House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It being 1.15 p.m. and today being the last of the designated days for the supply period ending on December 10, 1999, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and, pursuant to order made on Thursday, December 9, 1999, all questions necessary to dispose of the business of supply will be deferred until Monday, December 13, 1999 after the period set aside for Government Orders.

It being 1.17 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

SupplyPrivate Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 30, I am designating Tuesday, February 8, 2000 as the day fixed for the consideration of private member's Motion M-19, standing in the order of precedence in the name of the hon. member for Skeena. This additional Private Members' Business hour will take place from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. after which the House will proceed to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 1999 / 1:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

moved that Bill C-235, an act to amend the Divorce Act (marriage counselling required before divorce granted) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-235 is a bill concerning the Divorce Act. However, it is not about parents, it is about children.

On December 22, 1967, Pierre Elliott Trudeau declared that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. At the time, the number of divorces in Canada was 10,000 per year. In 1987 divorces peaked at 90,000, one in every two marriages. Today there are about 80,000 divorces per year or an effective rate of over 40%. However, there are also about one million common law couples and their breakdown rate is 50% higher than for married couples.

Common law relationships represent less than 20% of all couples but account for over 60% of all cases of domestic violence; 20% of parents break up before their children reach the age of five; 25% of children enter adult life with some sort of significant mental, social or behavioural problems; and 50% of all children will experience divorce or family breakdown before they reach their 18th birthday.

Lone parent families represent about 16% of all families in Canada but they account for 52% of all children living in poverty. One out of four children do not live at home with their biological parents and 70% of young offenders come from broken homes.

There are other impacts related to family breakdown. Domestic violence for instance is another important issue. Seventeen per cent of homicide victims in Canada are divorced or separated, and although as a group they only represent 6% of the population, 12% of those committing homicides were also separated or divorced, and 23% of women killed in registered marriages were separated at the time of the incident.

The research evidence is clear. It shows that children who witness abuse between their parents are affected as much as if they were abused themselves.

Let us consider the recent statistics about children from fatherless homes in the United States: 63% of youth suicides, 85% of children with behavioural disorders, 75% of high school dropouts, 85% of youth sitting in jails, 80% of rapists. They are five times more likely to be poor and more likely to be abusers of drugs and alcohol. Forty-one per cent of youth showing anxiety, depression and physical aggression come from fatherless homes and are twice as likely to get involved in crime. They are also 11 times more likely to have violent misbehaviours and more likely to have problems achieving intimate lasting relationships themselves.

It is very clear from those examples alone that divorce is child abuse, and that is why as responsible legislators we cannot remain silent.

What would Pierre Trudeau say today? I have no doubt that he would not change his basic premise that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, but I would like to think that today he would add the qualifier “unless it affects the business of the nation, including the well-being of our children”.

Bill C-235 basically calls for court ordered mandatory counselling prior to the granting of a divorce. The requirement does not apply where the grounds are physical or mental cruelty, where the court agrees that counselling is inappropriate or when one party cannot be brought to counselling. It is therefore estimated that only 10% to 20% of divorces would be affected by such legislation.

The purpose of the legislation is not primarily to seek reconciliation of marriages but rather two points. One is to ensure there is a viable parenting plan in place which is child centred and in the best interest of the children. Second, it is to address the tragic prevalence of post-break up acrimony which is far more likely to occur after separation.

Divorce has been described by many as being like a runaway train. Parents are often ignorant of the facts and do not understand the wide ranging consequences or ramifications, particularly on their children. The related issues are much more complex and touch virtually every aspect of our society.

Some would suggest, however, that parenting education after divorce is quite frankly too late. However, when we consider that 75% of divorced persons remarry within five years and we understand that children are the real victims of divorce, it is never too late to mitigate the devastating impacts of divorce.

In a recent book written by Dr. David Royko called Voices of Children of Divorce , he expressed his experiences with children who had undergone mandatory programs as a result of divorce. I will relay to the House some of the comments and quotations from the children interviewed by Dr. Royko. Some said:

It gives me bad dreams. It hurts a lot. I cry a lot. If I have to go back and live with mom, I'll run away or kill myself. I'm totally caught in the middle. I felt sick a lot, like I might throw up. I was scared. I thought that no matter what happened someone was going to hate me.

