An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

Sponsor

Status

Report stage (House), as of Dec. 7, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-78.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Divorce Act to, among other things,

(a) replace terminology related to custody and access with terminology related to parenting;

(b) establish a non-exhaustive list of criteria with respect to the best interests of the child;

(c) create duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes;

(d) introduce measures to assist the courts in addressing family violence;

(e) establish a framework for the relocation of a child; and

(f) simplify certain processes, including those related to family support obligations.

The enactment also amends the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act to, among other things,

(a) allow the release of information to help obtain and vary a support provision;

(b) expand the release of information to other provincial family justice government entities;

(c) permit the garnishment of federal moneys to recover certain expenses related to family law; and

(d) extend the binding period of a garnishee summons.

The enactment also amends those two Acts to implement

(a) the Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children, concluded at The Hague on October 19, 1996; and

(b) the Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, concluded at The Hague on November 23, 2007.

The enactment also amends the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act to, among other things,

(a) give priority to family support obligations; and

(b) simplify the processes under the Act.

Finally, this enactment also includes transitional provisions and makes consequential amendments to the Criminal Code.

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.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's East.

I am pleased to rise today as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice to speak to an important aspect of Bill C-78, which is poverty reduction.

Over two million Canadian children live in separated or divorced families. Of these, lone-parent families are the most financially vulnerable of all family types and are more likely to depend upon social assistance.

There are couple of other important statistics.

Right now, there is well over $1 billion in support payment arrears in this country. In the vast majority of such cases, 96% of all such cases, the arrears relate to money owed by men to women.

The data on the economic challenges of single parenthood are quite stark. In 2016, the median net worth of Canadian couples with children under 18 was over $300,000, while the median net worth of single-parent families was less than one-sixth of that, $57,200.

Separation and divorce can cause a financial crisis for some families. The benefits of sharing family expenses often disappear as a second home must be established. Some parents need to significantly change their work hours to accommodate their changed parenting schedule, which can affect their income and their employment opportunities. This is what I hear when I speak to families in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I hear far too often from single mothers who are struggling to access spousal and child support after a marital breakdown. Bill C-78 will directly benefit these residents of my community and the residents of so many other communities in a similar situation right across Canada. It will help lift those individuals, whether they are mothers or children, out of poverty. It will mean less time fighting out support payments in court, which is costly and time consuming, and creates a court backlog. It will mean more tools to allow single parents to identify and locate the assets of their former spouses, and more tools to enforce the actual payment of spousal and child support to single parents and their children.

Allow me to explain. I want to first turn to the payment of child support reducing the risk of poverty.

The sooner a fair and accurate amount of child support is established after parents separate and payments are made, the better the outcomes are for the child in question. The payment of child support is a key factor in reducing the risk of child poverty, especially for low-income, single-parent families.

Parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially after separation or divorce. Children have a legal right to that support. Federal, provincial and territorial child support laws require parents to disclose specific income information, including income tax returns, and set out penalties and consequences if a parent fails to disclose this information. This includes imputing income, which means that the parent’s income is assumed to be a certain amount for child support purposes, and the child support order is based on that income.

Most parents dutifully meet their legal obligations. However, some parents do not provide complete and accurate income information, despite the possible penalties and consequences. This is a significant issue that has serious consequences for children and families going through the family justice system, as well as for the system as a whole.

Family law practitioners and judges often say that income disclosure issues are one of the most contentious areas of family law. Failure to comply with disclosure obligations can put significant pressure on the family justice system. It may also discourage parents from reaching agreements through family dispute resolution processes, such as mediation. If income cannot be properly determined at the outset, it may also prevent families from benefiting from other family justice services such as administrative child support calculation or recalculation services.

I want to turn now to the costs associated with the non-disclosure of income.

The financial and emotional costs to parents seeking income disclosure are significant. They are legally entitled to financial information from the other parent. However, when financial disclosure is not made, they must ask a court to order that the information be provided. This creates significant costs for families and can lead to overburdening of the family justice system, including the courts. The other parent may still not disclose his or her income information, even after the court has ordered it. In these situations, the court may then impute the income of the other parent.

Although imputing income may work adequately in some situations, it is very difficult for the court to determine a fair amount of support that reflects a parent's true ability to pay in the absence of complete and up-to-date income information. Imputing income may result in child support amounts that are too high, which, in many situations, will not be paid or result in support payments that are too low and thereby prevent children from benefiting from the support of both parents.

Consistent with our government's commitment to poverty reduction and to meeting the needs of low- and middle-income families, Bill C-78 would bring much needed changes to middle-class Canadians. It would limit the negative consequences of income-related disputes for the family justice system and parents. Bill C-78 also proposes much needed changes to help reduce child poverty.

I will turn to one aspect of the law that would be amended here, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. Amendments to this act would ensure that a separating or divorcing parent's failure to meet their income disclosure obligations would not prevent the establishment of a fair and accurate amount of support. We would amend this particular law to allow the federal government to release an individual's income information, including information from tax returns, to a court for the purpose of establishing, varying, or enforcing a support provision.

