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

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.

Sponsor

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

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

May 28th, 2019 / 9:40 a.m.
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Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I appreciate the intent of the amendment here. I think the issue, as far as we see it, is that the removal of the notion of physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being brings us into a space where there's inconsistency with Bill C-78 addressing the Divorce Act, so with a view to ensuring consistency across legislation, I think it would be important not to amend it in this fashion.

(Amendment negatived [See Minutes of Proceedings])

May 28th, 2019 / 9:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Removing the reference to the best interests of the child being the paramount consideration when making decisions or taking actions related to child apprehension could be found inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Bill C-78 amending the Divorce Act.

As a result, we won't be supporting this amendment.

(Amendment negatived [See Minutes of Proceedings])

May 14th, 2019 / 9:45 p.m.
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Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Chair, the hon. member is the epitome of thoughtfulness. I think that has come out in his time in the House.

The best interests of the child is a fundamental principle in family law that must be reinforced to ensure that the support and protection of our children are always paramount. Bill C-78, as the hon. member has described, entrenches the best interests of the child as the only consideration when making decisions.

The one thing I will focus on for the purpose of the answer is that Bill C-78 proposes a non-exhaustive list of criteria for the best interests of the child, a list that did not exist before, in order to promote consistency and clarity in guiding family legal professionals, lawyers and courts. The proposed list is non-exhaustive, but it does give guidance. That is a far better place than we were before and it will help children in a very difficult time in their life. Forcing people through the hoops of having to look at criteria is something that is critically important in the framing of judicial analysis decisions and in making decisions that are ultimately in the best interests of the child.

May 14th, 2019 / 9:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Madam Chair, I am pleased to talk about Bill C-78, which will have a direct impact on Canadians.

Bill C-78 was introduced on May 22, 2018. I was proud to partake in the deliberations at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which reported on the bill, with amendments, on December 7, 2018. The bill received third reading in the House of Commons on February 2, 2019 and is currently with the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

Bill C-78 is a key milestone in our government's ongoing efforts to improve the lives of Canadian families. To better reflect the current needs of Canadian families, Bill C-78 proposes to advance four key priorities: promoting the best interests of the child, addressing family violence, contributing to poverty reduction and making the family justice system more accessible and efficient.

We listened closely to various points of view expressed by members of the public, family justice professionals and witnesses in response to Bill C-78. During the study, committee members gathered a significant amount of information from over 50 witnesses and received more than 50 briefs representing a broad range of opinions and viewpoints. The committee reviewed the recommendations carefully, and many of them resulted in amendments to Bill C-78.

Bill C-78 takes a child-focused approach. In addition to including a non-exhaustive list of best interest criteria, the bill requires that when determining the best interests of the child, courts give primary consideration to the child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being.

The bill also replaces property-based terms, such as “custody” and “access” with terms that best describe the parents' responsibilities for their children.

Some groups have expressed concern about the continued presence of the Divorce Act's “maximum contact” principle. First, I must be clear that the new maximum parenting time principle is not a presumption in favour of any particular allocation of parenting time. It states that children should have as much time with each parent as is consistent with that child's best interests. In most cases, this will be significant time with each. In some cases, such as when there are safety concerns, it may mean very little time or no parenting time for a parent.

Following the committee study, the bill was amended so that the maximum parenting time principle would appear in the part of the Divorce Act that relates to the best interests of the child. The provision's new placement in the act will remind parents and the courts that the time allotted to each spouse must be consistent with the best interests of the child and with the primary consideration, which is the safety and well-being of the child.

Relocation, particularly moving with a child after separation or divorce, is one of the most highly litigated areas in family law. Bill C-78 proposes to introduce a relocation framework that promotes the child's best interests and encourages dispute resolution. Witnesses praised our government's introduction of the relocation provisions in particular.

Bill C-78 originally provided for the non-relocating parent to oppose a move by way of court application. This was to ensure that courts only became involved if there was a genuine disagreement between the parties. We heard from the Canadian Bar Association and the Family Law Association of Nunavut that having to respond through a court application was an unreasonable barrier to access to justice. This is particularly true for families living in the north, who may rely on the schedule of a circuit court.

