Madam Speaker, this is my first opportunity to rise in the House to speak to any legislation. I am not a graduate of too many schools. I guess I graduated from the same law school that Joe Clark graduated from, or so I heard today. I am not a lawyer, but I have taken courses. One course was the course of life.
The hon. member spoke of legal presumption. There are several presumptions I want to mention today that are actually already being made in the courts when it comes to divorce and custody. I also want to mention the fact that the reason many cases are not presented with a request for joint custody is that it is understood and well known that there is very little chance for that request to be granted because of these legal presumptions that are automatically being made.
I was not aware that I would have an opportunity to speak to this legislation so I will not quote statistics, legal points or that sort of thing, but I will speak from my experience as a family counsellor for the last 30 years.
First, I find the presumption is made that the female spouse in the situation is the better parent. I agree that in many cases this may well be true, but I also know of many cases in which it is not true. I know of a case in which a female parent was involved in drugs and in many kinds of activities that were wrong, yet she automatically got custody of the child and the father did not.
The second presumption that seems to be made in the courts I am aware of in the city of Regina is that the mother is always the one who is telling the truth. Insinuations can be made, the children given over and the case closed, just an automatic thing that happens.
Third, I think there is the presumption that the mother is the one with the most inherent right to be the parent. Again, I disagree with that. Usually that is the case, especially with younger children where the mother may do a better job, but I think recent studies tell us of the tragedy that is caused by the lack of a father in the family. We understand that over 70% of juvenile delinquents come from fatherless families, so it is extremely important that our children be able to maintain contact with their fathers.
The other presumption is that the mother is the one most likely to be subjected to continued abuse. I am not so sure that is always the case either. Perhaps mothers are the most likely, but in fact abuse does happen to the other parent. Many times the father suffers from that element of control in the aspect of being barred from seeing the children or the aspect of being totally controlled in regard to when, how and where he will see the children. It has reached the point where it is totally unfair.
Just this morning in my office I received from a constituent information about a website that I visited for about five minutes before coming to the House. The website listed many cases of suicide when fathers have been shut away from their children because of this automatic situation. They feel so hopeless and helpless, and many of them are committing suicide over this very thing.
Many of them are being asked to pay support beyond even their earnings. I know one parent in Regina, for instance, who was compelled to give 75% of his income to support his young children. That makes it a little difficult now in his new family. The mother is not always the one who may be the most likely to suffer abuse.
The fifth assumption that is made is that children would prefer to be with their mother. Again, this is false. In a case I know, the father plays with the children. The father takes the children on outings. The father is involved with the children in sporting events and many other things. The mother is not always the one who spends that kind of time with the children. So, it is wrong to automatically presume that the father is going to be the lesser of the two parents and to automatically give the child to the mother.
My final point is simply this. We as Canadians are big on human rights. We have gone through a period of time when everyone is most interested in receiving the rights they deserve. We fight for our rights. We are proud that we give rights to everyone. We extend rights so far that we end up with no rights ourselves sometimes, especially in our criminal system.
However, one thing we forget, one thing I have never heard mentioned by any lawyer or anyone else and something that I believe very seriously in my heart, is that every child in Canada deserves an equal right to two parents, not just one. The system we have now, which automatically presumes that it is okay to legislate one parent out of the equation except for financial situations and very limited access, takes away the right for our children have to two parents.
I would favour the legislation. It may not be the be all end all, it may not be the perfect solution, but if we could start from the premise that our children deserve the right to two parents then move to an equitable situation and work that out, we would be doing what is in the best interests of our children.