The income information to be released would be listed in the regulations, and important safeguards would be included in the act. An application for information under this legislation would not be permitted if the court were of the view that a release of information would jeopardize the safety and security of any person. Where information is released to a court, it must be sealed and kept in a place to which the public has no access.

The release of this income information would help ensure that child support amounts reflect the parent's true capacity to pay. It would also reduce legal costs associated with ensuring income disclosure for a parent, as well as the associated use of court resources. Child support orders would be made more quickly, more accurately, with less conflict and less expense, helping the very women I mentioned at the outset, the 96% of recipients of spousal and child support in Canada who are women.

The legislative amendments we are proposing will also allow the disclosure of income information to child support recalculation services. Recent information on a parent's income is needed so that those provincial and territorial recalculation services, which provide an administrative service, can do their job. They are an important tool in ensuring access to justice for parents who pay or receive child support. These services help update child support amounts through a process that is fast, more effective, low cost and non adversarial.

These recalculation services recalculate the amounts indicated in child support orders and agreements based on a parent's current income. However, they cannot proceed with the recalculation on income allocated or when no income information has been provided. In such cases, parents have to go through the courts to amend the child support amount.

These amendments to the act will reduce costs, not only for parents but also for the justice system, by allowing administrative services to recalculate to obtain the income information they need. Agreements with the provinces and territories on the disclosure of information will be updated in order to guarantee the protection of income information disclosed to the services responsible for doing the recalculation.

Bill C-78 also proposes amendments to the garnishment provisions. This act provides for the payment of salaries and pension benefits payable to current and former federal employees to another person to help satisfy family support. Amendments to the legislation would help reduce child poverty by making the process more efficient so that families receive the support they are entitled to in a timely manner. For example, the amendments would prioritize garnishment for family support debts over all other debts, other than debts to the Crown, which allow for earlier garnishment where possible.

In conclusion, separation and divorce can be difficult emotionally and financially for families and children. That most Canadians dutifully meet their obligations when it comes to both the establishment and payment of child support is a testament to our society's values. However, when parties cannot agree on what their obligations should be, our family justice system should be there to help resolve those issues. Federal enforcement legislation is there to help when parties do not meet their support obligations. That is exactly what Bill C-78 would do. I am proud to support it, and I urge all members of the House to do the same.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, the member for Dufferin—Caledon raises a very important point. What we are doing with Bill C-78 is providing more tools in the toolbox to allow better access to and disclosure of financial information. Clearly, there are and will remain instances in which people seek to evade such disclosure, which could happen in many different cases.

However, with this legislation we are responding to the concerns we have heard from Canadians from coast to coast to coast that they need better tools and better information sharing between different components of government and departments to access that information. Then it is for the courts through the provisions already provided for in the law to ensure enforceability of that, including imputing income where necessary for those who still withhold information.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 10:35 a.m.
See context

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, family law is obviously a matter of dual jurisdiction. This issue of family law is a matter of shared jurisdiction between the provinces and the federal government. Issues of divorce and marriage are a matter of federal jurisdiction. The issue of separations that do not include divorce, for example, are a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

We have worked diligently on this bill with our FPT colleagues and collaboratively at various ministerial meetings with the provinces and territories. A component of the enforceability will continue to reside with the courts, as administered in the provinces and territories, consistent with the jurisdictional division of powers under our constitutional provisions. It will be a collaborative effort.

However, what is important to emphasize with regard to Bill C-78 is that we are giving more tools and strengthening the enforcement that is available to the very provincial actors that my friend has mentioned, to the courts that are on the front lines of the important work being done on the family law front and, importantly, not necessarily forcing people to get involved in the courts at the first instance, thereby reducing the costs, the court backlog and the necessity of seeking enforcement. We are creating more tools outside of the court structure that people can access to pursue their rights under this regime.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 10:35 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-78 and the significant contribution it would make to improve the accessibility and efficiency of the family justice system.

As mentioned, federal family laws have not been updated substantially in over 20 years and changes are long overdue. Access to justice is a priority for our government and access to family justice is a key component of achieving that. Costs, delays, and complex procedures can make it difficult for Canadians to have access to justice. Along with the expansion of the unified family courts and sustained funding for family justice services, Bill C-78 is part of our government's commitment to improving access to justice for families going through separation and divorce. Under the pen of retired Supreme Court Justice Cromwell, the action committee on access to justice in civil and family matters stated that early management of legal issues and encouraging informal dispute resolution were key to improving access to justice.

Bill C-78 recognizes the need to improve access to justice and offers guidance, information and tools to help families going through separation and divorce, including people who represent themselves, as well as lawyers and courts involved in family law issues.

Bill C-78 encourages the use of family dispute resolution processes. These are defined as out-of-court processes used by parties to help them resolve their family law disputes. Negotiation, mediation and collaborative law are examples of such processes. These are often less expensive and faster than litigation and allow parents to actively participate in creating arrangements that are in the child's best interests.

Part of the role lawyers play is to ensure that parents who have family law issues have the relevant information on family dispute resolution. Bill C-78 would create a duty for lawyers to tell parents about family justice services that could help them resolve their disputes, and to encourage them to try family dispute resolution where appropriate.

