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House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

At the request of the opposition, the vote is deferred until Monday after government orders.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think the whips have informally agreed, in addition to what has just been proposed, that the votes be further deferred until Tuesday at the conclusion of government orders. Therefore, I would seek consent to do that.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to defer the vote until Tuesday after government orders?

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from February 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Judges Act and to amend other Acts in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to initiate the debate on Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Judges Act and to amend other acts in consequence. There are many acts to be amended by Bill C-22.

Since the 1968 passage of the first federal Divorce Act, divorce has become increasingly prevalent in Canada. According to the latest numbers released by Statistics Canada, 71,144 couples divorced in 2000. Before reaching the 30th wedding anniversary nearly 38% of marriages will end. That is more than one-third. One in three marriages will end before even reaching their 30th wedding anniversary.

An important consequence of divorce is more and more disputes over the custody of children and parents' rights to access them. Custody of dependants, usually children, was granted through proceedings in one out of every three divorces in 2000. In the remaining two out of three divorces, couples arrived at custody arrangements outside the divorce proceedings, or they did not have dependents.

The proposed changes in Bill C-22 primarily affect child custody arrangements between parents after divorce. This is important for we should be worried about the impact divorce has on the lives of children.

For far too long family law legislation has perpetuated a battle of the sexes, a war between mothers and fathers.

The justice minister, when unveiling this act, said that he wanted to return family law to its core value, the best interests of the child, by making parenting after divorce less of a battle and less about mothers and fathers. Though males are perceived to be the victims of bias in family law, even that has resulted in some suicides. It is very sad.

A large number of Canadians have been critical of the terms custody and access because in their view the terms encourage too many parents to focus on their own rights rather than on their responsibilities and what is in the best interests of their children. The terms also promote the idea of a winner or a loser in a custody battle. Giving custody to one person takes it away from another. The terms represent a poor start for the future and give the impression that there is a winner and a loser, but the children are often the real losers, and we should do something about that.

Under the proposed reforms, the terms custody and access will be eliminated for the purpose of the Divorce Act. Removing the win-lose connotations will contribute to reducing levels of parental conflict and stress. The new approach used by the act and in legal proceedings will help parents to focus on their most important obligation, which is making sure their children receive the care they need. This terminology simply does not reflect the idea of co-parenting.

The proposed reforms will also allow parents, not the court, to figure out how to carry out their responsibilities to their children. Mediators, counsellors and lawyers will be able to assist if they cannot come to an agreement and judges will issue parenting orders only if mediation fails. The negative consequences for children are aggravated if parents become involved in protracted conflict over separation.

The proposed legislation is based on a parental responsibility model. Its underlying concept is that both parents will be responsible for the well-being of their children after separation or divorce. How they carry out their obligations to their children is largely a matter for them to decide using the best interest criteria as a guide.

The amendments to the Divorce Act include a list of best interest criteria for parents, lawyers and judges to consider when determining the living arrangements of a child involved in divorce.

These criteria include: the child's physical, emotional and psychological needs, including the child's need for stability, taking into account the child's age and stage of development; the benefit to the child of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with both spouses and each spouse's willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child's relationship with the other spouse; the history of care for the child; any family violence record; the child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage; any plans proposed for the child's care and upbringing; the nature, strength and stability of the relationship between the child and each spouse or each sibling, grandparent and any other significant person in the child's life; the ability of each person,in respect of whom the order would apply, to care for and meet the needs of the child; to communicate and co-operate on issues affecting the child; and finally, the safety and well-being of the child.

A mixed race child might end up spending more time with a parent who is considered to be in the best position to provide a cultural education to that child.

In 1998 the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access released its report “For The Sake of the Children”. The Minister of Justice claims that the government has taken an approach to family justice reform that is consistent with the spirit of this special joint committee's recommendations in that it removes the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act and bases parenting decisions solely on the best interest of the child.

However the government has rejected the committee's recommendation, as it often does, that the government adopt the shared parenting concept in which equal access to children is presumed.

While women's groups urged the government to make no changes to the custody and access regime, father's rights organizations campaigned tirelessly, but unsuccessfully, for the inclusion of a presumption in the law that each parent had equal access to children. There is little doubt that children benefit most when they have frequent and liberal access to both their parents.

