That, in the opinion of this House, the government should draft legislation that recognizes that it is in the best interests of children that (a) they have the opportunity to be heard when parenting decisions affecting them are being made; (b) those whose parents divorce have the opportunity to express their views to a skilled professional, whose duty it would be to make those views known to any judge, assessor or mediator making or facilitating a shared parenting determination; and (c) a court have the authority to appoint an interested third party, such as a member of the child's extended family, to support and represent a child experiencing difficulties during parental separation or divorce.
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from South Surrey--White Rock--Langley for seconding my private member's Motion No. 186 today. I will not read the somewhat lengthy motion into the record, Madam Speaker, since you were kind enough to do that.
The viewing audience at home might be interested in knowing where the idea for the motion came, a motion which obviously deals with not only parental rights but, more important, the rights of the child.
Quite some time ago, on November 18, 1997, the Minister of Justice, the same minister who is currently serving in that position, struck a special joint committee of the House and the other place to look into issues of access and custody involving children of divorced parents.
I would like to read the preamble of the resultant report by the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access which became known and is still known by the term “For the Sake of the Children”.
When she struck that special committee, she said:
That a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons be appointed to examine and analyze issues relating to custody and access arrangements after separation and divorce, and in particular, to assess the need for a more child-centred approach to family law policies and practices that would emphasize joint parental responsibilities and child-focused parenting arrangements based on children's needs and best interests.
That was just part of the directions she gave that special joint committee at that time.
It is interesting to note that the special joint committee did some terrific work. With regard to that special joint committee report, “For the Sake of the Children”, there are few times that committee reports have such widespread universal support for the recommendations that they came up with, but that happened in this case.
Some dissenting minority reports were filed by the opposition parties, at that time the Reform Party of Canada, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP, to the actual report, “For the Sake of the Children”. By and large, they agreed with the thrust of the majority of the recommendations. It was just that the different parties had different ideas on where to go from there and how much to expand on some of the recommendations that were contained in “For the Sake of the Children”.
Why did I go to the effort of taking the recommendations out of the report, “For the Sake of the Children”, drafting them into private members' motions and then submitting them to the House for consideration, as I have done with Motion No. 186? For those who would take the time to look at what is contained in the motion that was just read out, it is virtually identical to recommendation No. 3 in “For the Sake of the Children”.
I have done that with all 48 recommendations in the report. I have drafted them into private members' motions and submitted them to the House for consideration.
All of us, and hopefully most Canadians, understand how private member's business is conducted. We draft motions and bills, submit them and then we participate in what in effect is a lottery. If members are fortunate enough to have their name drawn then they get to choose. If a member's name is drawn for a bill and he or she has tabled, submitted and introduced more than one bill in the House, then the member gets to pick which one he or she feels is the most important at that time or which one is possibly the most timely in the sense of warranting debate on the floor of the House of Commons, and similarly with motions.
I have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 private member's motions and I had to pick one. I chose this one which then became known as Motion No. 186.
Although we are looking at the motion in a singular sense, what we and the nation need to be discussing on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of families affected by antiquated and ineffective divorce laws in Canada is the report “For the Sake of the Children”. The report contains 48 recommendations. We need to look at it in its entirety rather than just at Motion No. 186.
I give special recognition today to the hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton who co-chaired the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access. He has remained extremely active on the issue over the years as I have.
Because I sat for the first time in my parliamentary career on the subcommittee that attempts to choose votable items when they are drawn, the member for Sarnia--Lambton graciously accepted my invitation to appear before the subcommittee to plead the case to make Motion No. 186 votable. Even though he is a Liberal member of parliament I pay special tribute to him.
Many members of parliament from all parties represented in the Chamber have often referred to the issue. There are many issues that cut across partisan lines and party positions. However when dealing with the lives of children and families if there is an issue that cuts across partisan politics it would be this one .
I note and applaud the efforts of the hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton. I also applaud Senator Anne Cools of the other place. Senator Cools was very active in this report and has remained active in promoting the right of children to be heard during divorce and separation proceedings.
I wish there was time to read all 48 recommendations but this is a lengthy and comprehensive report. Unfortunately the government continues its course of inaction on the file. It is a huge disservice to Canadians and in particular to Canadian children.
As I made reference to earlier, hundreds of thousands of families out there are affected by the issue including extended families and second marriages. Sometimes people get the misconception that the issue is about father's rights versus mother's rights. It is not. All too often there are second families with stepmothers who love the children as if they were their own. They see their families being torn apart because of the inequality inherent in our court system in how these issues are treated.
It is not an issue of father's rights versus mother's rights. It is an issue of children's rights. That is why I chose to highlight this recommendation during this hour of debate.
Like MPs from all parties on both sides of the House I have received hundreds of letters on the issue during my eight year career as a sitting member of parliament. Other members have said similar things in conversations with me. The letters are heart-rending communications from people who are absolutely begging for our help.
I do not have time to refer to many of them but I will read quick excerpts from the latest two letters I have received. The first is from a gentleman by the name of Vic Desautels. He wrote me on October 17. He is from the city of Prince George. He says:
I am involving my political representatives at this time, because the situation I am in will not be useful to you after the fact. Only current problems seem to get attention, even those these injustices will be repeating themselves continually until the system is changed. Not many of us are capable of writing all the letters that need to be written, so I am trying to do my part.
He also says:
I am still active with non-custodial parent support groups. Locally, I am involved with the Parent Child Advocacy Coalition (PCAC), which Todd Eckert and I began as the Parents of Broken Families group.
Another lengthy and heart-rending letter was written on September 13 by Gil McGillivary of Dawson Creek. He says:
I have missed out a lot of activities and bonding time with two sons not that I wanted to but couldn't afford to sustain a long legal battle with my ex-wife. I'm 45. My oldest son has just turned 13 in Alberta child-welfare custody...My other youngest boy is in care of my ex-wife who has not allowed me to see him since he was 7 years old (he's now 11) and all I am to him is a money ticket. My ex-wife has totally alienated me from him and it hurts me. I would have preferred to have been able to take both of my boys camping, hunting, and fishing like any other normal family but have never been able to do so with my sons.
Let us remember that this letter was written two days after the tragedy and horror of the terrorist attack on New York. He concludes the letter by saying:
If the world is going to come to an end shortly or prolongedly war please let me have my son at home without this great distance separating us as a family even if you must find a group home or sponsor here in Dawson Creek, B.C. All my son wants is to be a part of this family. He's scared of what is transpiring in the world as is so many other people in this world. Please help us as quickly as possible. Thank you.
Madam Speaker, I am sure you have had similar letters and you can imagine their effect on me. You could probably search through your files and find similar letters that tug at your heartstrings.
It seems that no matter how much emphasis there has been on the issue from both sides of the House, the Minister of Justice has failed to act and rectify the wrongs inherent in the system.
The Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, which received the testimony of thousands of people, either in writing or in person, back in 1988, did great work putting together its report, but what was it for? It sits there gathering dust like so many reports in the past. How frustrating is that for the hundreds of thousands of families and all the children?
There are thousands of divorces every year. Thankfully about 90% of them do not end up in court. Most parents who separate come to a reasonably amicable settlement that does not involve the courts. However about 10% do go to court and the families are torn apart. The children are often used as pawns between warring parents. We must stop this. We must try to do more for these children.
I look forward to the comments of my colleagues from all the other parties on this extremely important issue, an issue that goes well beyond partisan politics.
I hope the Minister of Justice is listening to this and to members on her own side of the House. I hope we will finally see action on this file.