In addition, if the case is before the court, the bill gives judges the option to refer parents to family dispute resolution where available. Bill C-78 also introduces duties for parents involved in a family law matter to try to resolve their issues through a family dispute resolution process where appropriate.

That said, family dispute resolution processes may not be appropriate in all circumstances, including where there is family violence. For this reason, Bill C-78 only encourages the use of these procedures where appropriate. Courts and lawyers must evaluate each of these situations on a case-by-case basis and take into account families' circumstances, including whether there is family violence, before encouraging the use of family dispute resolution. In addition, other service providers, such as certified mediators, play a critical role in screening for family violence and power imbalances in order to promote a fair and equitable process.

There are numerous ways that Bill C-78 would facilitate the resolution of family disputes and help parents reach out of court agreements focused on the best interests of their children. For example, it proposes changes to custody and access language, the definitions in the old version of the act, to use terminology that is more neutral and child focused and reflects the actual tasks of parenting, such as parenting time and other terms used in the act. It also includes a non-exhaustive list of criteria to help determine what is in the child's best interest, as well as criteria to assist parents dealing with relocation issues. This additional information will help parents make informed and child-focused decisions and better understand what the outcome might be if they were to go to court. This in turn is intended to help reduce litigation.

Our government is bringing forward some innovative thinking to help improve the family justice system. There are issues currently determined by courts that are administrative in nature and that could be handled outside of the court. Bill C-78 will expand the range of matters that child support services may address and will allow them to perform tasks currently that were in the sole purview of the court itself.

Many provinces and territories have child support services that recalculate support orders, for instance. Bill C-78 proposes several measures to make these services more efficient. This includes the recalculation of interim child support amounts in Divorce Act orders. In addition, the bill would allow child support services to recalculate child support amounts at the request of a parent, for example, if there were a job loss. Currently, the Divorce Act requires that recalculation be done only at fixed or regular dates.

The bill also includes a new approach allowing for the calculation of initial child support amounts by provincial or territorial child support services, where possible. This will allow administrative services, as opposed to courts, to calculate, based on relevant income information, child support amounts based on child support guidelines.

These proposed additions and improvements to the Divorce Act would make it easier, less costly and less adversarial to determine or recalculate child support amounts.

Changing Divorce Act orders when parties live in different jurisdictions can also be costly and cumbersome for families. Bill C-78 proposes to improve the process to change a support order for parties living in different provinces or territories.

Currently, two courts are involved, a court in the applicant's province that makes a provisional order and a court in the respondent's jurisdiction that confirms the order. The new process would involve only one court and would eliminate the need for the current first stage hearing, thereby saving time and money. Because this new system mirrors that in most provinces and territories, it would also ensure consistency whether interjurisdictional proceedings are conducted under the provincial legislation or under the Divorce Act.

The bill also includes provisions to improve processes in international child support cases. These changes are an essential step for Canada to become party to the 2007 Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, which was signed in May 2017.

The 2007 convention is an international agreement that provides a low-cost and efficient legal framework for cross-border establishment, modification, recognition and enforcement of family support obligations. It will be of particular interest to Canadian families and children, as it provides a means for a parent to obtain child support from a former spouse living in a different country.

Another way in which Bill C-78 would increase access to justice and improve the efficiency of the family justice system is by amending the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. This act is used to help parents enforce support. The bill proposes to amend it to permit, in certain limited circumstances, the release of income information when parents do not provide it.

Accurate income information is key to determining fair child support amounts. This change would help to accurately determine child support amounts and enforce support orders, as well as to reduce time spent in court to obtain this information. Proceedings to obtain this information currently take up a lot of court time and resources and this can be expensive for people who are trying to obtain support and is not a good use of family resources.

When this information is given to a court, it would be sealed and kept in a location to which the public has no access, and the court could make any order necessary to protect the confidentiality of the information.

While the bill encourages resolution of matters outside of the court system, there are some matters that require formal court resolution.

Budget 2018 announced funding to expand unified family courts, fulfilling one of the Minister of Justice's mandate letter commitments to Canadians. The family court in my riding of St. John's East has benefited from this.

Unified family courts provide one-stop shopping for the family justice system by combining jurisdiction over all family law matters into one court. They also provide access to a range of family justice services, such as family law information centres and mediation services to help families through a range of family law issues, including separation and divorce and other services.

Funding is essential for the delivery of family justice services which fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. In budget 2017 our government committed $16 million per year for family justice services on an ongoing basis. This funding will increase Canadians' access to family justice by supporting provincial and territorial programs and services, such as mediation, parent information, education and support enforcement.

We have to work together to improve the accessibility and the efficiency of the Canadian family justice system. Bill C-78, along with the expansion of unified family courts and sustained funding for family justice services, will help support Canadian families going through separation and divorce and the over two million Canadian children who live in separated or divorced families. This is a great step forward and I trust that the changes we have proposed will bring positive changes to the family justice system.

In closing, I encourage all members of the House to support this legislation, as I do, so we can see it move to committee where it can be studied further.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-78, the government's family law bill.

As other hon. members have alluded to in this debate, issues relating to family law, by and large, fall within the parameters of provincial jurisdiction. However, section 91, class 26 of the Constitution Act provides that it is within the jurisdiction of Parliament to make laws with respect to marriage and divorce.