You can go nuts after awhile. I feel pushed around by everyone.

If I had three wishes, the first one would be to be thin because my parents fought about how much I eat. I heard my dad yelling at my mom that if she had got custody, I'd turn out to be a fat pig just like her.

My parents' fight for custody was the scariest thing in the world and it made me realize that marriage is stupid and having kids is something I'll never ever do.

If I had three wishes, I'd like to be a cop, I'd like to have a machine gun and I'd like to have a nuclear bomb. It all makes me so mad, like I want to kill everyone.

We have to listen to the voices of our children. Children are the real victims of divorce and the impacts on those children as a result of divorce are too serious to ignore.

The report of the special joint committee of the Commons and Senate on custody and access, entitled “For the Sake of the Children”, also recommended mandatory parenting education for parents seeking custody orders of children. This is a major change in the philosophy of parliamentarians, the legislators of the Commons and the Senate, with regard to the Divorce Act which for far too long has been parent centred and has not taken the best interests of children to heart.

There are existing programs in place. In Alberta, for instance, there is a program called Parenting After Separation which began as a pilot project in Edmonton in February 1996. It is a six hour, court mandated, education program for divorcing parents.

For those who would suggest that counselling cannot work, let us look at what some of the participants had to say about their participation in the Parenting After Separation mandatory education.

The first participant said “The class helped me determine that I would do everything to work things out ourselves for our daughter's benefit rather than go to the court and be adversarial”.

Some said “Thank you very much. You have boosted my confidence level in realizing that divorce doesn't have to mean war”.

Another said “This course is great. It should be mandatory for all those who are separating to teach both parents about their responsibilities toward their children. It helped me to get to the real important issue”.

Another said “It makes me feel that I should not fight because it hurts my child. This course helped me realize that things can be worked out”.

Finally, one participant said “I was really ticked off that my lawyer told me I had to take this course so I came with somewhat of an attitude. Am I ever glad now that I came. I did not realize how much I was hurting my children”.

Parenting education programs are not new but classes tailored to the specific needs of divorcing families are a relevant recent phenomenon in Canada and the U.S.

Fifteen years in the U.S. there was one program. Five years ago there were dozens. Now there are hundreds. Mandatory counselling is now required in 18 U.S. states and in Florida even children of divorce are required to attend a program to help them cope with the impacts of their parents divorce.

Parenting education programs are now available in every province of Canada although they are mandatory only in Alberta and on a pilot basis in B.C.

Effective June 1, 1998, the attorney general of B.C. introduced mandatory parenting courses in Burnaby and New Westminster. It is a three hour course and the parents take the course separately. It teaches dispute resolution as well as the impact of family breakdown on children. In his announcement, the attorney general stated “This is not for parents. It's for children. We want to reverse the adverse impact of the divorce process on children”.

Not only is there broad reluctance for any intervention, but 95% of couples ordered by the courts to take counselling do so with great reluctance. Interestingly enough, 90% of those who go through the program are grateful that there was a program. The Alberta experience is that in 5% of cases the parents discover that divorce is not going to solve their problem and reconcile their problems and are dealing with them in a constructive fashion.

When the custody and access joint Commons-Senate committee did its one year study, consulting right across Canada, it found three positive results from the U.S. programs. First, parents participating in the programs were more likely to communicate positively with their children about the other parent and non-residential parents had greater access to their children; second, parents demonstrated improved communication skills; and third, programs lowered the exposure of children to parental conflict and increased each parent's tolerance for the parenting role of the other parent.

It is clear that constructive intervention at a time of high emotion after parents have separated is very effective based on actual programs running. It is not a wish, it is a fact.

Children do have rights. They have the right to the continuing care and guidance of their parents and the right to a continuing relationship with their parents. They have the right to know and appreciate what is good in each parent without one parent degrading the other. They have the right to express love, affection and respect for each parent without having to stifle that love because of fear of disapproval of the other parent.

They have the right to know that the parents decision to divorce was not their responsibility. They have the right to not be a source of argument between the parents. They have a right to honest answers to questions about changing family relationships. They have a right to experience regular, consistent contact with both parents and to know the reason for cancellation of time or change of plans.

They have a right to a relaxed, secure relationship with both parents without being placed in a position where one parent is pitted against another. They also have the right to be treated as important human beings with unique feelings, ideas and desires.

