House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.


Divorce Act
Private Members' Business

February 23rd, 2001 / 2:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you. Really, it is nice to be able to say that I have worked for a living, although I certainly would not suggest that the member for Windsor—St. Clair has not done so. However, this was an issue this morning and it behooves us as members of parliament to be able to stand in the House and talk about pieces of legislation.

I know for a fact that the member for Prince George—Peace River is not a lawyer either, but he did bring forward something that is very important to all Canadians, certainly to those Canadians who are affected quite dramatically by the Divorce Act and custody of the children.

I am pleased to rise to support Bill C-237, an act to amend the Divorce Act (joint custody), put forward by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River.

The purpose of the bill is to ensure that courts grant custody of a child of the marriage to both spouses, unless there exists evidence that to do so would not be in the best interests of the child. As a supporter of change to the current structure of child custody and access, I was encouraged by the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access entitled “For the Sake of the Children”, which was mentioned many times in the House during today's debate.

The report came to the House in December 1998. The government's response to this report did not come back until May 1999. Yet nothing has been done. The inaction of the Minister of Justice has caused great frustration among Canadians who have been affected by marriage breakdown and the ensuing child custody battles.

I share the frustration of many Canadians knowing that our children will continue to suffer because the recommendations for change will not be legislated into law. Our party supports shared custody as long as it is in the best interests of the children.

The PC Party played an effective role on the special joint committee and we were a strong voice for the issue of shared custody. We feel that the courts should work in harmony with social services to ensure that no matter what the custody arrangement, the best interests of the children will be paramount. The PC Party has stated that it will continue its efforts to have the recommendations of the committee legislated into law.

As the Liberal government seems unwilling to take action on this issue, I once again commend the member for coming forward with a proposal that will move toward a more equitable treatment of both—and I stress both—parents involved in a child custody arrangement while ensuring, again, that the best interests are those of the children.

The judicial discretion permitted in the bill will allow a judge to make decisions in the best interests of the child, depending on the merits of the individual case. The bill states:

The court may, on application by either or both spouses or any other person, make an order respecting any or all children of the marriage that is different from the order provided for in subsection (1) where, in the opinion of the court, the best interests of the child or children so require.

I cannot stress that comment enough. It is for the children, and certainly it is a piece of legislation that brings the parents together to make sure that in fact is the case.

Every other section of the bill states clearly that decisions regarding the joint custody of the child will always be subject to judicial discretion. This protects the child while enhancing the rights of both parents.

There are other problems with the current system. After a bitter divorce some parents deny visitation access to other parents and use their children to get even with their former spouses. That is in fact happening, Madam Speaker, in your constituency and in my constituency.

Police have seen recent abductions of children by non-custodial parents who have become desperate after repeatedly being denied visitation rights. I am not defending this course of action, but it provides further evidence of the negative effect this has on children. Children are forced into a fugitive lifestyle.

Shared custody should help avert the often extreme animosity that exists between divorced parents fighting for access to their children. This would provide a much healthier environment, with less conflict, for children to grow up in.

I do wish that the Liberal government would take the necessary action to fix the problem. Seeing that this is not the case, I would suggest that each member of the House support this piece of legislation as a small part of the proper thing to do to move the issue forward.

I once again thank the member for the bill. I do support it on behalf of my party, the Progressive Conservative Party.

Divorce Act
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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.

Divorce Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties who participated in the debate this afternoon. It is unfortunate that, like so many pieces of legislation, this private member's bill will not be votable and that this hour will be the only opportunity that members have to participate in a debate about such an important issue as joint custody or shared parenting as is the new term.

I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre for his eloquent remarks. I congratulate him on his first speech. I know he did not intend to speak today, late on a Friday afternoon, but he jumped to his feet and participated in the debate.

I also would like to thank my colleague from the Progressive Conservatives from Brandon—Souris for his support and for his supportive comments in this debate.

The member for Windsor—St. Clair also imparted his experience and wisdom that he accumulated when he worked in the real world, shall we say. I would dispute perhaps the fundamental opposition he voiced to the legislation, Bill C-237. If I understood his remarks correctly, he said it would probably result in more litigation, more than the present 10% that statistics show us.

I would pose the question why would it necessarily do that? Parents would understand that the courts would uphold the joint custody unless there was clear evidence of abuse, mistreatment or whatever reason the court might rule. However, it would have to be based upon fundamental, ironclad evidence that it would be not in the best interests of the child to have joint custody. Once it became the norm, I believe parents would accept that. They would quit using children as pawns in their otherwise very disruptive divorce settlements or separation settlements.

I would dispute whether it would necessarily result in an increase in that 10% number.

I congratulate the member for Erie—Lincoln on participating in this debate. I was appalled and saddened at his remarks but not surprised. I suspect that the general thrust of his speech, if not in its entirety, was put together by lawyers in the justice department for the Minister of Justice and perhaps passed to him. They may not all be his thoughts on this important subject.

If I understood him, his main argument was that the government in its infinite wisdom wants to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with this very important subject of shared parenting or custody and access. I would argue that the government has had time. How much longer can children wait? Every day that goes by there are children caught between their love, respect and devotion for both parents. Children are being hurt the most by the government's inaction.

We can go into all the legalities. As the member for Brandon—Souris said we are not lawyers, so I will not get into the legality of it. I believe very strongly that all of us as members of parliament, regardless of party, are being beseeched by citizens, parents and grandparents across the country on this issue. There has to be a time for action and it has to be now.

I could go on but we are out of time. I could talk about my own experience having just gone through a divorce some two years ago and the fact that I have three children. Now is not the time to go into that. Many of us have been touched by divorce. We have seen children who have been hurt when parents start warring in the courts or outside the courts. We must do something for them. I believe this was the first step we could have taken to go down that road to institute a system of more fairness and to help the children.

Divorce Act
Private Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. Since the motion was not votable, the item is dropped from the order paper.

It being 2.23 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2.23 p.m.)