Amendments to the bill would allow a second approach, the creation of forms that parents would use to give notice of and respond to a proposed relocation. If a non-relocating parent responds by form and the parties cannot come to a resolution, the parent seeking to relocate would have to bring a court application seeking authorization. Requiring that the notice be provided through a form would promote clarity by prompting parents to provide all necessary information in a consistent manner. Allowing for a form to respond to notice would relieve the 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.

The bill also sets out a broad evidence-based definition of family violence under the Divorce Act that will include any conduct that is violent or threatening, constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, or causes a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another person. The definition would apply to intimate partner violence and to other types of violence, such as violence against children. In the case of a child, it would also include direct or indirect exposure to such conduct. Bill C-78 makes it clear that courts will be required to consider family violence in determining the best interests of the child.

At the committee, we heard from witnesses who underscored that it can be dangerous for someone fleeing violence to notify other parties of their intent to seek an exemption from the notice of relocation requirements. In response to this 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 the other party in those rare circumstances.

I want to talk for a minute about one of the objectives of the bill, which is poverty reduction. I note that our government has been focused on poverty reduction for all Canadians, including children, in this case through the Canada child benefit, which has removed 300,000 children from poverty situations, and also seniors, almost a million of whom have been lifted out of poverty by policies of the government that were voted against by the parties opposite.

Families going through separation or divorce are more vulnerable to experiencing poverty. Obtaining fair amounts of child support is a key factor in reducing the risk of child poverty. Bill C-78 includes amendments that will help ensure that financial support is based on accurate and up-to-date income information.

The bill will amend the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act to allow for the search and release of a parent's income information to courts to establish or vary family support. Parents, lawyers and courts have advocated such an amendment for many years, and we are finally getting it done under this bill.

To further help families receive fair child support amounts quickly, Bill C-78 will improve the Divorce Act's process for the establishment and recalculation of child support. The bill will allow provincial child support services, rather than courts, to establish initial child support amounts.

For several decades now, the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and official language minority communities across the country have been calling for recognition of the right to use either official language in divorce proceedings.

A committee amendment to Bill C-78 will allow parties to file proceedings under the Divorce Act in the official language of their choice. Parties would be able to file proceedings under the Divorce Act, seek an order, be heard, testify and submit evidence in the official language of their choice. They would also have the right to be heard by a judge who speaks their official language, or both official languages in the case of a bilingual matter.

The bill also demonstrates our government's commitment to increasing access to justice and improving the efficiency of the family justice system. For example, the bill's increased focus on family dispute resolution processes will help divert people away from the courts, saving time and resources for cases that require judicial intervention.

Our government recognizes that family dispute resolution may not be appropriate for all families, as may be the case when there has been family violence or high levels of conflict. Bill C-78 was carefully drafted to promote the use of family dispute resolution only when appropriate.

I am thankful for the opportunity to highlight some of the most important proposals in this important bill, Bill C-78, which I believe would make a significant difference in the lives of Canadian families and children. I was pleased to be part of that process at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in making thoughtful amendments to the bill, which I hope will see a speedy passage through the other place and become law in Canada.

With that said, my first question for the minister is as follows. As I have discussed during my remarks, federal family laws in this country have not seen any amendment in over 20 years. This inaction does not reflect societal change. Thanks to data from the 2016 census, we now know that as many as two million Canadian children live in separated or divorced families.

Could the justice minister expand on how the justice department is promoting the best interests of children in a divorce with this legislation?

May 14th, 2019 / 8:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Chair, I very much appreciate that explanation, because it is important for us to recognize that the federal Parliament may indeed have a role to play in preventing genetic discrimination. Regardless of the constitutional or legal argument we use, the objective is the core that I want to reach here.

I very much appreciated the government's decision to support the committee's amendment to Bill C-78 related to access to divorce in both official languages. I wonder if the minister could tell this chamber why the government feels that the right to divorce and the right for other court cases to be heard in both official languages are important to Canadians.

May 14th, 2019 / 8:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Chair, I will speak to two issues: access to justice in both official languages, and genetic discrimination. I will speak for about 10 minutes. Then I will ask the minister questions in both official languages.