Children are the real victims of divorce and mandatory counselling will provide reasonable guidance to ensure that there is a viable parenting plan in place and that post-break up acrimony will be mitigated as much as possible.

As I said earlier, the bill is not about parents. It is about children.

Healthy outcomes of children mean stronger families and ultimately a stronger country. For that reason, a constructive intervention for divorcing parents not only makes sense for the parents but for society as a whole.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-235, and act to amend the Divorce Act, requiring marriage counselling before a divorce is granted.

I commend the member for Mississauga South for this initiative and for his ongoing commitment and concern for family issues. He has acquitted himself admirably in pursuit of issues to strengthen the family and his contribution to issues surrounding the welfare of children.

The family is the foundation of this nation. A strong family makes a strong community. A strong community makes a strong nation.

The bill before us is hardly one that should cause objection. It is a straightforward and direct attempt to achieve reconciliation in cases of potential marriage breakdown and subsequent divorce. On this side of the House we would have preferred to see a caveat in the bill that covered the aspect of children and the requirement for counselling. Perhaps the member for Mississauga South will have some afterthoughts that he will want to add to this debate.

Divorce wreaks havoc on the spouses concerned and has been likened to the death of a mini civilization. The repercussions are devastating, particularly, as I said previously, when children are involved.

Premarriage counselling is mandatory in some faiths, such as the Mormon faith. In certain faiths couples will not be joined in matrimony until they have completed a marriage preparation course. I believe that is true in certain U.S. states. As I understand it, the success rate of marriages where couples have participated in the course is very good. In today's world, with all of its stresses, diversions and temptations, why not equip those thinking of marriage with all the possible tools to handle the difficulties and stresses that marriage brings. Similarly, why not attempt to salvage a marriage that is on shaky ground by way of counselling before a final decree is registered granting divorce. This seems to me to be the least that society should do to prevent another divorce.

Last December a joint Senate and House of Commons committee tabled a report on child custody and access entitled “For the Sake of the Children”. The report was greeted in most circles as a compelling and cognitive effort to come to grips with the realities of what divorce means, in particular what it means to children and other family members left in the wake of marriage breakdown. As I said before, divorce has been characterized as the death of a mini civilization.

The joint report contained some 48 logical and progressive recommendations and received all party support, with some refinements and additions by the Reform Party.

Members of the joint committee, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, the hon. member for Cariboo—Chilcotin and the hon. member for Calgary Centre, who is the Reform Party's critic for family affairs, did a marvellous job in putting facts together for the sake of children, families and this nation.

A number of members of the Reform Party took the time and effort to work on the special joint committee. We on this side of the House care a great deal about families and children because, as I said earlier, the institution of the family is the foundation of this great country. A strong family makes a strong nation.

The justice minister will again study this issue. She is slow in bringing the provinces along in order to reach a consensus on what we can do for families, and children in particular. We can strengthen our families, but the Liberal justice minister's idea of doing things in a timely fashion is to drag her feet.

We have watched her do this with the youth criminal justice system. We saw the government drag its feet. In fact it tried to dig in its heels, while the opposition humiliated it into compensating the victims of government controlled tainted blood. I hope that the justice minister will listen to a member of her own party on this issue.

Overall this report was endorsed and applauded as a realistic approach to deal with marriage breakdown when children are involved. Recommendation 29 of the report called upon the federal government to extend financial support to programs run by community groups for couples wanting to avoid separation and divorce or seeking to strengthen their marital relationship.

My understanding is that this recommendation stemmed from the fact that the committee wanted to support troubled couples, particularly couples who had children and wanted to avoid separation.

The initiative before us today is a further refinement and a more direct attempt to salvage a marriage. It puts emphasis on the lawyers and the courts to ensure that a marriage counsellor is involved in the process before any decree of divorce is granted. It calls for more than the perfunctory questions which divorce lawyers are responsible to ask before they proceed with divorce papers. This is a very good thing.

I am pleased that the bill recognizes the lack of benefit and perhaps harm that can be caused if the parties to a potential divorce are in a situation involving physical or mental cruelty. I agree that there would be no benefit in putting those parties in any further situations where further harm to either party may ensue. There is obviously a point of no return, as sad as that may be.