Father's groups lobbied for the presumption of shared custody because of the widely held perception that courts are inherently gender biased. Judges award sole custody to mothers 60% of the time, joint custody 30% of the time and sole custody to fathers just 10% of the time.

The assumption of shared parenting should be built into the Divorce Act. Shared custody encourages the real involvement of both parents in their children's lives.

Psychologists and social workers tell us that children benefit from maintaining a relationship with both parents after divorce. Many studies show that children's emotional development is enhanced if both parents are involved after divorce. Parents denied a significant role in the life of a child might withdraw gradually, to the detriment of the child.

Some women's groups caution that a presumption in favour of joint custody might lead to its imposition in inappropriate cases and could allow an abusive father to continue to harass his wife and children. However clearly stated criteria would prevent this from occurring. Their position also overstates the occurrence of abuse and portrays men in a negative light.

Children benefit from consistent, meaningful contact with both parents, except in exceptional cases, such as those where violence has occurred and continues to pose a risk to the child.

What counts the most are the children, the kids. They are our next generation, our future and they certainly deserve our best care.

We know that family is an institution. Family is the foundation of any nation. United and peaceful families are stronger families. We need to promote that. Stronger families are prosperous families. Stronger and prosperous families can raise children better for the future of the country.

Do I need to remind everyone that stronger families make strong communities and stronger communities make a stronger nation?

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's remarks on Bill C-22. It is important legislation for which parents and, more important, children have waited a long time.

Unfortunately, as he alluded to in his remarks, the government missed the boat entirely. It missed the fundamental principle that was enshrined in the report “For the Sake of the Children”. The fundamental guiding principle of all the 48 recommendations that were contained in the joint House of Commons--Senate report was that of shared parenting.

I would like to refer my colleague to the comments of the Minister of Justice on February 4 when he introduced Bill C-22 in the Chamber. I am quoting from Hansard . The minister said:

The term “shared parenting” has become associated for some people with a presumptive starting point about the appropriate parenting arrangement for children upon divorce. As a result, using the term “shared parenting” in the Divorce Act would have led to confusion.

My belief and the belief of the committee is exactly the opposite. To clarify that both parents upon divorce have equal standing, responsibilities and obligations to their children, we need to have shared parenting enshrined in the Divorce Act. It is the fundamental building block of the whole report.

I would ask my colleague to comment on that.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River for his excellent contribution in the House on the issue of shared parenting. He has done tremendous work on this. I am quite confident that because of his guidance the official opposition has led this issue through to the House in a meaningful way.

It is disappointing that out of the 48 recommendations that the joint committee recommended to the House the government has not listened to those recommendations nor has it followed through on them as it normally does in other cases that we see. Committee work becomes meaningless when members work hard to come up with recommendations and the recommendations go nowhere except for collecting dust on some shelf. That is disappointing.

I think shared parenting is the fundamental foundation of the Divorce Act. If the government does not see that the sharing concept is the fundamental foundation for the Divorce Act, it is leading the nation in the wrong direction. Whatever we decide to enshrine in the law will not be effective, will not be meaningful and will not strengthen the institution of families.

I am definitely in favour of the point the hon. member highlighted. We do need to clarify that equality does exist in the Divorce Act. When parents divorce or separate they need the opportunity to have equal responsibility for the children. That is a fundamental building block of the family. It keeps the lives of the children meaningful, and they would not miss either of their parents. That is important, and the government must understand that, absolutely.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, we just referred to the confusion that was suggested by the minister when he introduced the changes to the Divorce Act.

I want to ask the member who just spoke if he does not think that there is already a good amount of confusion that happens in the children. We are supposed to be operating from the premise of the best interests of the children. I think that we will find a lot of confusion in the children.

Does the member think we should be more concerned about the confusion we cause in the lives of children rather than the confusion we might cause in the courts?

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Again, Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the very important point he has raised. Confusion is a serious issue. It is hard for young and small children to understand, when they love both parents equally, why they are denied access to their parents or why the law has determined that they should not have equal access to both parents. It is very disappointing for them.