One thing I do want to say before I begin is how much I have appreciated the opportunity to work with the Minister of Justice. Since he has been appointed, he has been nothing but a pleasure to work with, and I want to thank him for that.

One of my concerns is the issue of access to justice in both of Canada's official languages. I represent a bilingual riding where two-thirds of the population speaks English and one-third speaks French.

In my view, all Canadians from all provinces and territories should have access to justice in both of Canada's official languages.

One of the things that I was pleased with is that at the beginning of our tenure at the justice committee, we proposed a unanimous report that asked for the reinstatement of the court challenges program, with both an official language component and an equality component. That program was restored by this government, and I appreciate that, because it allows official language minority communities throughout the country to seek funds in order to challenge government rules that pose a challenge to their charter rights. That is something that the government did that I really appreciate.

We looked at that at the justice committee. At the justice committee, when we were doing our access to justice study, we also proposed that funding be offered to allow provinces to create templates for lawyers that allow them to enter into contracts in both official languages throughout Canada. It was actually frightening to hear that in some provinces, contracts could not be drawn up in both official languages because lawyers did not have access to templates. One of the things I am really pleased with, which I will get to a little later, is that the government has offered funding to improve that access.

Another thing that is very important is for judges to be able to hear witness testimony in both official languages.

The government's action plan for official languages delivers on many of the recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages and his counterparts in Ontario and New Brunswick in the 2013 report entitled “Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary”.

Our action plan takes a multidimensional approach that guarantees that participants in Canada's justice system have better access to justice in both of Canada's official languages.

First, in many cases, access to justice would be moot without a justice system capable of rendering justice in both languages. To that end, in October 2016 there were reforms to the Superior Court appointments process, and those measures are contained in the action plan to enhance the bilingual capacity of the Superior Court judiciary. These changes have increased the transparency and accountability of the appointments process while laying the groundwork for a longer-term vision for continuous improvement, including in the area of bilingual capacity.

The other important change regarding judges is the process for appointing judges to the Supreme Court of Canada. Our government set out to make this process more open, transparent and accountable and to ensure that judges appointed to the Supreme Court are truly bilingual.

We followed that process when we appointed Justices Malcolm Rowe and Sheilah L. Martin. I am sure that we will do the same thing when we find a replacement for Clément Gascon.

Ultimately, it is very important to ensure that all judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada are bilingual, and one day, that might be the case for appeal court judges as well.

I am really proud of that progress.

I would also like to talk about a couple of other things we have done with respect to bilingualism. The justice committee, once again unanimously, amended Bill C-78 so it would ensure people have the right to divorce in both official languages across Canada. One of the things we heard from witnesses from British Columbia and a couple of Maritime provinces such as Newfoundland was that one could not obtain a divorce in French in those provinces. That is shocking.

A divorce proceeding might be the only encounter a person has with the justice system, and it is a very emotional time. As a witness, a person would not want to have to talk to a judge about such emotional things in a language that is not their mother tongue. That is what was happening in some provinces in Canada.

I am proud that the Standing Committee on Justice unanimously recommended changing Bill C-78.

I am proud that the government agreed to that recommendation. That is what passed this House of Commons and I hope will pass the other place.

I also want to talk about the enhancement of the access to justice in both official languages support fund under the action plan for official languages 2018-2023. This grants and contributions program provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, post-secondary institutions and provincial and territorial partners, including provincial courts, to improve access to justice in official language minority communities.

Beyond the existing amounts, our government has committed to additional funding of $13.75 million over five years to improve access to justice in both official languages. These new investments will enable the consolidation of current access to justice activities for official language minority communities, the creation of new fields of activities and the re-establishment of operational core funding for eligible community organizations.

In addition to this funding, consultation with stakeholders is key.

I know that our Department of Justice organizes an annual meeting as part of the advisory committee on access to justice in both official languages. This advisory committee brings together legal representatives of official language minority communities and spokespersons for these communities, such as the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and the Quebec Community Groups Network.