In order to discuss Bill C-78 and what it seeks to do in terms of updating family law and divorce legislation in this country, it would be helpful at the outset to provide some context to how divorce law in this country has evolved. Indeed, the Divorce Act is a relatively new piece of legislation. It was passed in 1968, only 50 years ago.

Prior to the passage of the Divorce Act in 1968, this country had a patchwork of laws with respect to divorce. In some provinces, there were no divorce laws. As a result, it was necessary for couples to seek a private act of this Parliament in order to obtain a divorce. In other provinces, divorce was possible if it could be established that there had been some wrongdoing in the relationship.

Fast forward to 1968 when Parliament did pass legislation to provide uniform laws with respect to divorce. The Divorce Act of 1968 remained in place until it was updated in 1985, which is when Parliament made some very significant reforms to divorce and family law. Among the changes made in the 1985 Divorce Act was to provide a single ground upon which divorce could be obtained, namely, when there was a breakdown in the relationship. A breakdown in the relationship could be established based upon a number of different criteria, including one year of separation of the couple, or if it were established that there was adultery in the relationship or physical or mental abuse.

Since Parliament took steps in 1985 to update divorce law in Canada, over the last 30-plus years there has been very little change that has been made to update family law in this country. I have to say, I was born in 1984, one year before the Divorce Act was updated, so 1985 was a long, long time ago. Canadian society has evolved considerably in these last 33 or 34 years, including the structure of families and, unfortunately, the increased prevalence of divorces and marital breakdown. It is about time that Parliament moved forward to consider a comprehensive update to the Divorce Act.

In terms of the substance of this bill, let me say that we are open to looking at it carefully. On the surface, it would seem that this bill contains a number of positive measures. Among the key substantive aspects of this bill is the updating of terminology, encouraging families to settle disputes outside of the court, improving child support enforcement, and preserving the well-being of impacted children. All of these measures, on the surface, appear to be a step in the right direction.

In terms of the road to reform, it has been, as I mentioned, a long time coming. We saw a very thorough review undertaken by Justice Cromwell, back in 2013. One of the key recommendations from the Cromwell committee was the need to update terminology. Right now, under the Divorce Act, the terminology is quite adversarial, and that is not helpful as families deal with what is often the most difficult and challenging time couples can face when they are in a situation of marital breakdown.

Among the changes Bill C-78 would make would be to change the language to make it less adversarial, in accordance with the recommendations of the Cromwell committee. In what ways would the bill make the language in the Divorce Act less adversarial? For example, it would replace the term “custody” with the term “contact” and the term “access” with the term “parenting”.

Another aspect of the bill is that it would encourage parties to try to settle disputes through mediation or alternative dispute resolution. Far too much money is spent in our courts, and to the degree that families can settle their marital matters outside of court, outside of what is, by definition, an adversarial system, is a step in the right direction. Of course, as I alluded to, it would codify what is at this time a wide body of case law and have regard for the best interests of the child.

I spoke to an acquaintance of mine, who is a judge, and he told me that upon being appointed, one of the challenges was to get up to speed on different aspects of the law that he had never practised. For example, he had never practised criminal law before, so he certainly had to spend a lot of time getting up to speed. He said that aside from the academic side and getting up to speed on different aspects of the law, what he found to be the most difficult was trying to settle disputes when children were involved in terms of making orders respecting parenting, for example, because so often, he is making a decision that is going to profoundly affect the parents, the family and the child. I tell that anecdote to underline the gravity, the importance and the impact these changes would have.

As I say, we will study the bill at committee. I look forward to hearing from a wide array of witnesses and to exploring possible amendments.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with the comments of my colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap. I certainly agree with him on the importance of the matter he has raised. However, seeing that my time is nearly expiring, on a slightly more partisan note, I want to say this. It is a bit ironic that paramount in Bill C-78 are the best interests of the child, among other things, and rightfully so. What a contrast to Bill C-75, which is currently before the justice committee, which would water down sentences for a whole host of serious offences that directly impact children, including kidnapping a minor and forced marriage under the age of 16, and I could go on. The government is downgrading those offences that directly impact children from serious indictable offences to hybrid offences that could be punishable with a mere fine. Therefore, while it is encouraging that we are focused on the best interests of the child in this bill, I only wish the government would have the best interests of the child in all bills, including Bill C-75.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments, both in his speech and in his most recent responses to the question. However, what I would say is that we see strong statements in Bill C-78 with respect to defining family violence for the first time in a much more expansive way. It would give judges tools to use in interpreting family violence. I find a strong thematic consistency in Bill C-75, which he just mentioned, with respect to intimate partner violence. I would also say that, thematically, what both bills are trying to do is reduce reliance upon lawyers like me, and many in this House, who are involved in part of the overly litigious nature of the family law system. By encouraging people and giving them the tools to remove themselves from the court system, we would be reducing some of the backlog that characterizes that system, which is a goal that I think the member opposite and those on this side of the House share. I would put to him that those two are in fact compatible goals and that the legislation is moving in the same direction.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, speaking to Bill C-78, one of the criticisms that has been raised is that the bill would not provide for a rebuttable presumption for equal shared parenting. It is true that shared parenting is not always in the best interest of the child in every situation. However, I think most hon. members would agree that to the degree that it is possible for both parents to be involved in the raising of the child, in many circumstances, in the normal course of things, it would be in the best interest of the child, hence the basis for a rebuttable presumption for equal shared parenting.

