Mr. Speaker, as we resume debate on Bill C-41, I will explain a bit about the bill. It is an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act.
The purpose of Bill C-41 is first, to establish federal guidelines for child support; second, to open Revenue Canada databases to searches in cases of payment default; third, to deny passports and certain licences to individuals whose support payments are in persistent arrears; fourth, to provide for the garnishment and attachment of federal public service pensions and wages of individuals working at sea.
Unfortunately, in today's world, between 40 and 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Even more unfortunate is the fact that when a divorce occurs, children are often the last to be considered.
In spite of the fact that our courts and our laws use the phrase in the best interests of the child, all too often the outcome is actually what is in the best interests of the custodial parent. We need to change this situation to ensure that the outcome ends up being what is in the best interest of the child.
Many non-custodial parents either do not pay their child support payments or are in arrears. Since non-payment of support hurts the children and the families, this situation must be remedied by some type of penalty for the offender. Bill C-41 addresses this situation. The non-payment of fair child support should not be tolerated.
Last year the Reform caucus called for nationwide guidelines and for increased enforcement of maintenance orders. This bill addresses these two issues. However, like many other pieces of legislation introduced by the government, Bill C-41 only goes part way. The bill represents a piecemeal approach to amending the Divorce Act. Once more the Liberals have given Canadians only part of the loaf, not the whole loaf.
While the Liberal government has continually stressed the need for comprehensive family law reform, the bill once again only deals with one small part of this large problem. Canadians need a comprehensive approach which benefits the children of divorce.
I would like to speak briefly about what I believe a comprehensive approach to amending the Divorce Act would include. First, it would include compulsory mediation as a first step in the divorce process rather than going straight to the courts.
In a court battle, parents through their lawyers and often encouraged by their lawyers so often attack each other in adversarial combat over who gets the property and who gets the children. Eventually, neither parent wins the battle. Inevitably the lawyers are the only winners in these cases. In too many cases the children are the big losers. Mediation would lessen the bitterness of divorce as both sides attempt to compromise. Most parents truly want to do what is best for the children but emotions get in the way in adversarial combat such as we see through the court system.
With mediation, parents are encouraged to put bitterness aside to do what is in their children's best interest. The result is often a less hostile relationship between the parents. A good relationship between the parents is essential since children exist through and thrive on the relationship that exists between their father and their mother. Even after divorce, the well-being of a child is directly related to the continued shared responsibility of the two parents for their child.
This morning, some members opposite said that having two parents is idyllic. I am not talking about an ideal situation. I am talking about the best possible situation under a very difficult divorce procedure.
The second element that I believe should be included in comprehensive reform is the access of grandparents to grandchildren. Children need to know that they are loved by both sets of grandparents, regardless of the divorce.
One of my constituents sent me a copy of her letter to the Minister of Justice in which she stated: "I am a victim of your indifference to the rights of grandparents. Your rock solid image has been eroded by your unwillingness to uphold the very principles you pretend to stand for. You have shot down the inherent rights of innocent children to have and to know their immediate families. You have disregarded the voices of countless grandparents who have personally experienced the pain caused by the flaws in our present justice system".
That is from a constituent to whom I talked on several occasions and who, unfortunately, I could not assure that there would be something done in this place that would improve her situation.
What is said by the experts in this area? I quote Jim Gladstone, an associate professor of social work at McMaster University who has studied the relationship between grandmothers and grandchildren after divorce. He said: "A grandparent can offer a grandchild sanctuary from divorce materially and emotionally. The grandparent's role is especially important considering the child's parent is likely preoccupied with his or her own healing".
Not only my constituent but the so-called experts in this area stress the importance of grandparents having access to their grandchildren. Common sense also says that. Children whose parents are divorced are no less deserving of maintaining family ties. In fact, during these difficult times, children need even more to have these ties maintained.
A third factor to be considered in a comprehensive approach to amending the Divorce Act would also include access provisions that are enforceable. In talking about enforcing access, I would like to speak about a situation that happened to me over the last year and a half or so. It happened without one knowing what the other was doing. I had both the mother and the father in a divorce case come to me with their grievances which were quite different.
First the mother came. She was the custodial parent. Her concern was that she was having an extremely difficult time in paying what was necessary to raise her children. Part of the reason was that the non-custodial parent, the father, was not making child support payments. As I listened to her, I could see the difficulty, the stress that she was under. I could see also the less than friendly way that she talked about the non-custodial parent and the fact that he was not paying support. My heart went out to her. She was in a very difficult situation and in fact it was very difficult even for me to hear what was happening. I could not understand how the non-custodial parent, the father, would withhold child support payments.