I again commend the member for his sense of realism and compassion in this regard. This approach and attempt to provide spouses contemplating divorce with some form of reconciliation is sensible, but there is little use in forcing a situation. Again, I wonder if there is some way of augmenting this marriage counselling undertaking to give it more impact and force when children are involved. Perhaps there is not a way to achieve this.

In response to the comprehensive work undertaken and delivered by the joint committee in the report I spoke of earlier, regrettably we will see no further movement on the issue of divorce law changes for perhaps three years.

The Minister of Justice has responded to 16 of the recommendations in the report and has stated that she will now undertake further study and consultation on the issue, as she usually does.

It is again regrettable that she cannot accept that the issues of divorce and child custody have received comprehensive study and cogent recommendations.

The official opposition is pleased to see a member of the government, an hon. member of the House who contributed to the work and deliberations of the joint committee, step forward with this bill today to begin the process of divorce law changes in Canada. It is a start and it will be a fundamental part of any 21st century approach to a tragic and growing situation in Canada.

All provinces should be involved. I understand that the province of Alberta has produced a video for couples. Similar things should be done by other provinces.

I encourage the member for Mississauga South to continue to carry this flashlight for the government, particularly the Minister of Justice, so that the 47,000 children a year who are subject to custody decisions under the Divorce Act will get relief and the institution of the family will be strengthened to make Canada a stronger nation.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are debating Bill C-235. For the benefit of those who may have tuned in to CPAC, I will take the time to read the very short summary of that bill. It reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Divorce Act to require spouses to attend marriage counselling before a divorce is granted. This requirement does not apply where the grounds are physical or mental cruelty—

Lucky for us. My colleague from Mississauga South was elected to the House in 1993. In fact, I have known him since that date. Someone looking at the bill would be very surprised to learn that the sponsor belongs to the government majority because his approach to the harsh reality of divorce is more conservative than liberal in nature.

The bill is not a votable item, but if it were, we could not vote for it. Let me outline some of the reasons why we would oppose it.

We would oppose it because we believe that, when a couple is seriously contemplating divorce, it is useless to force them to see a marriage counsellor in the hope to make them change their minds. It is very rare that a couple decides to divorce on impulse. That decision usually arises out of a long series of events. To “require” individuals to do something totally disregards the freedom of those concerned, their right to see things their own way. Note that this is not the first time we see something not make sense.

This morning, the government came up with a draft bill designed, for all intents and purposes, to force Quebec to remain part of Canada. This no longer makes sense.

Divorce is a federal jurisdiction. When the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access tabled its report in 1998, the Bloc Quebecois presented a dissenting opinion to recognize and stress that the responsibility for family, education and social services comes under the provinces, and that it is an anachronism to have the Divorce Act still under federal jurisdiction.

I will quote what Senator Beaudoin, an eminent constitutional expert recognized as such by just about everyone, wrote in 1990 about the Divorce Act, and what he said is interesting:

One may wonder why the constituent of 1867 granted to parliament exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce. It seems that it was for religious reasons. Under section 185 of Lower Canada's civil code, marriage could only be dissolved by the natural death of one of the spouses. That principle was accepted by the overwhelming majority of Catholic Quebecers—

I might add “practising” Catholic Quebecers.

—Protestants wanted the opposite, namely to allow the Canadian parliament to legislate divorce.

Even at the time, there was a clear difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Hence section 91.26 of the Constitution Act of 1867, which gives exclusive jurisdiction to the Parliament of Canada over marriage and divorce.

What may have been appropriate back in 1867 no longer is. Religion does not have as much importance as it used to, and our legislation should reflect this reality.

Let me quote again Senator Beaudoin's remarks:

The question begs to be asked: Should the jurisdiction over marriage and divorce be given to the provinces, so that Quebec could have more control over its family law, an important part of its private law which is different from that of other provinces?

That is another difference that should be considered.

Some experts see advantages in leaving this jurisdiction under section 91. Decentralization here would be a paradox, in their view, while our neighbours to the south appear to be moving toward centralization. Americans are not alone. Our friends in the west would also like to centralize.

Concerning centralization and standardization of divorce laws, they may be forgetting—and the prime minister should also be reminded of this—that we have to different legal systems in Canada, and the arguments supporting their position may be a little less convincing in Canada. That is what Senator Beaudoin was saying back in 1990.