I am disappointed about the government's general attitude toward dealing with the various issues. It does not listen to Canadians. I know it does not listen to the official opposition for political reasons. However the government should listen to the hundreds of thousands of psychologists, social workers and parents who are affected by the whole misconception of equal access and responsibility of both parents by the government enshrining this into law.

We already know that there have been perceptions that courts have been biased toward females. I have gathered data on males, the fathers, who have committed suicide one after the other. That is very disappointing.

Not only that, the justice minister himself does not understand the issue. His confusion definitely will be reflected in the way the government members vote on the issue. I believe the justice minister should understand and listen to at least the hundreds of thousands of Canadian psychologists, social workers and parents, if not the opposition members.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to pose a second question to my colleague. At the outset, obviously the debate is about to end on second reading of the bill. It then will proceed to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I look forward to that process because it will give Canadian Alliance members the opportunity to bring forward meaningful amendments on behalf of the children of Canada to try to correct the inadequacies, and there are many, in the proposed legislation, Bill C-22.

The question I want to pose to my colleague concerns the confusion when a government on behalf of the citizens of the country ratifies a United Nations convention, then turns around and brings in legislation like Bill C-22. I refer my colleague to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Canadian government ratified in 1991. Therefore it has been supported by Canadians through their government.

Part of article 9 states that parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interest.

Could my colleague comment on that? It is confusing when a government on behalf of the citizens ratifies something like that and then brings in legislation that does not reinforce the concept of shared parenting and the rights of the child.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Here we go, Mr. Speaker. The hon. member has quoted the United Nations convention. If the government does not listen to opposition members, or Canadians or families, there is the United Nations report which it should consider.

I had an opportunity to serve on the board of SOS Children's Villages. They have operated in 123 countries. They give families to orphan children. Those orphan siblings are kept together. I know how children feel when they are brought up in a family.

Children cannot speak for themselves but we, the politicians, should understand. Most of us in the House are parents or grandparents. We should articulate how this confusion by the justice minister is hampering the rights of children.

The government should understand that. It should look at the amendments which will be put forward in the justice committee when the bill is debated. This is not a partisan issue. It is about the future of our children.

The whole issue should focus on the needs of the children and the future of the children. I am sure that the government will listen to that. I urge the justice minister to act for the sake of the children.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, as you know, an MP's life can be a most interesting one. Some 45 minutes ago, I was in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as was the parliamentary secretary I see here. We were discussing marriage, but marriage between same sex partners. Marriage there, and divorce here. Clearly these topics are of interest.

It is also a sign, however, to us all here in this House that what we do here will affect the personal everyday lives of the men and women of Quebec and of Canada.

When we address matters such as marriage and divorce, we must be very careful. We must reflect, listen, study. Unfortunately, with Bill C-22, the Minister of Justice seems to have brought forth a mouse. He has unfortunately not delivered on his promised revolution.

I would like to begin by reaffirming as strongly as possible the Bloc Quebecois' firm belief in the importance of the respective roles fathers and mothers play in the lives of their children, whether outside marriage, during a marriage, or after marriage breakdown.

Every parent, every father and mother has an important and essential role. This philosophical principle, which underlies every Bloc Quebecois intervention in the debate on Bill C-22, will guide us. This philosophical principle, which underscores the importance of the role of the father and the mother, will be present and is present in all our interventions in this bill.

You would not be surprised if I, as a Quebec sovereignist, said that the option preferred by the Bloc Quebecois is simply to repeal the Divorce Act and transfer it to Quebec.

In 1867, when the British North America Act, which is nothing more than an act passed by the British Parliament, was passed, anything that had to do with family law was left in the hands of the provinces under section 92 of the Constitution. The only exception was marriage and divorce, which, let us not forget, was basically for religious reasons.

Quebec was mostly Catholic and Canada and Ontario mostly Protestant and some feared that one of the provinces was imposing its views on the religious minority there.

Now that Quebec and Canada accept religious diversity and varying points of view, the federal government's appropriation of divorce and marriage, this tiny section of family law and civil law, no longer has its place. There is no longer any reason for this.