Then it happened. I do not believe the father had any idea that the mother had been to see me. Some time later the father came to me with his concerns. He was torn apart because he had been denied access to his children even though the court had granted access. The mother, the custodial parent, had denied access even though the court had said that it was a requirement of the divorce settlement. I heard the other side. This father, who so desperately wanted to be in touch with his children, had withheld support payments because he so desperately wanted the access that he was being denied.
It is clear that the government, dealing with legislation on child support, should not only look at one part of this issue. It is critical that it also consider the issue of access. It has been completely ignored in this legislation. Once again, it is piecemeal legislation when comprehensive legislation is needed. That really makes this legislation of very little value.
The issue of access by the non-custodial parent is crucial, as the example which I used pointed out. As I said before, children exist through and thrive on the relationship that exists between a father and a mother. I would like to add that children also thrive on the relationship that they have with each parent individually. These relationships need to be continually strengthened as the child grows and matures. This is every bit as important in a situation where the parents are separated by divorce and where both parents do not have continual access to the children.
The relationship between the children and both parents is the fundamental building block of our society. It is how values and culture are protected and transferred from one generation to the next. The maintenance of these ties is crucial not only to the child's development but to the social stability of our society. It is that fundamental.
Family ties have a profound impact on our economy, culture and social structure. I do not think we can overstate the importance of these family ties.
It is therefore just as important that children whose parents are divorced continue to have access to both parents unless the courts have determined that there is some substantial particular reason that one or both parents should be denied access.
Unfortunately Bill C-41 does not deal with the problem of the lack of fairness in enforcing maintenance orders. I am getting back to maintenance orders and away from access. One of the major flaws with the bill is that Bill C-41 does not deal with the problem of the lack of fairness in enforcing maintenance orders.
On April 5, 1995 the Reform caucus approved an issue statement on child support, payment and taxation. It called for nationwide guidelines and for increased enforcement of maintenance orders. As I previously mentioned, this bill provides for both these points to some extent. However, the Reform Party stressed that provisions must be fair. The child support issue is not simply a woman's issue. It is a family issue.
While Bill C-41 imposes and enforces support obligations on non-custodial parents, it does nothing to ensure that custodial parents meet their obligations for example on visitation rights. That is unacceptable.
Many non-custodial parents who do not make payments refuse to do so because they are denied access to their children. It is not uncommon. This denial of access produces anger and weakens the ties between the non-custodial parents and their children. I know that with improved access many more non-custodial parents would
meet their obligations in full. This in fact has been verified by people with considerable experience in tracking down non-custodial parents for non-payment of child support. My colleague, the hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam, this morning documented that very well. It is clear that most parents do want to do what is best for their children.
Besides these issues, there are other issues which were ignored by the legislation which I will not go into in detail.
The process of putting the legislation in place through order in council is typical of the government. It happens all the time. It is a non-democratic process which I have spoken of before so I will not get into it at length now.
Another concern about the legislation is that it could invade the privacy of the non-custodial parent. The bill makes data banks at Revenue Canada available to be searched for information regarding addresses and possible payment sources but does not provide protection for other information in Revenue Canada files. That is a concern under the present system and it will be even more of a concern when this legislation passes.
There is the issue of revoking passports. Bill C-41 contains clauses which allow for the revocation of a passport of a person who is in default in their child support payments. The revocation places such a person in jeopardy if he or she must travel outside Canada with their employment. How can a person earn money and meet child support payments if they are being denied access to their place of employment?
A constituent of mine spoke of the problems which he had and how much more serious the problems would be because of this bill. He went to work outside the country. He could not get a job in Canada and could not afford to make the payments but he could with the job outside Canada. He was concerned that the legislation would completely cut off child support payments.
By opposing the bill, the Reform Party is not supporting people who do not pay child support. Clearly that is not our intent. The problem is that Bill C-41 lacks meaningful substance and in particular it lacks fairness.
What Canadians need is a comprehensive approach which focuses on change which benefits the children of divorce. By opposing the bill the Reform Party is attempting to force the government to adopt a comprehensive reform of the Divorce Act so that matters such as compulsory arbitration and access are also included. With respect to child support, as in all government decisions, Reform believes that the well-being of the family should be the top priority.