I know this money will go to a good cause. We heard from these groups how difficult it was in certain cases to obtain access to justice in both official languages. Despite constitutional and legal rules, people who come from a small rural community often have a difficult time finding an attorney and a court that will hear them and work with them in their language. The more tools governments across Canada, including our federal government, can offer to this process, the better the chance all Canadians will have of seeking access to justice in their official language.

I also said I wanted to talk about one other thing, which is genetic discrimination. This House, by majority, adopted a law to prohibit genetic discrimination. That was a proposal that was unanimously adopted by the justice committee. The previous minister of justice did not agree with that, and a factum was filed by the Government of Canada in the Quebec Court of Appeal, saying that the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act adopted by a majority in Parliament was not within the criminal law power of Parliament.

I have noted with interest that the government has now filed a factum in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, which highlights the importance of privacy and the chance that such a law would be intra vires the privacy interests or the right of Parliament to legislate on privacy issues.

Madam Chair, I am going to ask my first question to the Minister of Justice now. Mr. Minister, could you explain to the House the privacy arguments advanced in the factum on the genetic discrimination bill before the Supreme Court of Canada?

May 14th, 2019 / 6:05 p.m.
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LaSalle—Émard—Verdun Québec

Liberal

David Lametti LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Chair, I will provide 10 minutes of remarks and then I will welcome questions from my parliamentary secretary, the outstanding member for Parkdale—High Park.

I would first like to recognize the Algonquin nation, on whose traditional territory we are gathering this evening.

I will briefly describe how the funding allocated in the main estimates 2019-20 will support our work at the Department of Justice.

I would like to remind the committee that the department strives to promote and maintain a fair, transparent and accessible justice system. The department also helps guide the modernization of the justice system. What is more, it provides the federal government with legal services and support.

The Department of Justice has a total budgetary authority of $744.52 million through 2019-20 main estimates, which is an increase of $46.77 million from the previous fiscal year. This additional funding is for major priorities, including but not limited to innovating and modernizing how regulations are drafted and implemented, enhancing the integrity of Canada’s borders and asylum system, providing Canadians with better access to public legal aid education and information, and supporting renewed legal relationships with indigenous peoples.

Much of this year's authority will support the administration of justice and the Canadian legal framework by directing funding to the provinces and territories, with whom we share the responsibility in this important area.

The funding will also help maintain and support our bilingual and bijural national legal framework. It will also support the department’s ability to transform and modernize the justice system, while protecting and promoting the rights enshrined in the Constitution and the charter.

I would like to outline some of the key funding we have received and the initiatives that it will help support.

First, we are currently conducting a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in order to determine how effective it is in protecting Canadians. The review, which involved extensive public consultations, will also help ensure that our laws hold offenders accountable, that they are fair and equitable, that they respect the charter and that they show compassion and support for victims.

This ongoing review has already helped inform the initiatives and reforms we have introduced.

For one thing, the review contributed to Bill C-75. With this bill, our government is fulfilling its promise to move forward with substantive criminal justice reforms that will have a real and lasting impact on court delays. It will help increase efficiencies and reduce delays for all those involved in the criminal justice system while respecting their rights and protecting public safety. This important legislation is now before the other place, and I look forward to seeing it passed during this Parliament.

We are deeply committed to reconciliation and to transforming our relationship with indigenous peoples.

The directive on civil litigation involving indigenous peoples was released in January 2019. It supports our commitment to reconciliation and rights recognition by providing advice on the approaches, positions and decisions taken in the context of civil litigation involving indigenous peoples and related issues.

I would also add that we recognize the importance of revitalizing indigenous legal systems and the important role that indigenous law institutes can play in understanding, developing and implementing indigenous laws.

To this end, budget 2019 proposes $10 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, in support of indigenous law initiatives across Canada through the justice partnership and innovation program, JPIP, to improve equality for indigenous peoples in Canada's legal system. This builds on the $9.5 million per year we already provide for the delivery of indigenous courtwork services through the indigenous courtwork program. With their knowledge of indigenous culture, language and traditions, court workers provide direct support before, during and after court proceedings.