In this regard, the Bloc Quebecois is part of a long and illustrious tradition. For many decades, Union Nationale, Liberal and Parti Quebecois governments have all asked that family law be repatriated to Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois made this request again in 1998 when the joint committee on child custody submitted its report and it is a request we are reiterating today. We cannot be accused of inconsistency.

In the unfortunate event that the government rejects this option, changes would still need to be made to Bill C-22 introduced by the Minister of Justice.

I will simply address a few of the main points. When I met with Justice officials to discuss Bill C-22, they told me—unfortunately the briefing was conducted in English—that the words access and custody should be removed to effect what they called a conceptual shift in the approach to children's rights and to try to eliminate any notion of winner and loser in the debate on the custody of children.

Whether the words custody and access are removed or not, the fact remains that the child, boy or girl, will have to spend x number of days with mom and y number of days with dad. So, change wording as we may to call it something else, in actual fact, one parent will have the child for a period of time and the other will have him and her for another period of time.

All this to say that I seriously doubt that, in practice, the conceptual shift sought by the justice minister will be very meaningful.

Another aspect is the interest of the child. The minister's bill maintains the principle of the child's interest in determining custody and making various orders regarding the parents by setting out a number of criteria to take into consideration in determining what is in the interest of the child.

First, the interest of the child is already covered in subsection 16(8) of the Divorce Act, as well as in section 514 of the Quebec Civil Code, with respect to separation from bed and board.

All the minister has done in connection with the best interests of the child has been to codify existing criteria from the jurisprudence. Decisions rendered across Canada were reviewed, and actions determined to have ensured the child's best interests were included in the legislation.

In the system of laws that governs us, jurisprudence is very important. All this to say that codifying jurisprudence hardly qualifies as new law. It does not change the law; it changes absolutely nothing. It only makes a cosmetic change to that part of the act. Once again, it reinforces the idea—and this was the point I was making at the beginning—that the government has brought forth a mouse.

There is another major problem with Bill C-22. The unified family courts. The government wants to make sure there is a unified family court in every province. Again I will remind the House that in 1998, when the joint committee released its report, the Bloc Quebecois opposed this idea and, surprise, surprise, it is still opposed to it now.

The way the federal government sees it, a unified court would bring every aspect of family law under the Quebec Superior Court, whose judges are appointed by the federal government.

In Quebec, courts that have jurisdiction over family law, except, of course, for marriage and divorce, come under the Quebec court, whose judges are appointed by the Quebec government.

We are opposed to the principle of a unified family court as planned by the federal government. If it persists in this direction, we will ask respectfully but firmly that it transfer to Quebec the money set aside to establish a family court in Quebec, so that Quebec may keep its distinct character in the way it manages family law, which, I remind members, is under provincial jurisdiction. Quebec is the only province with a civil code.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will oppose Bill C-22, but it is our sincere hope that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will hold the broadest possible consultations, because whatever we decide in this House will have far reaching consequences for millions of Quebeckers and Canadians.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill in general terms.

Bill C-22 is further evidence of why representative democracy is dead in terms of the Department of Justice. Section 18 of the British North America Act which gives this House the powers of representation of the public is dead. A motion was made recently by the Minister of Justice asking members of this place to waive their privileges, that is, section 18 of the British North America Act, our counterbalance to the enormous powers of the Crown as represented by the cabinet. Now we have a new evolution in that under Bill C-22.

Bill C-22 is a disgrace. It represents only the wishes and the views of perhaps seven lawyers in the Department of Justice. Bill C-22 is representative of nothing in this place. It is representative of nothing among the Canadian public, yet the justice minister brought it to this chamber.

In the 10 minutes allotted to me, I will quickly trace some of the history of this legislation.

In 1968 Canada's first Divorce Act was introduced. It introduced in some sense a no fault provision. In 1984 the act was amended and the then minister of justice in the Trudeau cabinet, Mr. MacGuigan, brought in some amendments to it. He introduced the concept of the best interest of the child, but, and this was a very traditional Liberal value, the best interest of the child included the joint financial obligations of the mother and the father to their children, and also the principle of maximum contact of the children with both parents.

