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

Second reading (Senate), as of Feb. 19, 2019

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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.

Votes

Feb. 6, 2019 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-78, 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

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I could not be more thrilled to rise today on behalf of the 93,000 citizens of Beauport—Limoilou, to whom I send warm, sincere greetings. This is my first time speaking since we came back from the summer break.

Today, I will be speaking to my constituents in Beauport—Limoilou about Bill C-78, 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. Marriage has always been extremely important to me. From a tender age, I yearned to be married someday. I have always believed that the bond between a married couple is something infinitely precious. Marriage is also a cherished tradition, and as a Conservative, I like keeping up traditions.

I say this without prejudice, but unfortunately, I grew up in the social context of Quebec, which no longer values the institution of marriage as it should. I am referring to official marriage, either civil or religious. Marriage, as an institution, is no longer held in respect. Most of my constituents are in civil unions, which is perfectly fine. Nevertheless, marriage is still dear to my heart. As a Conservative, I wanted to perpetuate the tradition of marriage. I have been with my wife, Pascale Laneuville, for 14 years. After living together for seven years, I wanted her to experience a proper marriage proposal. I was happy to do it, and I am delighted to still be married today. I hope my marriage will last until I die, hopefully in the House. I want to be an MP for 40 years. That is my most fervent wish.

That said, I would like to talk a bit about the summer I had in my riding of Beauport—Limoilou. Over the three-month summer break, I met with many of my constituents, who are watching us right now on CPAC. I said “summer break” because Parliament was on a break, but we were not on a break from work. Journalists often like to confuse Canadians about this. I was in my office the whole time, except for my two-week vacation to the Le Genévrier campground in Baie-Saint-Paul. That is a little promo. It is a beautiful campground in the Charlevoix region, in my colleague's riding.

I celebrated July 1 at Maison Girardin, in Beauport. One thousand people joined me to celebrate Confederation. I hosted my third annual summer party at Domaine Maizerets park. More than 3,500 residents came to my meeting to tell me about their concerns, and I let them know what I can do for them as their MP. There was complimentary corn and hot dogs, generously donated by Provigo on 1st Avenue in Limoilou. I want to thank the owner, Mr. Bourboin, was is very generous to the people of Beauport—Limoilou.

I continued to go door to door in my riding two evenings a week, as I do every month. I noticed that my constituents want to learn more about our leader, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. People are quite impressed by the Conservative Party's openness to Quebec as a distinct society. I was pleased to discover this when chatting with my constituents.

I also organized two meetings with Beauport's network of business people. These business luncheons are attended by more than 60 Beauport entrepreneurs every two or three weeks. The next one is scheduled on Wednesday, October 10, at 7 a.m., at the Ambassador Hotel. There will be an economic round table with Mr. Barrucco, executive director of the Association des économistes québécois, who will answer all questions from small and medium-sized business owners from Beauport—Limoilou.

I attended almost every event held in my riding this summer. I also held my second “Alupa à l'écoute” public consultation. The third will happen in November. I will then be introducing a bill to address an ever-present concern of my constituents. Naturally, there is also the day-to-day work at my office, with citizens' files and all the rest.

Finally, two weeks ago, together with the mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, and André Drolet, who was then the Liberal candidate for Jean-Lesage, I participated, with great fanfare, in the sod turning for the Medicago production facility. This is going to create more than 400 well-paid, quality jobs in vaccine research. It will also contribute to the revitalization of the Estimauville sector, which is very much needed because since the 1970s and 1980s, it is a sector of Quebec City that has been neglected.

Now back to the subject at hand, Bill C-78. Let me start by saying that the Conservatives plan to support this bill at second reading on some conditions. We are eager to hear from the witnesses at committee and to see how the Liberals react to our concerns and our vision for this bill because, as I will explain in a moment, some of the things in this bill make very little sense to us.

I would like to explain the gist of this bill to the people of Beauport—Limoilou. The main goal is to act in children's best interest. My constituents should know that the Divorce Act has not been amended in 20 years, or two decades. In that time, we have seen generation X, generation Y, and the millennials. They have had a major impact on Quebec elections. As the years go by, things change, social mores change, and culture evolves. Two decades, 20 years, is a long time.

I might go so far as to compliment the Liberal government on its decision to review this legislation and amend it to better reflect everything children go through when their parents divorce and take into account the situations they find themselves in. The Liberals are absolutely right about the importance of putting children first during the divorce process, just as patients should be at the centre of conversations about health care. The Conservatives agree 100% that this should be the focus of the bill. Yes, children should be central to discussions during the divorce process to keep their suffering to a minimum regardless of what goes on between their parents.

As a brief aside, I would like to tell a joke that I always tell my friends and even my family. My parents are divorced, and so are my wife's parents. Quite frankly, it was pretty common for their generation. As I often say jokingly, divorce is not an option for me and my wife, even if we wanted one, because my daughter and son already have four grandfathers and four grandmothers. The situation is already so ridiculous that I would not want to add another four grandfathers and four grandmothers. As members can see, divorce is not an option for me. However, for individuals who need to divorce for unavoidable reasons, it is important that the legislation reflect the mores, customs and conventions of the present day.

In addition, the bill brought another thought to mind, and I think members will see its relevance. The United States-Mexico-Canada agreement was reached this week, so I drew a parallel. Since we are talking about marriage, agreements and concerns, we could look at the USMCA as an economic marriage, of sorts, between two countries. In this economic marriage, which has been arranged for sound and objective reasons based on a win-win logic, the aim is to protect the children, which, in this case, are the Canadian economy and our sovereignty.

The USMCA is an important agreement between two countries that have decided to open their borders and create a relationship and ties in order to move forward together toward shared growth and an economy that works for both sides. However, we see two big problems with this marriage. First of all, it simply does not cut it economically speaking, because the Prime Minister and member for Papineau failed to ensure its fairness.

For example, the softwood lumber dispute has not been resolved. This is the third or fourth softwood lumber crisis. I visited Rimouski in the Gaspé region. Actually, I know the people who live there would not be happy to hear me say that Rimouski is in the Gaspé, so I will say that I visited Rimouski, which is in the Lower St. Lawrence region, where there are a number of lumber mills. Obviously, they are tired of dealing with one softwood lumber crisis after another. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the government to strengthen Canada's relationship with the United States and resolve the softwood lumber dispute.

Let us think too of all of the other regions of Quebec that will be negatively impacted by the imminent breach in supply management on dairy products. Once again, Canada is giving without getting anything in return. I realized that this marriage is not at all fair. When we officially entered into a relationship with the United States in 1989—

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 1:30 p.m.
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Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to interrupt the member for Beauport—Limoilou in the middle of his speech, but I have to say that it is one thing to discuss Bill C-78, which is now before us, and quite another to give a long speech on NAFTA and the new agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico and bring supply management into it. I do not believe that is relevant.

lt is not relevant at all. I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you make a ruling as to whether that is in order and ask the member opposite if he could direct his comments to this legislation.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can understand my colleague's concern. I did have a point I was getting at. I want to talk about clauses 54 and 101 of Bill C-78 and how they contradict Bill C-75.