We are also continuing our efforts to fill judicial vacancies and increase diversity in the Canadian judiciary. The appointment process for superior court justices that we introduced is more transparent, inclusive and responsible.

We have made over 300 judicial appointments since November 2015. These exceptional jurists reflect the diversity that gives Canada its strength. More than half of those judges are women, and 30% are functionally bilingual. The appointments reflect an increased representation of visible minorities, indigenous peoples, people from the LGBTQ2S community, and people who identify as living with a disability.

While on the subject of diversity, it is important to highlight our continued support for protecting the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ2S community. One example is our Bill C-16, which received royal assent in June 2017. It amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to add two prohibited grounds of discrimination: gender identity and gender expression. It also amended the Criminal Code by adding gender identity or expression to the list of identifiable groups that are protected from hate propaganda. Finally, it made clear that hatred on the basis of gender identity or expression should be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing for a criminal offence.

We are also very proud of Bill C-78, which is currently before the other place. The legislation seeks to modernize federal family law and put the needs of the child first.

The last time our family laws have undergone significant amendments was 20 years ago. They fail to address a number of difficult issues, including relocation and family violence. I hope the reform will pass quickly.

Completing this legislation is our expansion of unified family courts. In budget 2018, our government funded the creation of 39 new judicial positions beginning April 1, 2019. Twelve of these new appointments were recently made to Ontario's Unified Family Court.

We are also maintaining and strengthening access to justice in both official languages.

Budget 2019 would give the Department of Justice $21.6 million over five years, starting in 2020-21, to support the legislative changes in Bill C-78 that seek to increase access to family justice in either official language.

This funding builds on our efforts in budget 2018, which provided an additional $10 million over five years and $2 million per year ongoing for Justice Canada's access to justice in both official languages support fund.

Another top priority for our government is ensuring that victims receive the support they need.

In 2019-20, the victims fund at the Department of Justice will provide $28.72 million in grants and contributions to support research and innovative pilot projects, as well as front-line services for victims and survivors of crime across Canada.

The Department of Justice is also committed to helping immigrants and refugees. Budget 2017 included funding for immigration and refugee legal aid on an ongoing basis: $62.9 million was identified over a five-year period, with an additional $11.5 million per year thereafter. This funding helps prevent delays in immigration and refugee processes and, most importantly, helps ensure access to justice for economically disadvantaged immigrants and refugees.

Budget 2019 builds on previous investments and commits an additional $52 million over three years, primarily for immigration and refugee legal aid, but also to support the delivery of legal services.

I want to thank the committee for giving me an opportunity to speak to them today. The work of the Department of Justice is complex, and my brief comments offer merely a glimpse of the excellent work done by department employees.

Bill C-84—Time Allocation MotionCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2019 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Mr. Speaker, I share the substantive concern that the hon. leader of the Green Party is raising. I can speak to the bills that I am, as minister, shepherding through the House. Certainly, on Bill C-84, the process has worked in the sense that a number of very good amendments were made at committee stage and there was robust debate.

Both Bill C-75 and Bill C-78 have had a number of interesting discussions in the House. They have gone to the other place. We are thinking about amendments on them based on our work in this House and on what the Senate is doing.

The process is working. I think we are approaching it in good faith. The fact of the matter is that sometimes we run out of time, and we feel we have done that in this particular case.

An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and FamiliesGovernment Orders

May 3rd, 2019 / 12:25 p.m.
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Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak on a historic piece of legislation, Bill C-92, an act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.

It is also an honour to welcome over 30 students from Mr. Dingwall's grade 12 politics class at Humberside Collegiate Institute in my riding. They are here to study xenophobia and refugees, but the concerns and the aims of that study have a link to this legislation. The link is that their study and this legislation both identify key areas of inclusion, of the promotion of diversity, and of the remediation of historical injustices.

Let us talk about Bill C-92.

Bill C-92 seeks to do two very important things. First, it would affirm the jurisdiction of indigenous peoples in relation to child and family services. Second, it sets out several principles, including the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality, that would be applicable on a national level to the provision of child and family services to indigenous children.