The Divorce Act of 1984, or Bill C-10 as it was called ironically at that time, died on the Order Paper when Parliament dissolved in 1984. In 1985 the then minister of justice, Mr. Crosbie, brought in an act respecting divorce and corollary relief. He revamped and changed Bill C-10 but retained the best interest of the child concept and the concept of joint financial obligations toward joint and equal parenting.

I will flash forward to 1996 to Bill C-41 which introduced a revolutionary concept about child support. It put in place a regime where one parent, the non-custodial parent, would pay support and the custodial parent had no obligations. God bless those people in the other place because they resisted it. The bill passed on the very clear understanding that a joint committee of Parliament would be formed.

In 1997 that joint committee was formed by resolution of this House and the other place. That joint committee met throughout 1998 and made approximately 44 recommendations about fairness, about equality, about balance and most important, about putting two parents back into the life of a child when those parents divorced. I will read two pivotal recommendations of that committee.

Recommendation No. 5 of the joint committee report of December 9, 1998 states:

This Committee recommends that the terms “custody and access” no longer be used in the Divorce Act and instead that the meaning of both terms be incorporated and received in the new term “shared parenting”, which shall be taken to include all the meanings, rights, obligations, and common-law and statutory interpretations embodied previously in the terms “custody and access”.

Recommendation No. 6 states:

This Committee recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to repeal the definition of “custody” and to add a definition of “shared parenting” that reflects the meaning ascribed to that term by this Committee.

That is all rather interesting. At the same time, a massive public shift of opinion occurred.

A Compas poll showed that 89% of Canadians believed the stress of divorce was more severe than a generation ago, and that 70% of men and women said the courts do not pay enough attention to the needs of children.

In that same poll 62% of men and women said that they feel the courts pay too little attention to the needs of fathers and 80% of Canadians believed that the children of divorce must maintain ongoing relationships with their non-custodial parents. Also 65% of Canadians said that they feel it is a priority that the government should protect the rights of children to relationships with their non-custodial parents and that no custodial parent should be allowed to bar that access.

An Angus Reid poll on May 25, 1998 in the Globe and Mail said that 71% of residents of Ontario believe a woman's child support should be withheld if access is denied. Also it said that Ontarians are equally split as to whether or not jail terms are appropriate for access denial.

The end result was that in May 1999 the justice minister responded to the special joint committee. I quote from “Government of Canada Strategy for Reform” the Government of Canada’s response to the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access:

The Government of Canada is committed to responding to the issues identified by the CommitteeReport. The Special Joint Committee Report’s key themes, concerns and recommendationsprovide a foundation for developing a strategy for reforming the policy and legislative frameworkthat deals with the impact of divorce on Canadian children.

On October 12, 1999 the throne speech said “it will work to reform family law and strengthen supports provided to families”.

With respect to the throne speech of January 30, 2001, at page 8 of the Senate Debates it states:

The government will work with its partners on modernizing the laws for child support, custody and access, to ensure that these work in the best interests of children in cases of family breakdown.

On September 30, 2002 the throne speech said at page 4:

[The government] will also reform family law, putting greater emphasis on the best interests of the child...and ensure that appropriate child and family services are available.

What do we get out of all of that? What does this all mean? It means that in December last year, the justice minister tabled Bill C-22 which reflects nothing. It is not reflective of anything that three committees of Parliament have said ought to be done. It does not reflect anything that Canadians told the committee. It reflects nothing that polls across the country have shown.

A justice minister, who had been the justice minister for three months, arrived and said “I know more. I know better. I will tell you what is in the best interests of children and it is this thing I call Bill C-22”.

The end result is that we are now living in a place where the executive branch has given to the House a bill which reflects only the wishes of the so-called experts in the Department of Justice. We have been given a bill which flies in the face of everything this place stands for in terms of representative democracy. The bill is the status quo or less. The bill does not address children.

The bill brings in a new concept which is turning the Divorce Act into the form of a mini criminal code. It introduces something called domestic violence into the Divorce Act.