However, I was talking about something that is very important to me. I will use a different analogy. Let us leave NAFTA behind for a different analogy.

We have a Prime Minister who introduced Bill C-78, telling Canadians that after 20 years, he is proposing important amendments, some fundamental and others more technical, that will strengthen the legislation and the institution of marriage in Canada.

Notwithstanding the fact that we Conservative members plan to support this bill, following the committee studies, we feel it is hard to trust the Prime Minister when he says he wants to strengthen marriage, considering his behaviour as the head of government.

For example, when Mr. Trudeau was elected in 2015, we might say that it was a marriage between him and the people of Canada. However, after everything that the Prime Minister has done in the past three years, a marriage would not have lasted a year since he broke three major promises. I would even say that these are promises that break up the very core of his marriage with Canada. I will get to the clauses in this bill that have me concerned, but I want to draw a parallel. How can we trust the Prime Minister when it comes to this divorce bill, when he himself does not keep his promises to Canadians?

He made three fundamental promises. The first was to run deficits of only $10 billion for the first three years and then cut back on that. He broke that promise. The deficits have been $30 billion every year.

The second fundamental broken promise of his marriage with the people of Canada was to achieve a balanced budget by 2020-21. Now we are talking about 2045, my goodness. Is there anything more important than finances in a marriage? Yes, there is love. I get it.

However, budgets are essential in a home. Finances are essential for a couple to remain together. I can attest to that. Love has its limits in a home. Bills have to get paid and children have to eat. Budgets need to be balanced, something that Canadian families do all the time. Our Prime Minister is unable to keep that promise.

The other promise has to do with our voting system, how we are going to run our home, our political system. Just before they got married, the Prime Minister promised Canadians that he would reform the voting system. That was a key promise and he broke it. In fact it was one of the first promises he broke and it is a serious broken promise in his marriage with Canadians in my opinion. It is a broken promise to every young person who trusted him.

Personally, I completely disagree with reforming the voting system because I believe that the first past the post system is the best guarantee for a parliamentary democracy. That said, it was a key promise that he made to youth and the leftists of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, who view proportional representation as being better for them, their future and their concerns. However, he broke his promise. The marriage has been on the verge of breaking up for a long time now. I predict that it will only last one more year.

I have one last point to make in my analogy and then I will discuss the bill. I want to talk about his infrastructure promise. The Prime Minister said that he would invest $183 billion in infrastructure over the next 14 years. It was the largest program in the history of Canada because, according to the Liberals, their programs are always the largest in the history of Canada. I would remind members that ours was incredible as well, with $80 billion invested between 2008 and 2015.

I will ask my colleagues a question they are sure to know the answer to. How many billions of the $183 billion have been spent after four years? The answer is $7 billion, if I am not mistaken. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer mentioned it in one of his reports.

Therefore, how can we have confidence in the Prime Minister, the member for Papineau, who is introducing a bill to strengthen the institution of marriage and the protection of children in extremely contentious divorces when he himself, in his solemn marriage with the Canadian people, has broken the major promises of his 2015 election platform?

The bond of trust has been broken and divorce between the Liberals and the people of Canada is imminent. It is set to happen on October 19, 2019.

Bill C-78 seeks to address some rather astonishing statistics. According to the 2016 census, more than two million children were living in a separated or divorced family. Five million Canadians separated or divorced between 1991 and 2011. Of that number, 38% had a child at the time of their separation or divorce. I imagine that is why the focus of Bill C-78 is protection of the child.

However, we have some concerns. Clause 101 introduces the idea that Her Majesty ranks in priority over the party that instituted the garnishment proceedings if the debtor is indebted or has any moneys to pay. That has us concerned. We will certainly call witnesses to our parliamentary committee to find out what they think and to see if we can amend this.

We also believe that clause 54 is flawed. It extends Her Majesty's binding period from five to 12 years. That is another aspect of the bill that could be problematic in our view.

I do not like to end on a negative note, but I absolutely have to mention a major contradiction pertaining to Bill C-78. Today, the Liberals enthusiastically shared with us, through this bill, their desire to make the protection of children, rather than parents, a priority in cases of divorce. However, when we look closely at Bill C-75, which, with its 300 pages, is a mammoth bill if ever there was one, we see that it seeks to rescind all of the great measures to strengthen crime legislation that our dear prime minister, Mr. Harper, implemented during his 10 years in office, a fantastic decade in Canada.

We are distressed to see that this bill lessens sentences for crimes committed against children. The Liberals are not content with just saying that they are good and the Conservatives are bad. They, who profess to believe in universal love, want to lessen the sentences for criminals who committed terrible, deplorable crimes against children. Then they tell us that the purpose of their bill is to help children.

We see these contradictions and we are concerned. I do not think that my constituents would let their spouses break promises as important as the ones the Prime Minister has broken since 2015. They would not want to stay in a relationship like that.

Canadians need to realize that their divorce from the Liberal government is imminent.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with the member opposite. He is perfectly right that this is one of the excellent amendments to be brought about by Bill C-78. It would enhance the power of the Canada Revenue Agency to verify the financial information of either spouse in order to ensure equity, not for the spouses but for the children. We all agree with that. Of course, it would be a good thing for my constituents of Beauport—Limoilou. There is no doubt about that.

However, I have two concerns, one regarding this and the other regarding the bill. The bill does not anticipate or propose enhancing the budget of the CRA to do what he is talking about, which would allow it to have more power in verifying the information. The CRA does not operate with free-paying jobs or written words on a blank piece of paper. It has paid employees with pensions, so one would need to inject more money into it to increase its power. I hope that actions will follow the words of the government in the budget.

Unfortunately, the member will not be able to answer my question, unless no one else stands. I do not understand why the government wants to obligate both spouses to meet and consult with a lawyer. In many instances, people go through a divorce in an amicable way. I know friends who went through a divorce for the well-being and good of their children, and it was done in an amicable and appropriate way. Why does the government want to impose the obligation to consult with a lawyer, which would necessitate spending? I would like the Liberals to address this concern.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 1:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to Bill C-78. I am not approaching this as a lawyer, as many of the others have done today. I am approaching this as a woman who has been divorced as well as a woman who has worked in a constituency office, dealing with people who have come from divorce and with different government departments.

I am going to begin with some of my experiences as a constituency assistant and how the Canada child benefit divvies out the money. The Canada Revenue Agency, under the leadership of the Conservative government, did an excellent job when it came to shared custody and shared parenting. That has become a nuance for many new families. If I was asked 20 years ago, when I look at that, shared parenting was not really an option. Now many families are looking at this. When the Canada Revenue Agency gave people the opportunity to divide their benefits, it became very beneficial for many of those families.