That is one of the many issues that we will look at carefully when we study the bill in committee.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is a connection between Bill C-78 and Bill C-75 with respect to the hybridization of offences to the degree that we are talking about the best interests of the child in Bill C-78. Bill C-75 would be a step in exactly the wrong direction from that standpoint. when we talk about potentially reducing sentences from a maximum of 10 years to two years less a day.

In the case of Bill C-75, the reclassification of those offences would not only not put the best interests of the child first, it would not achieve the government's objective of trying to deal with the backlog in our courts. Indeed, 99.6% of criminal cases in Canada are before provincial courts. The reclassification of offences would simply download more cases onto our already overburdened and overstretched provincial courts.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Willowdale.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-78 and the significant contribution it would make to addressing family violence.

The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada has identified family violence as an important public health issue, recognizing that the effects of family violence go well beyond physical injury and can have long-lasting impacts on mental health.

In 2014, 13% of individuals who were separated or divorced and who had been in contact with their former partners within the last five years reported being victims of spousal violence. While we have no solid statistics on the number of family law cases where family violence is a factor, estimates from court file reviews and surveys of lawyers and judges range anywhere from 8% to 25%, yet, the Divorce Act currently makes no mention of family violence or how it is relevant to parenting matters. Bill C-78 would take concrete steps to address this gap.

There are marked differences in the severity and the violence that men and women experience. In 2014, women were twice as likely as men to report being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or knife. In contrast, men were three and a half times more likely to report being kicked, bitten or hit.

We also cannot forget that children can be directly and indirectly affected by family violence and that the exposure to family violence often comes with direct abuse against the child. In 2014, 70% of adults who reported having witnessed parental violence as children also reported being victims of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse. Children who witnessed that violence were also more than twice as likely to experience the most severe forms of physical abuse compared to those who had not witnessed violence.

Children can be negatively and deeply harmed emotionally when they are exposed to family violence, whether it is from seeing the violence take place or bruises on a parent. Emotional and behavioural problems and even post-traumatic stress disorder can be a serious effect.

Despite all we know about family violence, myths about it remain. There are two myths that I would like to highlight today.

The first myth about family violence, particularly intimate partner violence, is that if a survivor has not reported to the police, then the violence did not happen or it was not serious. Statistics Canada tells us that only 19% of survivors report violence to police. Some do not report violence to police out of fear of not being believed and/or that calling the police may escalate the violence. Certain vulnerable communities also have mistrust for the police.

Despite these fears, survivors may choose to start family law proceedings in order to protect their children, whether they reported violence to the police or not. In some cases, starting a family law proceeding can increase the risk of violence. Leading family violence researcher Linda Neilson notes, “Family law cases involving domestic violence are not necessarily less serious or less dangerous than criminal cases. Indeed some are more dangerous.”

The other myth is that intimate partner violence ends after separation. In fact, separation can actually increase the risk of family violence, and it often persists long after the relationship has ended.

In 2014, 41% of those who experienced family violence by an ex-spouse reported that it occurred after the break-up. In just under half of those cases, about 48%, the violence took place at least six months after the separation. Very worrying is the fact that in almost half of those cases where violence occurred after the separation, it increased in severity.

Bill C-78 includes a number of measures to strengthen the family justice system's response to the unfortunate case of family violence.

First, we must realize that when a family is in crisis, it is possible that various aspects of the justice system may be involved, such as the criminal, civil protection or child protection proceedings, in addition to divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, however, the divorce courts are often not aware of other proceedings or orders that may have been made. This lack of information about other proceedings can lead to conflicting orders, such as where a criminal order prohibits contact between a parent and other family members, but a family order provides that same parent with access to a child.

This is why Bill C-78 would amend the Divorce Act so that courts would have evidence of other pending proceedings or orders in effect. This would help improve the administration of justice.

Where parenting is specifically at issue, courts are required to consider only the best interests of the child. New criteria listed in Bill C-78 would require consolidation of any civil or criminal proceedings or order relevant to the well-being of a child, even if no longer in effect. This is to help ensure that the court has all relevant information when deciding on the best interests of the child. It is critical that family violence be taken into account when deciding on parenting arrangements for children.

As we learn more about family violence, in particular intimate partner violence, we have come to understand that not all family violence is the same. Depending on the nature of the violence, it can have very different implications on the parenting of the child and the ability of former spouses to co-parent successfully.

At least four different types of violence have been identified, but given my short time today I will only mention two. The first is separation-instigated violence. It generally involves a small number of incidents around the separation, although these can range from very minor to more serious. While no violence is ever acceptable, this type of violence may, over the long term, be less likely to negatively affect the ability of the parents to work together or care for the child.

