Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mount Royal.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-78. I will use most of my time to address the important amendments the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights have made to this important bill. I was proud to work with the committee to bring forward these changes, which reflect witness testimony and would significantly improve access to the Canadian family justice system.
Changes to federal family laws are long overdue. The changes we are bringing forward are substantial. They would better address the challenging issues that families may face, such as family violence and disputes over relocation. They would improve access to the Canadian family justice system. Bill C-78 already went a long way toward achieving these goals and the work of the justice committee took the bill even further.
I am fortunate to represent a riding like Parkdale—High Park in this chamber, where the constituents are informed and engaged, and I am privileged to bring their concerns to this chamber every day. My constituents in Parkdale—High Park have spoken to me repeatedly about the importance of reconciling the need for a strong and fair justice system with their desire to be compassionate and understanding toward the plight of single parents and vulnerable children. This bill is precisely that middle ground.
I want to thank the many witnesses who submitted briefs or shared their thoughts on this bill in person. The committee listened closely to all the different points of view raised by members of the public and family justice system professionals in response to Bill C-78.
Committee members gathered important information from over 50 witnesses. The committee also received over 50 briefs representing a broad range of opinions and points of view. It reviewed the recommendations carefully, and many of them resulted in amendments to Bill C-78.
Relocation, particularly moving with a child after separation or divorce, is one of the most highly litigated areas of family law. There is next to no guidance on this issue in the current Divorce Act.
Bill C-78 would introduce a relocation framework to ensure that children come first and to encourage out-of-court dispute resolution. Some witnesses brought forward suggestions to improve access to justice in relocation, which is particularly relevant for northern remote communities and unrepresented litigants.
The Canadian Bar Association and the Family Law Association of Nunavut wisely recommended the use of a simplified form rather than court applications to facilitate access to justice and reduce the need to get the courts involved.
The committee addressed this concern and developed an innovative solution promoting conflict resolution and access to justice. Specifically, it passed an amendment to give non-relocating parents the option of indicating their opposition to a proposed relocation through a form set out in the regulations. This will save the responding parent time and money.
The committee also amended the bill to require that parties seeking to relocate use a form to provide notice. Requiring that notice be provided through a form will promote clarity by prompting parents to provide all necessary information in a consistent manner.
We anticipate that these measures will relieve the administrative burden on the non-relocating parent, while still helping to ensure that courts only hear cases in which there is a genuine disagreement between the parties.
I believe that all members of the House support efforts in the bill to improve protections for children and families who have experienced family violence. For the very first time in federal law, Bill C-78 includes a broad, evidence-based definition of family violence and guidance for courts making parenting orders in the context of family violence.
Bill C-78 also stipulates that courts will be required to take family violence into account when determining the shared parenting arrangement that will be in the best interest of the child.
Witnesses raised concerns that, when people fleeing violence want to relocate, it can be dangerous for them to inform the other parties of their intention to apply for an exemption concerning the notice requirements.
In response to this particular concern, Bill C-78 was amended to explicitly provide that parties may apply to a court to waive or change relocation notice requirements without notice to other parties. Courts could then decide whether or how other parties should receive notice, without risking the safety of family members. People who have experienced family violence and face ongoing risk must be able to relocate without compromising their safety. However, notice is a fundamental principle of the legal system, so courts will exercise this power only where necessary.
Now I want to turn to the important issue of poverty reduction. I said I would focus this speech on the work of the justice committee, but I must take a minute to raise another issue of importance to me and I believe to many Canadians. That is the feminization of poverty and how the bill would help address it.
Children and families going through a separation or divorce are more vulnerable to poverty, especially those living in single-parent families, which are often led by mothers.
Unfortunately, although parents are required to provide accurate and up-to-date information on their income when the child support amounts are established, many parents do not comply. In 96% of cases where child support payments are in arrears, women are the ones owed money.
Obtaining fair child support amounts is key to reducing the risk of child poverty. Children do better when a fair and accurate amount of support is set and paid for them promptly after separation or divorce.
Bill C-78 would provide for various measures to ensure that child support obligations are met, which would address the pressing need of eliminating poverty in families going through a separation or divorce. The bill would allow for information on a parent's income to be shared with the court and provincial services.
With respect to official languages, the family justice system must adapt to the changing needs of Canadian families. This includes the needs of Canadians living outside Quebec whose first language is French, as well as those living in Quebec who have English as their first official language.
Consequently, the committee adopted an important amendment. Bill C-78 will now explicitly recognize litigants' right to use the official language of their choice in divorce proceedings before the lower courts. The parties will be able to give evidence, make submissions and apply for an order in the language of their choice. They can also be heard by a judge who speaks their official language.
This important change in the family justice system will provide the parties with the same language guarantees currently provided by the criminal justice system. This will help English-language and French-language minority communities flourish in Canada. It is very important to point this out, in light of the current Ontario government's threats against its francophone community.
In conclusion, I would like to once again recognize the work of the entire Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and of course the invaluable contributions of family law experts and stakeholders from across Canada. They have made an impressive bill even stronger and more responsive to the needs of all Canadian families.
The residents in my riding of Parkdale—High Park have said that one of the many ways to modernize the justice system in Canada is by addressing the shortfalls of our family justice system, and this bill is a comprehensive step toward realizing that important goal.