The only question I will have for the government with respect to this, what does 40% mean? A lot of times when we look at those numbers, it can be very difficult. We have to recognize that when someone has custody of his or her child, is that child in school? Is that parent picking the child up from school? Is the child sleeping in that parent's home? So many factors have to be looked at. I want to ensure that when we talk about the 40% for parenting, that it is looked at with a microscope.

As a person who has had a divorce, I understands what it is like to raise children who have come from that situation. It has been very difficult. If we talk about child support, I am pleased to see in the bill that child support does not have to go in front of a judge or to a court and that it can be done at an administrative level. For many families, this is a huge barrier, whether it is having to pay the legal fees or having to go through the entire process. Making it easier for families is very important.

We have to understand that there are barriers to that as well. My colleagues have raised question on how we addressed some of those, such as when people are being paid under the table. Many parents, both fathers and mothers, across the country do not pay their child support. They and are trying to rip off their children. At the end of the day, the children are the ones who are most affected. Anything we can do to ensure we always put the best interests of our children forward is very important.

Let us talk about the psychology and the emotional issues that occur around a divorce. I fully support what is in the bill on child welfare. Children have to come first during a divorce. When I look at myself, I think of divorce as 20-20 hindsight. If I could have done things differently, I would have. However, at that time, the emotions, the anger, wanting revenge, all of those horrible things people feel during separation and divorce occur. We have to recognize that it is such an emotional issue. I apologize to all of the lawyers in the room, but sometimes it gets worse when people go to lawyers and they put themselves $20,000 behind the eight ball because of it.

Brian Galbraith, a lawyer in Barrie, wrote this on his website:

Depression can often follow separation and divorce. According to the National Population Health Survey, the two-year period after a divorce has high rate of serious psychological problems for the couple. This is not a surprising effect given the anxieties about children and the drastic life and income changes people experience during this time.

In an issue of Psychology Today, it states:

Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before....The dependent child's short term reaction to divorce can be an anxious one.

The government talks about child welfare, mediation and about the opportunities to have a lawyer assist children. If we to look at this, we have to ensure we have those resources for them.

When I went through my divorce 18 years ago, the opportunities for low-income women, as I was at that time, were not available. An appointment for my son to sit down and talk about it was not available to him. It took eight months.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

October 4th, 2018 / 3:05 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we will continue second reading of Bill C-78, the family justice act. Tomorrow we will begin debate at third reading of Bill C-79, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership implementation act.

Next week, members will be working with Canadians in their ridings. When we return, we will begin debate on Senate amendments to Bill C-65, the harassment prevention act. Priority will then be given to the following bills: Bill C-77 on the Victims Bill of Rights and Bill C-82, the multilateral instrument in respect of tax conventions act.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my colleagues and their families a happy Thanksgiving.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 3:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-78, which aims to strengthen our family justice system by amending three federal laws, the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

As colleagues in this chamber have noted, the reforms proposed in Bill C-78 would represent the first substantive reforms to our federal family laws in over 20 years. We can all agree that these changes are long overdue.

Separation and divorce affect millions of Canadians. We all know that marriage breakdown can be hard on families, especially children.

Our government is committed to ensuring, to the greatest possible extent, that federal family laws protect families from the negative consequences that too often arise in situations of separation and divorce. As I have followed the debate on Bill C-78, I have been pleased to hear the expressions of support from all sides of the House for the key objectives of this legislation, namely promoting the best interests of the child, addressing family violence, helping to reduce child poverty and making Canada's family justice system more accessible and efficient.

It appears that when this bill comes to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, there will be a very collegial approach to making sure that we improve it in the best possible way and actually work together to improve our family law system.

As the Minister of Justice has emphasized, Bill C-78 is really about putting children first. The proposed changes to the Divorce Act reaffirm that the best interest of the child is the only consideration in relation to parenting arrangements, and the bill proposes several changes to further support this fundamental principle.

The changes include a non-exhaustive list of criteria that judges must consider when determining what is in the child's best interest.

Bill C-78 also introduces a primary consideration to the best interests of the child test, which would require courts to consider elements crucial to a child's life, including physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being above all other considerations. Among other factors, the best interests of the child criteria would require courts to consider a child's views and preferences, giving due weight to the child's age and maturity.

This is consistent with Canada's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is important for children to have the right to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives and to express their own opinions, depending on their age and maturity.

We have all seen in our own lives areas where there have been disputes over child custody. Too often, the voice of the child has been ignored. Now, under our proposed law, as soon as this bill is adopted, the voice of the child predominates.

Bill C-78 would also require judges to consider a child's linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage, and the child's upbringing. That includes indigenous heritage, which is something currently absent from the Divorce Act but obviously necessary to take into account when making decisions about a child.

For example, should a child come from both the English- and French-speaking communities, it is essential that the child learn both languages and the culture of both communities. The same is true when one of the parents comes from an indigenous community. To strip the child of their heritage would be an unfortunate mistake, and now the law would ensure that it is taken into account.

Given that the best interest of the child is the only consideration in making decisions on parenting arrangements for a child, Bill C-78 would not create parenting presumptions in the Divorce Act. The bill would include a modified maximum parenting time principle, requiring courts to ensure the child has as much time with each spouse as is in the child's best interests.

Time with parents fosters a child's social, emotional and cognitive development, and sufficient time with each parent is necessary to establish and maintain these relationships. However, it is important to note that this provision stipulates that the child should have as much time with each parent as is consistent with the best interests of the child. Thus, courts would ultimately determine what allocation of time would work best for the child.

In addition to the amendments pertaining specifically to the best interests of the child test, Bill C-78 proposes several other reforms that promote the best interests of the child. A key example is the proposed change to parenting language.

The terms “custody” and “access” will be replaced by terminology that can help reduce conflict between parents. Bill C-78 also provides for the creation of parenting orders and contact orders, by means of which the courts will give clear instructions to parents about the care of their children.

In addition, in recognition of the fact that there are often other people who play a critical role in a child's life, the bill would make contact orders available to non-spouses, such as grandparents. In most cases, parents facilitate contact between their children and other special people in their lives during one parent's parenting time. These orders would be available as an option in situations where the parties do not agree to allow this to happen. Of course, contact orders would also be based solely on the best interests of the child. However, as we have all seen, and as we have all heard from our constituents, there are tragic incidents where after a divorce, grandparents are not allowed to visit children. Great-aunts, great-uncles and other people who are close are suddenly stripped away from the contact they have had their entire lives. This bill would now ensure that those people would also have a right to say that they want to have contact with a minor child.

Turning now to the second objective of Bill C-78, which is addressing family violence, the government recognizes that family violence is traumatic for children who are exposed to it as direct victims or as witnesses. Increasingly, research is providing important insights into the lifelong effects of childhood trauma, and it is critically important that family violence be appropriately taken into account when decisions about parenting arrangements are being made.