In contrast, the second type is coercive and controlling family violence. As the name suggests, this violence involves a pattern of control based on intimidation, emotional abuse and physical violence. Coercive and controlling violence is most often perpetrated by men against women. It generally occurs over a prolonged period, has the highest risk of lethality and is most associated with compromised parenting skills. The perpetrator often attempts to control his former partner long after separation. As a result, in these situations, joint decision-making can be challenging and contact between the parents during the exchange of the child can create opportunities for further abuse.

To address the range of family violence, Bill C-78 includes an evidence-based definition of family violence. It identifies that family violence can include a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. It provides examples of specific behaviours that constitute family violence, such as physical and sexual abuse and psychological violence and harassment, including stalking.

Finally, Bill C-78 specifically highlights family violence as relevant to the best interests of the child when making parenting arrangements. The proposed amendments will direct consideration of any impact of the family violence, but in particular how it might affect the ability of the parents to co-operate with one another, or how it might affect the ability of an abusive parent to care for the child. The bill also provides a list of specific criteria for the court to consider that will determine the severity of the violence, the impact that it has had or may have, and whether and how this should inform the parenting arrangement.

These criteria would help put focus on the particular dynamics of family violence in each individual case. Importantly, both the definition of family violence and the best interests criteria recognize that even when children are not directly subjected to violence, they can be harmed by it. Through Bill C-78, we are taking concrete action to promote children's best interests in situations where they are most vulnerable.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will first thank the hon. member for Surrey Centre for focusing on the question of violence and how this bill would allow us to address that. I, on the other hand, will be taking a more general overview of this legislation, which I am incredibly proud of.

As we know, the first substantial update to Canadian family law in 20 years is occurring. Bill C-78 represents a landmark in strengthening and enshrining the best interests of the child and would make federal family law more responsive to the modern-day needs of Canadian families. Family law, as has been noted by all of the speakers today, is both complex and broad and as a result, there are significant gaps and inefficiencies, which existing laws have not adequately addressed. Bill C-78 seeks to remedy these gaps through a wide-ranging series of common-sense adjustments.

Today I will focus on six key elements of Bill C-78: strengthening the best interests of the child provisions, enshrining primary consideration into family law, important changes to terminology, modernizing the Divorce Act, creating contact orders and setting new relocation guidelines.

Allow me to start with the best interests of the child test. The best interests of the child test has been a fundamental part of family law in Canada and in many other countries for decades. Under the Divorce Act, courts must consider only a child's best interests when making decisions about who may care for or make decisions about a child. The Divorce Act, however, gives surprisingly little guidance regarding this test.

In 1998, the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access called for the Divorce Act to include a list of criteria considered to be in the best interests of the child. Many others have added to this call, including academics, child advocates and the Canadian Bar Association. With Bill C-78, our government is answering their calls and taking important steps to address existing gaps and inefficiencies in the family law system.

The proposed criteria for the best interests of the child would emphasize critical elements of a child's life. They include a child's stage of development, ties to loved ones, cultural identity, and personal views and preferences. However, the list is not closed or exhaustive. If a particular factor in a child's life is especially relevant—for example, if the child has medical needs or participates in competitive sporting events—courts could consider these factors where appropriate and relevant.

Adding definitional certainty to the best interests of the child test in the Divorce Act promotes children's interests. It also promotes another one of the bill's key goals: improving access to justice. In some Canadian jurisdictions, over three-quarters of family law litigants are self-represented. Also, a list of best interests of the child criteria in the Divorce Act would help parents better understand their legal responsibilities. It would assist them to better frame their negotiations on arrangements for their children and more often come to agreements outside the court system. Alternatively, if parents cannot agree on their own, this clarity would help self-represented litigants to better frame their arguments in legal proceedings.

Allow me now to move to the second point, which is primary consideration. The reference to “primary consideration” is crucial to the values embodied in Bill C-78. Emphasizing primary consideration would ensure that courts prioritize a child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being. Courts would weigh all other criteria in regard to this primary consideration. Doing so would ensure that the best interests of the child remain paramount in protecting families from the negative outcomes often related to separation and divorce.

I will move to the third point, updates to terminology. Bill C-78 would make important and, frankly, long-overdue changes in family law terminology. “Custody” and “access” are now archaic legal terms.

The term “custody” traces its origins to property law, which for hundreds of years has essentially treated children as possessions. The term “access”, meanwhile, refers to a right to use or pass over property. This is not how we should describe responsibilities for children in 2018. In addition, litigation over “custody” and “access” has created additional labels whereby custodial parents are viewed as winners of parenting disputes and access parents the losers. Bill C-78 would move away from such confrontational language, as Alberta, B.C. and several international jurisdictions have done.

Going to the issue of modernizing the Divorce Act, Bill C-78 would replace orders for custody and access in the Divorce Act with parenting orders. A parenting order addresses parenting time and decision-making responsibility for each parent. Specifically, “parenting time” refers to the time a child spends in a parent's care. This includes all time when a parent is responsible for a child, even when the child is at school. Each parent would have as much parenting time as is consistent with the best interests of the child.

On the other hand, “decision-making responsibility” refers to making important decisions on issues such as health, education, language, religion and significant extracurricular activities. BillC-78 would allow the courts to allocate this responsibility to one or both parents, or, alternatively, to divide elements between the parents.