Let us start with my past role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage in 2017. At that point, I had the privilege of engaging with first nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and elders, and subsequently assisting in the co-development of a different bill, Bill C-91, which aims to promote and preserve indigenous languages in Canada. I am very pleased to see that this bill, a companion bill, seeks to enshrine the importance of culture and language when it comes to determining what is in the best interests of the child.

When indigenous children are navigating our child and family services system, their culture and language must be taken into account and must be protected.

Indigenous leaders across this country have called on successive governments to make changes to address the overrepresentation of first nations, Inuit and Métis children in the child and family services system. They have been doing that important advocacy work on this file for over a decade and have highlighted the important voices of indigenous children from across the country to shed light on the shortcomings of our current child and family services systems.

It is undeniable that the levels of indigenous children in care have reached the point of what has been described as a humanitarian crisis. Indigenous children under 15 make up 7.7% of the Canadian population, but they account for 52.2% of children in foster care in private homes. That is a staggering statistic—7.7% of the population, yet 52.2% of the children in foster care. Incredibly, we know that there are more indigenous children who have been removed from their homes and placed in the child welfare system, right now in 2019, than there were at the height of the residential school system, which is such a shameful legacy in Canadian history.

We also know that often indigenous children are separated from their families and communities, which deprives them of their language, their culture, and their connection to their people. That is absolutely and categorically unacceptable. It is vital that we address the root causes that have led to this humanitarian crisis, including such things as poverty, intergenerational trauma, and culturally biased child welfare policies and practices. That is what Bill C-92 will address.

Our current child and family welfare system is failing indigenous peoples and has been failing them for some time. It is for this reason that our government is taking steps today with Bill C-92 to redress the situation.

Our goal as a government has always been to support legislation that respects the principle of self-determination of indigenous people and legislation that advances what we would call meaningful reconciliation. These two objectives were the basis for our actions taken while crafting this legislation.

Recognizing the urgency of addressing these issues, the Minister of Indigenous Services at the time hosted an emergency meeting on indigenous child and family services in January 2018. During that meeting, our government had the opportunity to hear from experts, advocates, indigenous partners, and provincial and territorial people, but most importantly from youth, such as the youth who are here today from my riding, but especially youth from right around the country who had a lived experience of navigating the child and family services system. It is of the utmost importance to continue to elevate the voices of those with first-hand experience so that we can learn from their experiences and make the legislative changes that address the problems individuals face when accessing our child and family services system.

Following that emergency meeting back in January of 2018, 65 sessions were held during the summer and fall of 2018 to engage with people around the country, whether in Toronto or Winnipeg, from coast to coast to coast.

That engagement, which was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services, engaged 2,000 individuals in different sessions, including representatives of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, as well as treaty nations, self-governing first nations, provinces and territories.

In January of 2019, further in-person engagement sessions with indigenous partners and provincial and territorial representatives were conducted to consult on the proposed content of Bill C-92.

What is critical is what we learned in those consultations. We learned that Canadians care about reforming child and family services in a way that better meets the needs of indigenous peoples. It is clear that Canadians are shocked by the statistics with which I started my discussion and my contribution to this debate. This is an issue that has been raised by many of my colleagues in the House. It is certainly an issue that my constituents in Parkdale—High Park feel strongly about.

Whether they are students at Humberside Collegiate or at any of the other secondary institutions in the riding, whether they are younger people or older people, constituents of all backgrounds have told me, “I am not an indigenous person, but I know we need to remedy a historical injustice. To do right by the colonial and racist legacy of the residential school system and the policies and practices put in place by successive governments for 152 years, we have to implement legislation to remedy those wrongs.” Bill C-91, coupled with Bill C-92, does exactly that.

People have spoken to me about ensuring that we have culturally appropriate child and family services to protect the vibrancy of cultures. I have often told them it is important for people such as me or random constituents to engage with and learn more about and understand indigenous history, knowledge and culture. It is even more important to restore that knowledge and understanding to indigenous communities without doing it in a paternalistic way, as in past practices, but by co-developing solutions with indigenous people and empowering them to implement the solutions they feel are appropriate for their communities. That is what the bill will do.