To provide guidance to parents, courts and family justice professionals, Bill C-78 proposes a statutory definition of family violence based on social science research. It would explicitly include family violence as a factor to be considered in determining the best interests of a child, and it would include an additional set of factors to guide courts in considering the impact of family violence.

Finally, Bill C-78 would require courts to inquire about any other civil protection, child protection or criminal proceedings or orders that involve the parties to avoid conflicts between family and criminal court orders.

The third objective of Bill C-78 is to help reduce poverty. It has been demonstrated that 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. While most parents meet their obligations when it comes both to the establishment and payment of child support, many parents do not provide the complete and accurate income information required by the law to establish support. There are more than one billion dollars in unpaid child support payments in Canada, and this bill would provide additional tools to provinces and territories to ensure that those debts are paid.

This has serious consequences for families who use the family justice system. More than one million Canadian children of separated or divorced parents live in single-parent families. Those families are more likely to be living in poverty. The risk of poverty following a separation or divorce can be reduced when the parents and the children receive the financial support they are owed.

Bill C-78 would bring much-needed changes to limit the consequences of income-related disputes on the family justice system, parents, and most importantly, children. Amendments to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act would permit the release of income information to courts and provincial child support services to help determine fair and accurate support amounts and to help them enforce these support orders.

In addition, the amendments to the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act will allow for faster garnishment of wages where possible, so that families can receive the money garnished more quickly.

As my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London said in her speech about when she was working as a constituency officer for a former member of Parliament, one of the themes that is the most frustrating for MPs and their staff is when people come in who are the custodial parents and are asking for support. They have to go through hoops to try to find a way to administratively get to the right amount of custodial payments, because the other parent is not cooperating or is lying about his or her income, etc. Now, at least, we can do this in an administrative way and not have to run to court every single time.

Finally, Bill C-78 includes a number of measures intended to streamline processes to help make family justice more accessible and affordable for Canadians, while encouraging family dispute resolution.

To assist Canadian families in resolving international disputes, Bill C-78 would make the necessary changes to the Divorce Act and the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act in order to implement two international conventions: the Convention of 23 November 2007 on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance and the Convention of 19 October 1996 on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children.

We have all heard of horrible cases of parents taking children abroad and the Canadian custodial parents spending years trying to get the children back. We need to do everything possible to work with international forces to make sure that we allow those parents to get their kids back to Canada.

I also want to take a moment to talk about something very important to me, to my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier and to many other members in the House, namely access to justice—and to divorce courts in particular—in Canada's two official languages.

Whether people are English-speaking Quebeckers or French speakers outside Quebec, we want to make sure that access to divorce and access to our courts is available in both languages.

We heard from representatives of the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law as well as English-speaking legal experts from Quebec. In committee, we are going to consider amendments to the bill in order to ensure that Canadians have access to divorce courts in both of Canada's official languages.

To ensure that French and English have official language status in divorce proceedings, we must ensure that the judge or judicial officer who hears the case understands the language in question properly. Witnesses also need to be able to express themselves in their preferred language, and the final decision must be provided in both official languages when testimony is given in both languages. French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec have the right to access justice in their own language.

The English-speaking community of Quebec has a right to justice in its own language. That is something, among other things, I know we will be considering at committee.

In conclusion, we all know how difficult separation and divorce can be for families. I have heard some of my colleagues talk about their own experiences. In retrospect, there are always things that could have been done better. I know the pain some of my friends have suffered going through divorce.

When the law instructs that we need to focus on putting the best interests of the child first, that helps everyone in the picture.

I appreciate the bill. It addresses family violence, it would help reduce poverty and it would make the family justice system more accessible. I believe that Bill C-78, as put forward by our Minister of Justice and Attorney General, represents significant change that would better support Canadian families.

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October 4th, 2018 / 3:25 p.m.
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NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. Before Bill C-78 is sent to committee, I would like to know what he thinks about adding criteria to better define the interests of the child in the case of separation.

The NDP believes that we need to look at the big picture when determining the interests of the child. We want to come up with a list of criteria, but it should not be exhaustive. Since we are all only human, we understand that other variables may come into play. I would like to know what my colleague thinks about making a shorter list and providing a little more flexibility in the case of separation.

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October 4th, 2018 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-78. The bill would amend three different acts and modernizes divorce proceedings. There is much in the bill that I am very pleased to see, however, as with any bill, there is room for improvement. I hope that my hon. colleagues across the way will be willing to hear and implement helpful suggestions in the same spirit of co-operation that the bill recommends for divorce proceedings.

Before I go any further, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Edmonton Griesbach.

Much has changed in the legal realm over the past 30 years, including a growing understanding of the impact that our current legal framework for divorce has on children and their parents. That understanding has led courts toward a less adversarial and more co-operative framework for divorce proceedings.

Bill C-78 amends the statute to bring it in line with the prevailing legal thoughts as delineated by our courts. I want to expand on that. Marriage is a societal institution on which our society is built. A key aspect of marriage is the creation of a stable structure in which children can grow and learn. When a marriage dissolves for whatever reason it is important that the welfare of the child be placed in the highest priority. I am pleased to see that Bill C-78 has placed an emphasis on children.

Bill C-78 makes strides toward the recognition of the rights and considerations of children. An example of this change in focus can be found in the adjustments of the language used throughout the process. Bill C-78 does away with the dichotomy of winning custody versus visitation. The current language creates an adversarial situation wherein one parent is defined as the winner of the proceedings, making the other parent the loser of those same proceedings.

Bill C-78 adjusts the focus from a winner-and-loser mentality wherein the child is a prize to be fought for to that of parenting wherein the child is to be protected and cared for. This may seem like an inconsequential change, but the evidence of the past 30 years shows that this is not the case. This is not to say that we can fully understand or predict precisely how these changes will play out in the emotionally fraught experience of a divorce.

Nevertheless, this is a positive step toward the protection of children. While clearly changing terminology is only one step along the path, the change of language denotes an underlying change in the framework of a divorce proceeding.

This is further advanced by the emphasis placed on the use and encouragement of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to avoid costly and damaging litigation. Litigation over children is costly, hurtful and often very damaging for children.

I mentioned before that divorces are emotionally fraught proceedings. Nowhere is this more evidenced than in litigation over children. Often parents, faced with the prospect of losing the adversarial contest delineated in the current statute, resort to litigation.

Rarely is this in the best interests of the child. ln fact, I am sure that many of us can point to examples within our own spheres of friendship and family wherein children have become pawns in the litigation process by parents who unwittingly acted against their own children's best interests.

Furthermore, as a Conservative, I am uncomfortable with the thought of a court deciding the best interests of a child between two opposed parents. While it may at times be necessary, I believe we can all agree that it ought to be a last resort rather than a first option. I believe it is far better if the parents work together to come to an arrangement that properly addresses the concerns, rights and responsibilities of each parent while protecting the rights and considerations of the child or children.

For this reason, I applaud Bill C-78 for the move away from exposing children to litigation and instead directing the proceedings to alternative dispute mechanisms. These mechanisms may include counsellors, mediators, mental health experts and parenting experts.