Furthering the goal of improving access to justice, the bill includes a parenting plan provision, referring to agreements between parents that sets out a road map for the care of the child moving forward. The bill encourages courts to incorporate a parenting plan that is in the child's best interest. This provision recognizes that parents are generally best placed to make decisions about their child.

Moving to the fifth element, Bill C-78 also proposes a contact order, in keeping with the best practices already established by several provincial courts. Contact orders carve out time in a child's schedule with a person other than a parent, such as a grandparent. I would like to clarify that a contact order would not usually be necessary in order for grandparents and other loved ones to spend time with a child. It would only be necessary where, because of conflict, parents do not agree to let grandparents or other loved ones spend time with the child. In such cases, Bill C-78 would allow courts to make contact orders. These orders could help preserve a child's relationship with his or her loved ones, where appropriate. As with parenting orders, courts would make a contact order if it is in the best interest of the child.

Finally, the issue of relocation has challenged parents, lawyers, and courts for many years. Relocation involves moving a child after separation and divorce. It is one of the most litigated family law issues in existence. In a 2016 survey of lawyers and judges, for example, over 98% of respondents indicated that disputes are harder to settle when relocation is involved. Bill C-78 creates relocation guidelines to address this conflict. Parents would now be required to give notice if they want to relocate either themselves or their children. An assessment would be conducted using best interest criteria when considering such a request. These would include factors such as the reasons for relocation, the impacts of relocation on the child, and how reasonable the relocation request is.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Willowdale, who happens to be an old high school classmate, gave us a very comprehensive overview of Bill C-78. He touched on many different facets, so I would ask if he could zoom out a bit and provide us with his insight on how the bill fits in with some of the broader initiatives our government is pursuing. There are two I would ask him about.

We heard about how the bill impacts on child poverty. How does that fit with some of the government's broader objectives of addressing child poverty in Canada? We heard about how the bill would address family violence in a more direct way. How does that work with Bill C-75, which is before the justice committee, which my colleague is a member of, and the provisions that are being put in place in that bill to deal with intimate partner violence in the context of things such as bail conditions? Perhaps he could elaborate on the broader impact of what we are doing as a government.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is anybody here in this House who can deny that Bill C-78 is well overdue and is needed.

I listened in depth to the conversation about separation, families relocating, the court sitting down and evaluating a mechanism to look at both sides, and that body deciding if it is appropriate for the parties to move from one location to another.

I was reading through the bill and I am wondering if there is a mechanism of repeal if the court were to say that one party could not move. Is there an appeal mechanism built into this bill that would allow people to appeal that decision?

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Banff—Airdrie.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-78. I do not come at this from a legal perspective—I am not a lawyer—and I do not come at it from the perspective of actually having experienced this directly. I was raised in a home with six children, a very happy, very busy home, and then when my parents were much older in life and I was a grown woman myself, they faced a difficult time when they came very close to divorcing. I have to say that even then, as an adult and with my own children, it was extremely unnerving and disturbing to me, which just raises the realization of how important it is that we have systems in place to assist children. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to actually be dealing with those circumstances as a young child in my home. Fortunately, things worked out well.

That being said, in regard to Bill C-78, I appreciate the four key objectives that are listed: to promote the best interests of the child; to address family violence; to help reduce child poverty; and to streamline various definitions and processes but, more important, to require legal professionals to encourage clients to use alternative ways to resolve disputes.

The Conservative Party has always had this perspective that we believe that in the event of a marital breakdown, the Divorce Act should grant joint custody and/or shared parenting, unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the child. Both parents and all grandparents should be allowed to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and grandchildren, unless it is demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the child. In every case where it is possible, the influence of both parents, and grandparents as well and siblings, is so key to making sure that the family unit is able to survive as best as it can through these difficult circumstances. We understand very well how traumatic divorces are on families.

We are overall pleased with the intentions of Bill C-78, especially the promotion of child welfare and the measures to combat family violence. We have always stood up for and believed in the safety and well-being of children and of families.

However, where this goes off the tracks for me is in the fact that the counterintuitive implementation of Bill C-75 is here as well. I know that Canadians' heads are spinning quite often when trying to determine, if this is a whole-of-government approach to things, how it is on the one hand we can be saying we are so concerned about children and then on the other hand be bringing in Bill C-75, which would reduce sentences for very serious crimes, including abduction of a child under the age of 14, participating in activities of a criminal organization, forced marriages, marriage under the age of 16, and concealing the body of a child. These are very serious crimes and impact children, yet the government seems prepared to bring in something that seems so contrary to me.

I want to quote something from the Lawyer's Daily, written by David Frenkel:

The impetus in the fights between parents does not begin when spouses read the terms “custody” and “access” in the Divorce Act. Therefore, unless there are additional provisions added to the proposed amendments, the family conflicts will likely continue even with the replacement of the terms “custody and access” with “parenting” as introduced by Bill C-78.

I appreciate what is being attempted there with the terminology being changed, but at the same time that is a good point, that simply changing the terminology will not in the end make a huge difference. Mr. Frenkel continues:

[A] “parenting order” will replace the traditionally named “custody and access” order.