Let me explain that indigenous children are being removed from their homes and communities in greater numbers than they were at the height of the residential school system. We have had conversations regarding the next steps our government must take to protect indigenous children, and as a result we are affirming the jurisdiction of indigenous peoples over child and family services.

Bill C-92 does not provide a one-size-fits-all model. Rather, it would allow indigenous people to exercise partial or full jurisdiction over child and family services at a pace that promotes the well-being of their communities. The bill would allow indigenous groups to exercise their inherent and rightful jurisdiction over child and family services, which will result in their laws prevailing over federal laws and laws of the provinces and territories, in the case of a dispute between the two. This is a very important point, because it gives meaning to this notion of self-determination and self-governance.

The legislation also sets out a robust mechanism whereby indigenous groups would enter into tripartite coordination agreements with the federal government and the provincial government of each province in which the indigenous group is located to work together for up to 12 months to reach a tripartite agreement. Along with affirming jurisdiction, the bill also sets out principles such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality around the provision of child and family services to indigenous children, applicable at the national level.

Let me pause here to say that this is something we are working hard to implement across government. The analogy I would draw to this “best interests” provision is to a different bill that I have been privileged to work on as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, Bill C-78. It is a family law reform bill that again entrenches the best interests of the child, but importantly, it echoes the language we find in Bill C-92, language that talks about the spiritual, cultural and linguistic continuity for indigenous children remaining with indigenous family settings. That is critical to Bill C-78, and also critical to Bill C-92.

With regard to decisions as to what is in the best interests of the children, Bill C-92 elaborates several factors that need to be taken into account. They are the child's physical, emotional and psychological safety; the child's security and well-being; the child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing; and the maintenance of an ongoing, positive relationship with the family, community and indigenous group to which they belong.

Let me restate that, because it is so critical and gets to the heart of what the bill is about: When there is a child welfare situation that involves removing a child from their original home to a foster care type of setting, we need to think about what is in that child's best interests.

How we evaluate that is by thinking about continuity in the child's ongoing positive relationship with his or her family and with his or her indigenous group. That is the key in what we are talking about here. That creates stability for the children through the connection for the children to their language and, importantly, to their territory. By emphasizing these factors, the legislation would ensure that child and family services take into account cultural context when making decisions as to what is in the best interest of first nations, Inuit and Métis kids. The goal is to decrease the number of indigenous children who are separated from their families and their communities.

Additionally, when decisions are being made about what is in the best interests of children, this bill would prioritize a shift from apprehension to prevention, thereby promoting preventive care that supports the entire family.

What does this mean?

We know, unfortunately, that too often child welfare advocates will arrive at a situation and say that a child needs to be removed from a family setting because of the conditions in which the family lives. The solution is not then to remove more children; the solution is to repair and correct the conditions in which indigenous people live. That has to be the solution. It bears common sense scrutiny. It bears logical scrutiny.

It also is completely consistent with an approach toward reconciliation whereby we accept and acknowledge historical racism and the legacy of colonialism and move forward together with indigenous peoples to correct that legacy. That is what this bill is doing by targeting this specific issue.

How does it do it?

The bill says that a child should not be apprehended solely on the basis of his or her socio-economic conditions. Instead, it calls upon governments to work with families to find solutions that uplift all family members and keep the child in that home. Moreover, if apprehension and placement are deemed necessary to ensure the best interests of the child, then Bill C-92 delineates an order of priority to be respected when placing that child, and this order is important.

If apprehension needs to occur, this is the classification, and it is a prioritized list: first, keeping the child with one of the child's parents; second, keeping the child with another member of the child's family who is an adult; third, keeping the child with an adult who belongs to the same indigenous group, community or people; fourth, keeping the child with an adult who belongs to an indigenous group, community or people other than the one to which the child belongs.

That is an important prioritization, because it emphasizes exactly what we are trying to do: We are not trying to create further rupture between indigenous people and their culture and communities, but trying to restore and enhance that connection. This order of priority emphasizes family members first, and subsequently adults belonging to the same indigenous group, community or people.

By formalizing in law the need to keep indigenous children with indigenous communities, Bill C-92 takes a huge step forward in protecting cultural continuity by taking into account the things that I have been mentioning when determining what is in the best interests of the child: language, culture, connection with family.