The dispute resolution mechanisms require parents to work together for the good of their children and head off potential adversity by placing the welfare of the child as the goal rather than winning custody of that child. This results in the parents being in a position of working together rather than on opposing sides. However, I also have a concern that Bill C-78 perhaps does not address this to the degree that it could.

As I mentioned earlier, I appreciate the focus that this act places on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, as they create a co-operative framework rather than an adversarial one. However, I believe it should be clear to everyone that divorces are often, despite best efforts, adversarial and emotionally charged. One or both parents could and often do choose to proceed directly to litigation in order to win. As positive a step as the revised language in the introduction of the dispute mechanism is, it is not enough to address this issue.

I believe the government considered this issue while drafting Bill C-78, as it put in place the requirement for legal professionals to encourage clients to use the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Nevertheless, I would argue that this amounts to slightly more than a “requirement to inform”. While it is sure to make a difference, there will be many cases where one or both parents write off resolution mechanisms immediately without a second thought.

Would my colleagues on the other side consider the possibility of including arbitration as a clearly defined provision within the dispute resolution options? Having this in place would allow the courts to have more leeway in requiring that the divorcing parties go through a resolution process before resorting to litigation. At the least, I would encourage the justice committee to consider this issue to ensure that the processes put in place would indeed be as effective as intended.

Another concern I have is with the lack of a default position wherein both parents share equal parental responsibility. Critics of this bill point to results of research within the social sciences, which suggests equal shared parenting as the best outcome for children in a divorce proceeding. Of course, this may not always be ideal, which is why it would certainly have to be rebuttable. However, as a default position, it would require disproving in order to be changed. Given what we know from the social sciences, I believe that adding an assumption of equal shared parenting is worth serious consideration at the committee stage of this bill and worthy of some discussion.

I would like to pause for a moment here to reiterate that my criticisms of this bill, if my concerns can even be called that, come from a place of goodwill.

As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, and as so many others have stated, this bill is the first major amendment to the Divorce Act in 30 years, and indeed only the second amendment in 50 years. I believe it is very important that we get this right, as it will likely be the divorce framework for many years to come.

There are many other points that I could address about this bill. Unfortunately, I know that I am out of time. Instead, what I will say is that I am pleased to support this bill through to committee, where I hope it is closely reviewed and ardently debated, and where I hope to see my concerns addressed.

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October 4th, 2018 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry Diotte Conservative Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, we all know that divorce is a very terrible thing. It can be a traumatic experience for families, children and parents. However, when it does occur, it really is imperative that the best interests of children should be at the heart of any divorce proceeding they may be caught up in.

According to the 2016 census, more than two million Canadian children are now living in separated or divorced families and 38% of the five million separations and divorces in Canada between 1991 and 2011 involved a child. Therefore, divorce has, sadly, become a regular part of the lives of everyday Canadians. With this legislation, we really have a duty to try to minimize the trauma of divorce as much as possible, especially on children.

Overall, the intention of Bill C-78 is good. I am especially glad to hear the legislation will be centred on the child. Too often, children become pawns in bitter divorces. We have all heard those heart-wrenching horror stories.

A woman near and dear to my heart has been going through a living hell, battling to get what is best for her daughter for years after her divorce. Under shared custody, the daughter was succeeding in school and attending regularly, especially when she was at her mother's home. However, at subsequent family court appearances, the daughter's dad managed to convince the family court it would be in the best interest to have the daughter spend all of her time at his residence. After that happened, the teenage daughter's marks plummeted. She missed a ridiculous amount of school and got into trouble with police. It is a very sad story.

Despite fighting tirelessly in family court, this woman's daughter is now hopelessly alienated because one parent wanted to punish the other. This child was used as a weapon and essentially brainwashed by one parent to punish the other parent. This daughter will now no longer speak to her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, uncles or young nieces and nephews, who absolutely adore her.

Alienation is one of the most terrible things that can be inflicted upon a child. It is something that can literally ruin a person's life and could take years of psychological help to overcome.

Part of the problem I have witnessed in family court is people who appear there do not even testify under oath. Remarkably, there is no requirement to actually tell the truth. Therefore, how can a judge truly make a correct decision in the best interests of the child if there is little or no ability to compel people to tell the truth? It is really quite ludicrous and it is no wonder that some people criticize family courts as kangaroo courts.

That is also why subsection 16(10) of the act is an important first step and states the principle that children should have as much contact with each parent within the confines of their best interest. It also takes into account the willingness of the parent to facilitate visitation as a consideration in custody disputes. It is a move that will penalize parents who, for petty reasons, try to limit visitation and access of the child or children to the other parent. It is a positive first step to ensure that even in acrimonious divorces, the best interests of the child are always first and foremost, and that is as it should be.

Promoting the use of alternative dispute resolutions, such as divorce mediation, to settle divorce cases is also an encouraging move. It should help make divorce proceedings as amicable as possible in very bitter situations at times.

Being caught up in the middle of an acrimonious divorce is never in the best interests of children. Therefore, taking steps to create a valuable alternative to litigation in family court is a sensible idea. It obviously would not solve the worst of cases, like the case I mentioned, but it is a start. If done correctly, it could have a meaningful impact for millions of Canadians.

Ultimately, Canadian children are best served when the custody and divorce proceedings are as harmonious as possible, with both parents having a meaningful relationship with their children.

A third important part of the legislation is the introduction of measures on combatting domestic violence and child abuse. That is a laudable goal. Having dispute mechanisms and courts taking into consideration domestic violence and child abuse is imperative, considering the move to a more dual parenting framework.

As I stated before, it is always in the best interests of the child to have both of their parents having meaningful relationships. That, however, is definitely not the case in situations where one of the parents is violent, neglectful or abusive. I see the government is committed to creating 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. That is another positive step, especially considering the extraordinarily slow pace the current government has taken in appointing badly needed new justices and judges. Let us certainly hope they appoint them a lot faster than they have been filling other judicial vacancies.

Unfortunately, my colleagues across the aisle's support of the best interests of children rings somewhat hollow. Let us talk about another case from the headlines about which everybody is talking.

It is the case of Terri-Lynn McClintic, a convicted child murderer who is now living at a healing lodge. Canadians are saying, loudly and clearly, that she should be back behind bars. The Liberals are refusing to act on that, saying that the Conservatives are ambulance chasers, that we are just creating this whole controversy and that it is very low of us. However, all we are doing is reflecting on what the father wants. He has spoken about it very clearly on CBC and other media.

For instance, I just am not sure how it can be said that promoting the best interests of the child is best served. She was murdered. The Liberals talk about promoting the best interests of the child in this legislation, yet her murderer is not even behind bars. She is in a healing lodge. Would Tori's best interests not be ensured by her murderer being held behind bars?