That needs to be done, but actually it has already been taking place. He says:

The significant change in wording likely arose to answer the concerns from the courts over the years that awarding one parent the status of “custody” and the other “access” created unnecessary winners and losers.... [A]s early as 1975 Justice Robert Furlong...wrote as follows: “The time is long past when the Courts disposed of the custody of a child as a reward to a well-behaved parent or as a punishment to one who misbehaved. The custody of their children is not a prize to be contended for by parents as an award for their good behaviour.”

He continues:

In 1986, the Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld a decision to refrain from using the words “custody” and “access” because the trial judge thought “those are destructive to a child”.

He also states that perhaps the more important focus of this discussion should be the issue of “control”, as that, unfortunately, quite often is what the fights are about in these circumstances.

He continues:

Litigants, in time, will become sophisticated in understanding the effect of a future “parenting order” and couples that previously fought incessantly over the term custody will now fight over who will have “decision-making responsibility.”

In other words, although that is part of it, how can we come to a point where the extreme difficulties in making these decisions are not fought out in such a confrontational way?

He goes on to say:

Therapy and assessment orders for litigants will not solve all the problems in custody battles, but they may expose the underlying factors contributing to unreasonable positions taken by them. Therefore, in addition to a change in language to the Divorce Act, it may be necessary for a court to have the jurisdiction to order trained professionals to determine and opine whether a parent's desire for custody or a ”parenting” order is based on healthy motives or not. And if such information cannot be readily available when needed, then simply repealing the terms “custody” and “access” may not achieve the intended consequences we all have been waiting for with Bill C-78's introduction.

In other words, efforts need to be made to ensure that the individuals who are involved in these circumstances have the necessary tools at their disposal to assist them in the process more effectively. There is no question that this is probably one of the most trying and difficult circumstances to be in for a couple who at one point married because of their desire to see their life as a long-term commitment and to have children. Yes, sometimes there are very violent circumstances. Other times there is an inability to communicate. However, there needs to be a process in place to assist them.

Further to that, I read an article by Robert Harvie, a family lawyer, mediator and arbitrator with Huckvale LLP, an advisory board member for the national self-represented litigants project, and a past Law Society of Alberta bencher. Harvie comes at this from a very well-rounded perspective. He states:

The unveiling of Bill C-78 received almost uniform praise from the media and legal profession as the “first major amendment of the Divorce Act in 20 years.”

Indeed, it is.

He continues:

My opinion is less effusive. Perhaps it's the cynicism of a lawyer who has been working in family law for 32 years. Having sat as a bencher with the Law Society of Alberta, and in fact, chaired their Access to Justice Committee for two years, I have seen much promise and very little delivery in improving access to justice. As a result, I opened up the 190 pages of Bill C-78 with less optimism than many of my colleagues.

He says it is “similar to the excitement over the maiden voyage of the Titanic”, which piqued my interest. With respect to the Titanic, he talked about all of its amazing additions to improve its amenities and necessities, such as squash racquets courts, baths, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, electric passenger lifts, all these of different services, including more deck chairs, to make the trip better. However, the reality was that they did not have what they truly needed.

He indicates that, at its core, Bill C-78 is devoid of change to the overall resolution process, that lawyers charge too much money, that law societies appear focused on reducing complaints rather than caring for them, that litigation is antiquated and cumbersome, and that we need to fund and support more alternative forms of resolution.

I have a good friend who settled many divorce and custody cases for his law firm out of court and without expensive litigation. However, he lost his job. Why? It was because he did not have enough billables and was not productive enough for the firm. In other words, he did not make enough money for the firm. He was encouraged to work for legal aid, because that was where he belonged.

Our legal system needs to change so that firms invest in litigating these cases through mediation and arbitration. Yes, we can tell people that they should go and do this, that they should make this choice, but they usually first find themselves at a law firm. I would like to see this concern addressed within the legal profession in Canada, where we make this a priority and prepare our lawyers, who are clearly willing to take on this type of roll to serve Canada, and especially to serve children.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / noon
See context

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I confess I find the member's comments quite puzzling. To draw an analogy between this legislation and the Titanic is preposterous, because we had widespread consultations and have since received vociferous support from coast to coast to coast for this legislation. The Conservative government in Alberta is the very government that initiated the concept of changing the terminology from “custody and access” to “contact and parenting” orders.

The member raised Bill C-75 and some of the provisions in it that she finds logically inconsistent with what we are doing in Bill C-78. It is quite the contrary. In Bill C-75, we are doing exactly the same as we are doing in Bill C-78 in two important respects. One, intimate partner violence is at the heart of what we are doing in Bill C-75. We are addressing it and would make it a prerequisite to deal with that as a condition on bail. What we are doing here is making family violence something that a judge would have to consider, including criminal orders or proceedings, in determining the best interests of the child.

The other conceptual component that is exactly the same between the two pieces of legislation is that in each instance we are trying to reduce the very backlog in our court system that my friend opposite laments, our over-reliance on the court system, the over-litigiousness of Canadian society. We would be reducing that with Bill C-75, and exactly what we would be doing here with this provision. Two cases in point are the ADR mechanisms for calculating support.

Could I have the member opposite's comments on how improving ADR mechanisms addresses the very problem she has identified?