The Bloc Quebecois did participate in this joint committee, because the problem of children in family with relational difficulties is indeed a serious issue. But our opinion is that the whole jurisdiction over divorce should be given back to the provinces. Quebec's family law reflects its own circumstances and meets the needs of its citizens. Counselling has been available to couples for a long time. Spouses freely choose to use these services. In this area just like in so many others, things can change only if people really want them to change.

I am sorry to inform the House that Bill C-235 will not be supported by my colleagues or by the Bloc Quebecois.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Diane St-Jacques Progressive Conservative Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party to take part in this debate.

The member for Mississauga South raises an issue which deserves our consideration. Bill C-235 proposes to amend the Divorce Act to provide counselling to spouses before a divorce is granted. The marriage counsellor would act as a mediator between the spouses. Fortunately, a few exceptions worth mentioning were included in the bill.

Counselling would not be provided in cases where the grounds for divorce are physical or mental cruelty, in cases where the court is satisfied that counselling would be inappropriate or serve no purpose and in cases where one party refuses to take part in such counselling.

The summary of Bill C-235 says that this amendment would require spouses to attend marriage counselling before a divorce is granted. However, this requirement is not stated in the bill itself. I hope the sponsor of the bill will be able to clarify this point in his reply at the end of the debate.

Divorce is a real problem in Canada and the main victims are not the adults, but the children. I sat on the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, which did a comprehensive study of the issue of divorce.

Starting in December 1997, this committee, made up of parliamentarians from both Houses, set out to meet a formidable challenge, namely to consider issues relating to child custody and access arrangements after a separation or divorce, focusing mainly on the needs and the best interests of the children.

Bill C-235, however, proposes that action be taken before a divorce is granted. The members of the special joint committee hoped that their report's recommendations would promote the emergence of a sensitive culture in order to avoid conflicts instead of worsening them.

Our colleague from Mississauga South also wants to avoid this kind of conflict. He wants a mediation system to be put in place before a divorce is granted, and not after.

Therefore, the intent of the member for Mississauga South is very praiseworthy. If we can reduce the number of family breakdowns in Canada, we will have accomplished much good, particularly for the vulnerable ones, our children.

On the subject of children, the Special Joint Committee on Child Care discovered that, according Statistics Canada, because of a high divorce rate, more than 47,000 children were covered by custody orders pursuant to the Divorce Act, in 1994 and 1995. Consequently, many children saw their home life changed. When parents get remarried or find new partners after a divorce, things get even more complicated for children. Close to 75% of divorced men and women get remarried, and the children from their first marriage have to develop new relations with their stepparents.

Here is another statistic worth mentioning: 13% of divorces in 1992 marked the failure of a second marriage. Incredibly, some people think that such instability will not affect children.

The mental health literature, and testimony by young people especially, convinced the joint committee that divorce has a deep, and at times disastrous, impact on children.

I believe that most members in this House are aware of the harmful effects of separation and divorce on the younger members of our society. Although the solution does not entirely rest with governments, they can make a difference.

In Quebec, since September 1, 1997, we have had an act similar to Bill C-235. It makes it compulsory for divorcing couples who have children to attend at least one information session on the benefits of mediation. It should be noted that this is an information session, not a mediation session. If the parents agree to mediation, the Quebec government pays for up to six sessions.

In certain cases, for example when there is a history or a risk of family violence, the Quebec act allows the parties to forgo both the information sessions on mediation and the mediation itself. The individual who declines to attend such sessions only has to sign a consent form that will be forwarded to the court.

Although the Quebec act is specifically geared to future divorcees, it shows how useful mediation can be as a dispute resolution mechanism for couples. In Quebec, the results of mediation are impressive. Between September 1, 1997, when the act came into force, and September 30, 1999, close to 20,000 couples with children took part in mediation sessions. According to the available data, in at least 73 % of the cases, mediation was successful in resolving disputes between divorcing or separating spouses.

We are of course dealing here with spouses who cannot agree on the terms of the separation or the divorce agreements and on the future of their children. However, the mediation process could without any doubt help the spouses who are involved in the disputes to stay together for the benefit of all the family members.

One of the major advantages of the mediation system is that it helps both parties to avoid the more adversarial court proceedings where both parents, accompanied by their lawyers, are more likely to start making accusations. Accordingly, chances of reconciliation are much lower there than with a mediator.

