that substantiates that anybody, including a judge, can say that a particular parent should see the children 37.2% of the time. The only science...and I'll differ from Ms. Landau on this. Peer-reviewed journal research, very robust, almost indisputable, and ratified by experts from around the world, substantiates that the closer you get to two primary parents after separation, the better the outcome for children. That research is thorough and cannot be minimized on sample sizes. You have to see it yourself.
The committee is getting submissions from Professor Fabricius, who drafted Arizona's legislation, from Professor Kruk and from Professor Nielsen. The joint submission of which CAFE is a part also highlights some of the leading research.
The current system is built on a series of assumptions that don't play out in real life. It produces arbitrary results depending on what judge you get, what their background is, and the day. Are they young? Are they from an urban centre? Is your case being litigated in the countryside? Which province is your case being litigated in? Those produce arbitrary results that are contrary to the goals of the legislation.
The legislation is premised, and you can tell that from the presentations you've heard today, on all the facts getting before the court and a judge somehow having the ability, in a three-day trial or a four-day trial, to figure it out.
In practice, it's not what happens. Budgets are limited. Over half of family law litigants are self-represented. When people represent themselves against a lawyer, the true family saga will never make it to the judge. Judges themselves, when they are polled and when commissions and studies are done, say they also doubt about whether they're getting it right. There are no retrospective studies of families coming through the system to determine whether today's system is working or not. Look at child outcomes three years out or five years out. The only science that's there supports equal shared parenting.
In terms of public opinion, over half or close to half of families today will get separated, so you're talking over 10 million people who will be affected, and millions and millions of children. Their actual experience with today's system trumps the experience of 36,000 lawyers.
For 20 years the public has been telling us it's not working. You're either going through a separation yourself, or a sibling or a cousin or a best friend is. No one is satisfied with the current system.
The proposed changes in Bill C-78—the technical ones—are pretty good. You can't argue with a lot of the stuff that's there, but it was put forward as a means of advancing the best interests of children, and it fails to make any fundamental change. If you start with a system that's broken, because it's built on a series of failed assumptions, you can't rescue it with technical language. You have to try to understand the better way to do it.
If you have a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting.... Domestic violence issues live harmoniously today with the maximum contact principle. It doesn't stand in the way and doesn't impact on that. Same with equal shared parenting—it can live harmoniously with provisions designed to capture and separate situations where that's a concern, like alcoholism or absenteeism or a parent who is an investment banker travelling all the time.
Equal shared parenting is not for everyone, but it is for about 90% to 95% of the families who litigate. When you look at what they're asking for, they're close, but one wants to be the primary parent. We taxpayers of Canada are all paying for that. It's a very expensive system with no science to determine that it produces optimum results or even results that can justify the cost. The only science and the views of the public who live with the system.... The true experts are the public. They really don't like it and they don't like it right across North America.
There are currently proposals for equal shared parenting in at least half the States. Kentucky has introduced the first true rebuttable presumption of equal parenting. The public opinion polls and the experiences are great. Arizona had something similar about four or five years ago, and from all their polling and the results since, everybody's happy with it. Australia has been put forward as an example but maybe that's not the case. That's not what happened there. There was no problem with the equal parenting. There was a political dynamic.
No matter how you look at it, there's no meat, no evidence behind the objections to equal parenting, and there's so much for it. It will save our children from conflict, it will accord with the will of the public—that's why we're here—and it will fit the science.
I will have a printed presentation. It will be filed within the next day or two, and then I know it has to be translated, but I'll respect the time allotment today and any questions you have.