I also do not see how having a child murderer at a healing lodge is in the best interests of the children who are often present there, yet this is the position the members across the way supported in votes. It is really enraging Canadians. One day there is what seems to be a flippant disregard for what is Tori Stafford's best interests and the best interests of children at that healing lodge. Then on the next day we hear the Liberals' talking points about this bill and how much they care about children. It is rather shameful, to be honest.

This is also the case with Bill C-75, the government's new crime bill. Again, l am not sure how many parts of that bill mesh with the priority of the best interests of the child, which my colleagues across the aisle seem to believe today. How is giving a mere fine in the best interests of children who are forced into marriage, or marriage under the age of 16 or the abduction of a child under the age of 16? How does that act in the best interests of the child? I fail to see that.

How do any of these reforms put the interests of the child first? Very simply put, I do not believe they do and that it is not the government's position. If the minister would like to truly put children first, as she should, I recommend she do so in a consistent manner and go forward from there.

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October 4th, 2018 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments regarding Bill C-75.

in the course of the member's speech, he talked about the fact that in most circumstances it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents involved in the child's development and for there to be ongoing contact and support with both parents. One of the criticisms some have put forward with respect to Bill C-78 is it would not provide for a presumption of shared parenting. As the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek noted, sometimes shared parenting is not in the interests of the child. Would the member agree that perhaps one flaw of the bill is that it does not contain a provision for a rebuttable presumption for shared parenting?

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October 4th, 2018 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-78 talks a lot about children and making them a priority.

As I have said many times in the House, I am a mother to two boys. I have also said that my children were born to a common-law couple. The bill in its current form addresses only married individuals.

I would like to know whether my colleague thinks that more amendments are needed to take into account common-law spouses as well as parents who separate but were not married, yet still need support. They could also be included in Bill C-78.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about that.

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October 4th, 2018 / 4:05 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is such a pleasure to rise and speak to what I believe is a significant piece of legislation.

It has been many years since we have had substantial changes to the Divorce Act. In fact, one would have to go back a couple of decades to when we saw some reforms.

One of my colleagues across the way gave us a little history and mentioned his year of birth being 1984. He also mentioned the patchwork of divorce law across Canada at the time and questioned how one could even get a divorce. The 1980s was not that long ago. When my colleague was born, I was in the forces, posted in Edmonton. A lot has changed.

In the last three years we have seen a minister take a look at what is a very important issue to Canadians in all regions of the country. As opposed to trying to dictate in any fashion, she took it upon herself and the ministry to reach out to many different stakeholders. It is important for us to recognize that Ottawa plays an important leading role on a number of issues. Divorce happens to be one of them. A part of playing that leadership role included the minister reaching out to different stakeholders. The stakeholders ranged from women's groups and advisory groups that can offer a lot of opinions, thoughts and valid information to the many different provinces and territories, in looking at ways in which we can reform the system so that it works better.

This legislation is so important. I had the opportunity to ask the minister about the legislation. The first thing she said is that it is about the child. It is the children's interests that we are debating today and have debated before. The chamber has captured the essence of why it is so important. I have listened to the debate, and even though members might agree to disagree on some of the finer points, most have acknowledged that it is important that the legislation pass so that it can go to committee. We are very grateful for that. It means that all members of the House are in support of the legislation, at least in principle, and are prepared to see it go to committee.

At committee, I am sure we will have an opportunity to hear more feedback. The department is very much interested and is following the debate. Members have had the opportunity to provide some thoughts. I do not want to prejudge what is going to take place at committee, but based on the debate and the discussions that have been taking place, I suspect it will be a very fruitful discussion.

I want to emphasize that when we think of divorce and we put the child first, we must also think about the whole issue of jurisdiction. Committee members and those who are participating in the ongoing discussions in regard to this bill, must remember that the legislation is meant to establish the framework. It is long overdue. We have needed the types of changes in this legislation for a number of years.

As we go through the clauses, I would encourage members to reflect on the fact that those clauses were derived from many different forms of consultation with advocates, provinces, and interested individuals. At times on the surface it might seem that we could simply modify the clauses. However, I would ask members to consider that there was in fact a lot of discussion that incorporated many thoughts and ideas when creating the clauses. I say that because I sense there is a great deal of interest in making some modifications.

We are now almost three years into our mandate and we are debating this legislation today in good part because of a lot of the background work that has been done.

When we talk about putting the child first, it is not only through legislation. Virtually from day one, this government and in particular the Prime Minister have focused a lot of attention on the middle class. Every day we hear about the importance of Canada's middle class and what we need to do to enhance and strengthen the middle class. We have a responsibility to look at some weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

On numerous occasions today, the parliamentary secretary mentioned the $1 billion that is being denied to children. Through budgetary measures and the Canada child benefit we came up with significant amounts of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, to put into the pockets of the parents and guardians of children. This legislation, in good part, is going to enable those very same children to get the money they are due.

This legislation proposes to do many things, but as the minister herself has made very clear, it is the child who comes first. One of the best ways to make sure that the child comes first is to ensure that the child has the necessary financial resources to do the things that are necessary in order to have opportunities in the future.

Relationships can be complicated. Any relationship can be touch and go. No relationship is destined to everlasting peace and harmony. Every relationship will have challenges. When children are factored in, things can become very difficult.

I am sure all of us can share some stories that we have heard. Maybe some of us have even provided some counselling. I have provided counselling services. It is difficult at the best of times.

Some children, depending on their age, might recognize that it is a good thing that mom and dad are separating, because they want both parents to be happy. Then there is the opposite situation, where a child is absolutely emotionally torn and does not know what to do.

Parents might be in a difficult position. They are at odds with each other. Things can range from having a peaceful sit-down discussion with a third party to the more violent type of interaction that we know takes place. Because of the child and because of the parents at times, there is a role for government and society to play to ensure that the child's best interests, in fact, the family's best interests, are ultimately served.

This is the type of legislation that moves forward the idea of an alternative to going to court in all instances. A good example of that is the issue of income and having to have it readjusted. I have a number of friends who have experienced divorce and they talk about the cost of it, having to go through the court process and the waiting periods. Sometimes they were dealing with issues such as income or income readjustment.

Shortly after the minister first introduced the legislation, I happened to be on an Air Canada flight when someone I knew from the past, who I understood was a judge, came up to me. She provided the comment that this bill is good, sound legislation. I do not know to what degree she read it through, but I can tell members that she thought it was sound legislation that would have a profound, positive impact in terms of issues such as time and peace within families. That gave me a vote of confidence that the legislation we are talking about is really sinking in, in terms of the community, since shortly after the minister brought it for first reading, someone of that calibre raised the issue. I had known her many years ago, knew her attitude towards families, and was quite pleased to hear that sort of comment.

In the discussions I have had to date on this proposed legislation, the feedback has been very encouraging. I am glad to see the general support we are receiving not only from outside this chamber from stakeholders and other interested individuals who are following the debate but from across the way, which is encouraging to see, given how important it is that this dated law be updated.