Bill C-235 proposes a mechanism to help families to stay united. As long as the legislation does not force a man and a woman to undergo mediation against their will, the Progressive Conservative Party would be in favour of Bill C-235.

An in-depth study will have to be made on that subject some day. It would be interesting to hear what the experts in the field of mediation and even professional mediators have to say on that.

The Quebec experience in this field is worth looking at. Some people also believe that divorce legislation should come under provincial jurisdiction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to look into that for now, because the bill proposed by the member for Mississauga South will not be considered by a parliamentary committee.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Mississauga South and add a little praise for some of the work he has done in the House, particularly on Bill C-235. Sometimes we know the parliamentary secretary is anxious to jump up to get rid of a bill and tell us why we cannot vote for it. This is actually a non-votable item so it does not really matter what the parliamentary secretary says or what anyone says.

It is important in life for people to obtain counselling for divorce, family or any other matter. They need the ability, not necessarily in legislation, to sit down with someone who is clear thinking and talk about their problems.

I was disappointed that the statements today of a couple of people who did not do any counselling bordered on no one being welcome in Quebec unless he or she speaks pure French, even though 42% of Quebeckers have Irish backgrounds much like myself.

Back in my early years as a member of the parole board I do not believe I counselled anyone over there so I do not have to worry about them. At that time I looked at the problems of incarcerated people, people who had been sent to jail. Before sitting down I would read the case files and note that they came from broken homes, that they were abused as children, that they dropped out of school at very early ages, and that they were suffering some type of substance abuse whether drugs or alcohol. That provided me with a catchment.

Very early on in my career here I was asked to speak at a breakfast meeting in Ottawa. I was not sure I was capable of speaking at it because it was the Parkdale Baptist Church. It sent around a topic that I was to speak on: the cost of being a Christian member of parliament.

I looked at it and thought as a Christian and family oriented person that perhaps I could speak to it, and so I did. I did some research which showed that at one point in time previous to 1993 the divorce rate among members of parliament elected for a second term was at about 75%. I thought that was pretty high compared to the rest of the country. The last time I checked it was still hovering around 72% to 75% as a result of a couple of issues.

As a rule members of parliament are elected at a later stage in their lives. They are moved away from the family unit and operate in a vacuum in this building and in the area that surrounds it. Their lives become run by the whip's offices, by the various bills that are presented, and by the pressures of the media surrounding them. Probably members of parliament, more than most people, need counselling and help in coping with everyday life. Certainly when they are away from home five days a week it plays havoc on the family.

The basic premise of what the member for Mississauga South has brought forth both in the book he has written and in the bills he put before the House is that counselling is very important to the life cycle, that counselling is probably at the heart of talking out one's problems.

The member has come forward with a bill that encourages people to have counselling before they get divorced. In fact, before they get married there should be counselling.

My wife Marilyn and I took part in the premarriage encounter course in my hometown of Lindsay. We were worried the first weekend that we spent at the church with a group of young people all full of vim and vigour ready to get married. We were shocked when we found that three couples broke up that weekend. The ministerial association was delighted and said, “What we have done and what this course has done and what this counselling has done is it has prevented divorces. It has prevented broken homes. It has prevented people from starting a family before they realize they are not compatible, that they have nothing in common, they have nothing that they can actually associate with”.

In life, as we know, as soon as people start going together society starts to pull the couple apart. Whether it is boy scouts, girl guides, the women's leagues, baseball or sports, the forces that people have to deal with start to pull couples apart. They have to look at how they are going to handle that.

Couples that are getting married in the church are now told that they have to attend a premarriage encounter course. That course involves human sexuality, the legal aspects and spiritual aspects of marriage and all kinds of things that are important to what my friend from Mississauga South is trying to get at. When a family is established and is functioning as a unit, there are differences. Every family, whether it is brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, grandparents or in-laws, has differences. Most of the minor things can be talked out before they become major things.

The member's bill would cause the government to look at what it is in law that should be standard to allow families to stay together. Whether it is a certain type of tax deduction which allows more counselling in marriage or which allows persons to spend more time at home, all of those things have to do with mental health as married couples or as common law couples. Fewer people are getting married and more people are living common law but they suffer the same problems. Counselling also has advantages in their lives.