To give a mundane example, if a child who speaks Cree lives on a reserve in rural Manitoba and if a removal is required, the services do not remove that child all the way to Winnipeg. First, they make every effort not to remove the child. If a removal needs to occur, they keep the child on the same territory with the same community, with people who will continue to speak Cree to the child so that the child can maintain that connection to their people. It is that straightforward.

The importance of cultural continuity is further enshrined in this legislation by establishing an ongoing obligation to reassess the possibility for an indigenous foster child to reside with one of the child's parents or an adult member of his or her family.

That is the kind of legislation that people in Canada want, including those in my riding and including the very patient people who have been sitting here from Humberside Collegiate Institute.

What they have said to me over and over again, and what I have heard in my riding and right around the country when I was working in my capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, is that indigenous reconciliation is the responsibility for all of us. It is not simply the responsibility of indigenous communities or the government vis-à-vis indigenous communities; it is the collective responsibility of the 36 million people who inhabit this country to move on that path together.

Bill C-92 is a milestone piece of legislation that would have significant impacts on the lives of indigenous youth, their families and their communities. It is an important step in advancing meaningful reconciliation and in implementing the vital recommendations made by the TRC. I want to thank the indigenous leaders across Canada who have advocated on this issue for years, as well as the current minister and the previous minister, the member for Markham—Stouffville, for their invaluable contributions, without which this legislation would not have been possible.

We are committed to working collaboratively with all levels of government and all relevant stakeholders to continue to advance the well-being of indigenous peoples, but as I said during the course of my remarks, we will not do this in a paternalistic or colonial way, but in a manner that empowers indigenous peoples and allows them to make decisions for their communities and for themselves.

Bill C-92 is an important first step in that direction, and I strongly urge every member in the House to support it.

Third ReadingDivorce ActGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2019 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

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

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.

I would like to recognize the tireless efforts of my colleagues, specifically the member for Mount Royal and the member for Ottawa—Vanier, to ensure that this becomes a reality.

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.

Bill C-78—Time Allocation MotionDivorce ActGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

David Lametti

Madam Speaker, that is effectively what I am saying. I appreciate the hon. member's question, but there is a large degree of consensus in the House and across Canada.

The experts are weighing in and the voices are fairly unanimous, that this is an excellent piece of legislation. Lawrence Pinsky from the law firm of Taylor McCaffrey said, “Bill C-78 is clearly an advance in family law in Canada, and the government should be commended from bringing it forward. This should be a non-partisan issue.”

From West Coast LEAF, Elba Bendo stated:

West Coast LEAF welcomes the important amendments proposed by Bill C-78. We are very glad that the intended purpose of the legislation—to promote faster, better and more cost-effective solutions to family law disputes—recognizes the difficult reality that many people across this country are alone in navigating the legal system during what is often one of the most difficult times in their lives.

We need to move forward, because the bill has widespread support.

Bill C-78—Notice of time allocation motionDivorce ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2019 / 10:50 a.m.
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Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the third reading stage of 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.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

January 31st, 2019 / 3:05 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, any move has challenges that come with it, but it has been great to be able to work together to overcome them, because it is a beautiful new space.

This afternoon we will continue debate on the NDP opposition day motion.

Tomorrow we will debate the Senate amendments to Bill C-64, the abandoned vessels act.

Next Monday and Tuesday will be allotted days.

On Wednesday, we will resume third reading debate of Bill C-78, an act to amend the Divorce Act.

January 31st, 2019 / 9:20 a.m.
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Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

David Lametti

As legislators, I think any piece of the puzzle we can improve.... There are many moving parts, with Bill C-78 and the Divorce Act being one, as is administrative justice reform, which you have already looked at, and Bill C-75 and moving forward with that are all a series of parts to improving the criminal justice system and the administration of justice. With all of these pieces of legislation, whether they be social or criminal, or help in some other way, we hope to improve the lot of families and children, and to better protect animals.

I guess there isn't one single answer other than to say that we're trying to make a number of things better, and we will continue to do that.