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.