The member for Mississauga South has brought forward something that causes us as parliamentarians to take a look and say, yes, counselling is important, marriage is important, common law relationships are important. People can deal with each other in situations as a family and go to counselling and talk out their differences. Bill C-235 is important.

Mr. Speaker, that is either a Roman ordering five beers or you are telling me my time is up. I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for indicating that.

Parliamentarians should keep in mind that 75% of all marriages among people elected for a second term end up in divorce or split homes, split marriages. Members should call home if they have not lately. They should make sure that they spend some time with their family so that they do not need the type of legislation the member is bringing forward and they do not need the type of counselling that is going to come out of a marriage split-up.

I agree in some ways that divorce may be the end of a long process. If people talk at the very start, that process ends up being a very short process but also a very sweet and loving one.

I thank the member for Mississauga South for bringing forward Bill C-235. I know the member for Scarborough Southwest has something to say on it, so I will end my speech now.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to the consideration of Bill C-235 today. I take perhaps a different and more personal perspective on this matter.

I should begin my remarks by saying that prior to becoming a member of parliament I was a lawyer. The bulk of my practice was civil litigation. A portion of that civil litigation practice pertained to matrimonial law. Within that matrimonial law sphere, I did my share of divorces. It was early in my practice and early in the experience of the Divorce Act newly passed. There were certain obligations placed on lawyers at that time and they are still in the act.

One of the members opposite characterized the duties of the lawyer as perfunctory. When I was practising law, I considered those duties to be anything but perfunctory. I thought they were very important.

It was my obligation as an officer of the court to bring to the attention of my client, who was either responding to a matrimonial situation or initiating it, that reconciliation counselling was available. I had to ask if the client had considered reconciliation counselling and more to the point, to provide the names of reconciliation counsellors, the names of arbitrators and that sort of thing in order to keep the peace within the breaking up family.

That is what I did—

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest but I had forgotten that this bill is non-votable. Therefore the mover will get the last five minutes. If the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest would give the parliamentary secretary two minutes to get his oar in the water, we could do that as well. That would give the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest another three minutes, but it is up to him.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will do as you suggest, of course. Just give me that ordering five beers signal, as my friend said earlier, and then a countdown on one so I know where I am going.

Unfortunately I am one of the statistics that my hon. colleague has talked about. I am separated from my wife and have been for over two years. There are no divorce proceedings instituted between us, so this bill would not help us in any way because this bill pertains to the Divorce Act.

This is one of the points I want to make. While lauding my friend from Mississauga South and all the efforts he has made with respect to the issues he is talking about, one of the problems with jurisdiction and the fact that the federal government has jurisdiction over divorce but not over family law per se is that by the time people come to use the Divorce Act, in many circumstances sadly it is already too late.

The hon. member exempts, for example, mental and physical cruelty from his bill. If there are grounds, for example, of adultery or some other matrimonial offence, people are so angry at that point they are not thinking about reconciliation. A one year separation is now grounds for divorce but when I was practising it was three years. By then in many instances it is too late.

The other thing I would like to mention very briefly about the reconciliation issue is that when the hon. member for Mississauga South was speaking, he was talking about this being for the benefit of children. It is absolutely critical that that principle be recognized, that it is for the benefit of the children.

In his bill the member talks about the marriage counsellor visits “with a view to assisting them to achieve a reconciliation”. I want to draw to the attention of the hon. member that there is in fact no mention of children in his bill. Perhaps it should read “assisting them to achieve a reconciliation and/or to facilitate the lives of the children with respect to the unfortunate break up of the marriage”. I draw that to the hon. member's attention because I know that is his primary concern.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario


John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, we have heard today from many parliamentarians on the merits of counselling, and the government takes no issue with that. The issue is mandatory counselling. In order to consider the merits of Bill C-235, we have to compare the current Divorce Act to see what it would add.

There are currently several sections in the Divorce Act that already refer to reconciliation. For example, section 10 requires the court to assess the possibility of a reconciliation of the spouses that come before it.

Pursuant to subsection 10(1), the court must satisfy itself that there is no possibility of reconciliation of the spouses before the court can even consider the evidence on the matter.