The best interests of the child, reducing child poverty, addressing family violence and more access to the justice system through things that will ultimately resolve more issues related to divorce outside the courts are all positive, strong points that I think we need to repeat again and again to reinforce that this proposed legislation will put us on the right track.

Bill C-78 is a change in terms of the title itself, 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. It is very comprehensive.

I will highlight some of the things this proposed legislation would actually do. For example, it would promote the best interests of the child, which is something I have highlighted. One of those points would include replacing the words “custody” and “access” with more parenting terminology. Words matter, so we would have more consistency of that wording throughout Canada. There has been a great deal of work on using the same terminology, and that matters.

Establishing criteria and legislating a list of best interests of the child is incredibly positive. Requiring the courts to take the child's view into account is an appropriate thing to do. Allowing for the implementation of the 1996 Hague child protection convention, clarifies rules around recognition and enforcement judgements and makes it easier for authorities in different countries to communicate and co-operate with each other about many cross-border issues involving children.

We talk about Canadian divorce laws, but often in these divorces, the interests of the child go far beyond our borders. In fact, many countries around the world look to Canada and the types of things we put in place to resolve some of our societal issues. The Philippines is an example. It does not have a divorce law. It is a beautiful country. I have had many opportunities to visit, and I will continue to visit in the future. We can learn a lot from a country like the Philippines.

However, some countries do not have divorce legislation. Therefore, world organizations try to provide international leadership. By Canada incorporating ideas and thoughts that come through those international bodies speaks well with respect to us continuing to play a leadership role not only in Canada but potentially in other areas of the world.

We talked about reducing poverty. The parliamentary secretary referenced $1 billion. Close to two million children in Canada live with one parent or a guardian. Hundreds of thousands of them live in poverty or borderline poverty. In good part that is because the spouse or individual who is supposed to pay support for the child has not fulfilled that obligation.

Therefore, the legislation would allow for the release of CRA information to help establish, vary and enforce family support. Income information would come from T1 form, for example. That is a significant step forward. It is why I suggested earlier the importance of working with other stakeholders, such as provinces and others.

On family violence, a definition of family violence will be included in the Divorce Act for the very first time. It will include any conduct that is violent, threatening, a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour that causes a family member to fear for his or her safety, or directly or indirectly exposing a child to such conduct. Violence means more than just physical violence. It includes mental and monetary. There are many ways one can have an unhappy family. The definition includes a child that has been compromised to the degree it causes pain, whether physical or mental.

Thousands of children are in custody in my home province of Manitoba. Many of those cases are rooted in family violence in their homes. I am glad we have finally recognized that family violence does exist and have incorporated that in the legislation.

Mr. Speaker, it looks like you are about to tell me to stop speaking. I have quite a bit more that I would like to share with members. Possibly through questions, I might be able to do so.

Suffice it to say that increasing access to justice and improving its efficiency is another very important point. I will not be able to give examples of that. However, it is always a privilege to be able to share a few thoughts.

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September 26th, 2018 / 4:20 p.m.
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Vancouver Granville B.C.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-78, 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-78. The bill, which I tabled on May 22 of this year, would help support and protect families, especially children, from the negative outcomes and conflicts that are the sad reality of separation and divorce.

Our government has taken great strides to strengthen the Canadian family justice system. In budget 2017, we created ongoing funding for federal, provincial and territorial family justice activities through the Canadian family justice fund. In the same year, we also signed two international family law conventions. This year in budget 2018, we announced funding to expand unified family courts, fulfilling one of my mandate letter commitments. However, despite all this progress, we still need to do more.

Separation and divorce can be difficult for families, especially for children. We know that the impacts can be wide-reaching. Over two million children live in families with separated or divorced parents. There is no other area of law that touches as many Canadians.

Federal family laws should help families resolve their disputes quickly and effectively, but these laws have not been substantially updated in over 20 years and were in desperate need of modernization. Over the past two decades, families have changed and our justice system has changed. Our government understands that much should be done to improve federal family laws and the family justice system to better meet the needs of all Canadians.

Bill C-78 advances four critically important goals: promoting the best interests of the child, addressing family violence, reducing child poverty, and improving the efficiencies and accessibility of the family justice system. I will address all of these in turn.

I will begin with the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child test is the cornerstone of family law. It is the only basis upon which decisions about who may care for a child can be made under the Divorce Act. This test has been called a child's “positive right to the best possible arrangements in the circumstances”. It allows courts to consider how to best foster the child's overall development and protect the child from conflict and the disruptive effects of divorce at such a vulnerable point in the child's life.

Despite the importance of the best interests of the child test, the Divorce Act currently provides minimal guidance on how courts should apply this test. Bill C-78 would change this. It proposes an extensive, though not exhaustive, list of criteria for courts to consider when making decisions in the best interests of the child.

The criteria we have proposed include elements such as the child's needs, given the age and stage of the child's development, the child's relationships with important people in his or her life, especially parents but also others such as grandparents, and the child's culture and heritage, including indigenous heritage.

One criterion in particular, the requirement that courts consider the views and preferences of the child, giving due weight to the child's age and maturity, demonstrates Canada's ongoing commitment to its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This criterion encourages parents and courts to consider the voice of the child in determining parenting arrangements reflecting the importance of children expressing their views in matters that affect them.

The most significant change that Bill C-78 would bring to the best interests of the child test and the lens through which all other factors would be examined is the provision that would be called the “primary consideration”. This would be a requirement that courts consider the child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being. It would help ensure that the most critical elements of the child's well-being are always the centre of focus and of any best interests analysis.

Also, to further the best interests of the child, we are proposing to remove the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act. For years, these terms have been criticized for fuelling conflict between parents. Custodial parents have been long seen as the winners of custody disputes and access parents have long been seen as the losers. The terms are relics from property law, reflecting a time when children were legally considered to be their parents' property.

To help parents collaborate and focus on their child's best interests, we are introducing terms based on parents' responsibilities for their children. Instead of custody orders, courts would make parenting orders. Parenting orders would address parenting time and decision-making responsibility. Two provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, and many of our international partners, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have replaced property-based language with this sort of language focused on the child-parent relationship. In Canada, even where custody and access are still on the statute books, many judges, lawyers and other family justice professionals have already begun to abandon property-based language in their orders and agreements about children, favouring language focused on the parent-child relationships.

Another major change Bill C-78 proposes with the best interests of the child in mind is the creation of a relocation framework in the Divorce Act. Relocation or moving with children after separation and divorce is one of the most litigated areas in family law. The stakes are often very high, particularly when a proposed move would involve a significant geographic distance. The bill creates notice requirements for parents proposing to move, best interests criteria for courts to consider in relocation cases and rules for courts to apply depending on the parenting arrangement in place for the child. This would help courts and parents make informed, child-focused decisions.