Subsection 10(2) provides that if it appears at any stage of the court proceedings that there is a possibility of the spouses reconciling, the court must adjourn the proceedings and nominate a marriage counsellor to assist the spouses to achieve this reconciliation if it is possible.

Bill C-235 does not refer to section 10 but rather proposes to replace section 9(1) of the Divorce Act. As I have already noted, section 9(1) currently creates a duty for all legal advisors to inform spouses of the available marital counselling services.

Specifically, section 9(1) requires every barrister, solicitor, lawyer or advocate who undertakes to act on behalf of the spouses in a divorce proceeding to do two things: first, to draw the attention of the spouse to the provisions of the Divorce Act that have as their object the reconciliation of the spouses; and second, to discuss with the spouse the possibility of reconciliation and to inform the spouse of the marriage counselling or guidance facilities known to him or her that might be able to assist the spouses to achieve reconciliation. This duty is imposed unless the circumstances of the case are such that it would clearly not be appropriate to do so.

There may also be constitutional and cost implications associated with requiring mandatory marriage counselling for all divorcing couples. Counselling can be expensive and would impose an additional cost on parents. Provinces and territories could also be reluctant to co-operate if they viewed this legal requirement as a federal intrusion into matters of provincial jurisdiction. There would be a strong expectation that the federal government would provide the financial funding for those counselling services since this legal requirement would be imposed on them by the federal government and it could be very costly.

I commend the member for Mississauga South on his initiative and his continuing crusade to support family and children. He is to be commended for it.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I would like to thank hon. members for being so considerate of each other.

The last five minutes of the debate will go to the mover of the motion, the hon. member for Mississauga South.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all hon. colleagues who participated in the debate.

It is an important issue to keep bringing before the House. This is the third time I have had this bill before the House. I want to address some of the comments made by hon. members.

I want to thank the member for Surrey Central for his kind remarks and support for the intent of the bill. I stress intent of the bill because certainly as a private member's item it is quite difficult for an individual bill to be as comprehensive as say, for instance, the special joint Commons-Senate committee on custody and access. This is certainly only one part of it.

I thank the Bloc member for Laval Centre for her participation. We worked very well together in a number of areas. She made reference to the freedom of individuals. This is one of the reasons why the Divorce Act has to be amended.

Presently, the Divorce Act is structured for individuals, individual rights for the parents. What it does not do and what the Commons-Senate committee said it should do, is shift the paradigm and start being child centred and in the best interests of the children. That is where we disagree on the thrust of divorce law.

I also point out that I had Quebec particularly in mind on this because the divorce rate in Quebec is around 70%, whereas it is less than 50% in the rest of Canada.

I also thank the member for Shefford for her comments. I know how hard she has worked on the special joint committee. She raised with me the issue of whether it was mandatory or obligatoire. In the report of the custody and access committee, recommendation No. 10 recommends that all parents seeking parenting orders be required to participate in an education program obligatoire; custody and access report. So the member should be clear, this is mandatory counselling. It is already in the existing law.

I think it is outstanding with the breadth of knowledge and experience that we have in this place that members such as the hon. member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock can rise and share the experience he has obtained from his work before he came to the House. I really appreciate his words of encouragement and his support for some sort of constructive intervention.

The member for Scarborough Southwest is one of the most knowledgeable people regarding legislative crafting. I take his comments constructively. I hope the issue will continue to be alive. When I bring this issue back to the House, I will be sure to consult with the member to ensure that children will be foremost in the bill.

I understand the points the parliamentary secretary has raised. I understand that the government has already indicated that it is supportive of educational programs for children. I find that very encouraging.

Unfortunately, this bill is not votable. The important thing is that the bill raises the importance of children and the impact of divorce and family breakdown on them. I think it is always a good time to bring this issue before Canadians.

I want to conclude my comments simply by quoting from a review of the book The Divorce Culture by a woman who is quite experienced in this. She said:

You think your kids will bounce back from divorce? Guess again. Divorce is less like a cold for children than a serious chronic disease. You think you will eventually repartner and create a new family unit and kids will live happily ever after? Forget it....Not all children of divorce are doomed but in just about every way we have to measure such things, divorce has hurt children.

Again, I thank all hon. members. I look forward to bringing this bill back before the House and the Canadian people in the best interests of our children.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the item is dropped from the Othis order paper.

It being 2.17 p.m., the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2.17 p.m.)