Canada has recently taken steps to advance the interests of Canadian children in international family law disputes. On May 23, 2017, Canada signed two international family law conventions. One of these conventions, the 1996 convention on the protection of children, would make it easier for Canadian parenting orders to be recognized and enforced in other countries that are also party to the convention. This would provide better assurance to families that travel or relocate to another convention country that their Canadian court order would be respected. Bill C-78 also includes amendments that are necessary for Canada to become a party to the convention. The other convention is the 2007 child support convention, which would help with poverty reduction, as I will discuss a little further on.

The next aspect of Bill C-78 that I would like to address is family violence, an issue of great importance to our government and to all Canadians. Most provincial and territorial family laws address family violence in separating couples, but federal family laws are conspicuously silent. It is long past time to address this silence.

Although separation may be a means of escaping an abusive relationship, evidence shows that spouses are at an increased risk of violence at the time of separation. We are also learning about the lasting effects of trauma such as family violence on children's developing brains. The impact can be debilitating and lifelong. More can and must be done to prevent this from happening. Bill C-78 includes three amendments to address family violence in the Divorce Act and one in the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.

First, we have proposed an evidence-based definition of family violence in the Divorce Act that highlights common indicators of abusive behaviour. Coercive and controlling behaviour which is known to be particularly dangerous is highlighted.

Second, we have proposed a distinct set of best interests of the child criteria to help courts make appropriate parenting orders when there has been family violence. These include considerations such as the nature, seriousness and frequency of violence.

Third, we have a provision that would require courts to consider whether there are any child protection or criminal orders or any other proceedings that could influence an order under the Divorce Act. This provision would help prevent conflicts between courts, such as a family law order that gives a parent time with a child in a manner that conflicts with with a criminal restraining order.

Finally, we have proposed an amendment to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act that would restrict the sharing of personal information in situations of family violence where a family member's safety may be at risk.

Together, these measures would help courts better address family violence at a time when family members are particularly vulnerable, and help prevent family violence as families adjust to their new post-separation arrangements.

Next, I will explain how Bill C-78 would address poverty reduction, and child poverty specifically. Many families who go through separation and divorce experience a dramatic increase in expenses. The transition from a single family home with separate expenses to two homes with duplicate expenses can be a great burden. Shifting child care responsibilities can affect a parent's ability to find and maintain employment. These changes make many families vulnerable to poverty. Therefore, it is critically important that families receive the child and spousal support owed to them and that these amounts be fairly and properly calculated, reflecting accurate financial information.

Bill C-78 includes several measures that would help reduce poverty and help families recover from the financial crisis many experience as part of separation. First, we have proposed changes to the Divorce Act that would make it easier for families to determine and change child support without going to court, saving them money and, potentially, complication and stress. We have also proposed measures that would introduce a new application-based procedure to establish or vary a support order when parties reside in different jurisdictions.

Earlier, I mentioned the 1996 child protection convention. Canada also signed the 2007 child support convention. The 2007 convention will help families by providing a low-cost and efficient way to obtain or change support orders across international borders. As with the 1996 convention, amendments to federal laws are proposed as an essential step for Canada to becoming a party to the 2007 convention.

We are also proposing a number of changes to federal laws that would facilitate the enforcement of child and spousal support. For example, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act would be amended to allow for the search and release of a party's income information to courts and provincial services, including provincial enforcement services, for the purposes of establishing, varying or enforcing support. This amendment is intended to allow child support orders to be made more quickly, accurately and with less trouble and expense. Costs would be reduced for families and courts.

There are billions of dollars of unpaid child support payments in Canada. With this bill, we would be giving provinces, territories and individuals more tools to ensure that those obligations are being paid. In addition, the vast majority, some 96%, of cases registered in maintenance enforcement programs involve male payers paying female recipients. The problem of unpaid support contributes to the feminization of poverty, which the measures in this bill would help address.

Finally, another proposal in this bill is to prioritize child and spousal support debts above all other debts except Crown debts under the federal Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. Again, this would help make sure that families receive the money they are owed.

I will now move on to the bill's final theme, which is to improve the efficiency of, and families' access to, the Canadian family justice system. We know that changes to the family justice system are long overdue. Retired Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell has noted the many calls for fundamental change to, or a paradigm shift in, the family justice system. Parents struggle to pay for lawyers and often have no choice but to represent themselves in family law disputes, which may be highly contentious and emotionally charged. It is not easy to be one's own advocate in these circumstances, yet research tells us that between 50% and 80% of Canadians in family law disputes represent themselves in court.

Self-represented family law litigants risk making choices without understanding their rights and obligations, and can find the process incredibly stressful. They also add to the strain of overburdened courts. Judges and court staff take significantly more time with self-represented litigants to help them navigate their complex legal challenges. The bill includes several measures to facilitate family law processes for families and to divert people away from the courts, saving time and resources for cases that require a judge's consideration.

One of these measures is to encourage family dispute resolution processes, which can include mediation, negotiation, collaborative law and other forms of out-of-court dispute resolution. These processes are generally less expensive, can help families come to agreements faster, and often allow parents to play a more active role in crafting appropriate arrangements for their families.

After the bill's proposed changes, lawyers would have a duty to tell parents about family justice services that could be of assistance to them and to encourage them to try a family dispute resolution where appropriate. Courts would have the option of referring parents to a family dispute resolution where available.

Other measures to increase access to family justice include expanding the range of measures that the administrative services that determine child support may address. Provinces and territories have administrative child support services that recalculate support orders based on a parent's current income. The bill would expand the role of these out-of-court services, including allowing for the recalculation of interim support orders. Families could use these services rather than having to retain lawyers to go to court to change their child support orders, again saving them money and reducing court time.

I would like to conclude by again stressing how important it is for our government to improve federal family laws. As I said, our family laws are outdated. They no longer reflect the reality of middle-class Canadian families. Many of the processes set out in federal family laws are slow, cumbersome and heavily dependent on the courts. Bill C-78 will help Canadians find faster, more cost-effective and lasting solutions to family law disputes, with the best interest of the child at the heart of all of it.

I am confident that the changes we have proposed would bring positive change to the Canadian family justice system and to Canadian families and children. I look forward to working with all of my parliamentary colleagues to help promote the best possible outcomes for families experiencing separation and divorce. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting this incredibly important piece of legislation.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2018 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada for introducing this important piece of legislation.

As she pointed out, the Divorce Act has not been amended in over 20 years, so there was certainly room for improvement. It is only right to support amendments based on principles like the best interests of the child, the fight against family violence and poverty reduction.

I want to pick up on something the minister said at the end of her speech and ask her a question. In her conclusion, she said she hoped that we would support her in promoting this bill. We consulted a number of experts and organizations in our preparations to study Bill C-78. While they heartily welcome the bill, they did see other possible improvements, even though the bill is already 190 pages long.

I would like to know whether the government members who sit on that committee will be open to hearing and supporting the amendments brought forward by members of various parties based on evidence given by the experts who will be appearing before us to discuss possible improvements, in addition to the amendments moved by the minister.