Since when did a civil act become a criminal act? Since when did we start passing laws in this place that would criminalize allegations? Since when did we say to half the population, “You have no place in the life of your children because you have divorced and we will allow, not Parliament which has an obligation to protect children, but judges to decide”.

This will continue to foment dissent and great bitterness. Most tragically, we will continue to see a generation of children of divorce who only know one parent, who only know one family and who will be raised under the guise of revolution if we allow the bill to pass. That is why members of this chamber must do what is best for the children of this country, not what is best for a justice minister or his bureaucrats. We must stand and say at second reading, no, we will not accept this.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I must thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for the non-partisan position taken on a piece of legislation that is so vital and important to the House and to the many people it affects. The member for Sarnia—Lambton always has a spot over here if he wishes to pursue the government the way he has.

Believe me, I hope beyond hope there are more members on the Liberal backbenches who will look seriously at this legislation, dissect it and see what it is doing or not doing for what I consider to be one of the most serious issues facing us as a society today. There are pieces of legislation that come before us, in fact we have five or six today, that deal with very important issues. In my opinion, this is without question the most important issue that will be dealt with in the House of Commons.

I am very fortunate and very happy that I have never had any personal experience in dealing with divorce. However, if members looked within their own personal lives, they would find someone among their family or friends who has experienced divorce. It is one of the most acrimonious circumstances anyone could possibly face.

Bill C-22 is supposed to put into place legislation that would allow this particular circumstance, divorce, to take place between two people with some protections.

The history lesson by the member for Sarnia—Lambton was wonderful. As was mentioned earlier, there was a special joint committee which issued the wonderful report “For the Sake of the Children”. It had 48 recommendations which, if the House wanted to follow, would put into place legislation that would deal with the singular issue that it attempted to do, and that was for the sake of the children, protection for the children.

Some of the 48 recommendations have been implemented. I will not be as strongly opposed to the legislation as the member for Sarnia—Lambton. Some have been included in the legislation. However, there are approximately 13 recommendations, very important and strong, absolutely stand-alone recommendations that have not been included and because of that, the legislation has faults. The legislation is not the right piece of legislation to go forward.

There are two issues. First, in any kind of divorce proceeding, we recognize that there will be acrimony. Once people have reached that point in a marriage, there will be acrimony. There will be, unfortunately, too many things that will not be negotiable between a husband and a wife. Unfortunately there has to be a mediator. There has to be legislation put into place to mediate that. Unfortunately as well, when people have reached that point in a marriage, it is usually most detrimental to the children of the marriage.

In “For the Sake of the Children” there are two issues. One is shared parenting. This is a simple concept. When two people are involved in a marriage and from that marriage come children, then in my opinion and certainly in the opinion of the committee and the opinion of the majority of Canadians, both parents must and still have a need for the opportunity to develop those children throughout their childhood. They must have access. There must be shared parenting.

The Minister of Justice does not like the term “shared parenting” and he does not like the terms “custody” and “access”. The term he will be putting in is “parenting orders”. A word is only a word. Shared parenting means that each individual parent has the right and the responsibility to raise the children.

The committee also said that as part of shared parenting there should be a parenting plan. What a great idea. A parenting plan would be negotiated and worked out between two adults which would allow the children to have as close to a normal upbringing as they could possibly have. But no, that is not dealt with in this legislation.

Instead, as was mentioned, they go off to the courts to decide what is going to happen with joint custody and what is going to happen with sole custody. For the sake of the children, it is necessary to have a mandatory piece of legislation which states that in divorce proceedings it is imperative that the first thing is to say that the children are going to have shared parenting, that they are going to have equal access to both parents. That is the equality and that is the fairness that should be developed in this act.

The second issue, needless to say, is financial, obviously whether there is going to be spousal support, child support, or a financial contribution from one partner to another. In general terms it should not be a gender thing. There should be fairness. There should in fact be a simple, basic premise which states that one member of the marriage should not be a beneficiary to the detriment of the other. One member of that duo should not receive substantial financial support to the detriment of another and have his or her lifestyle change so dramatically that he or she cannot cope.

I have reams and reams of the information provided to us as members of Parliament which speaks of the tragedies with respect to so much being demanded of one parent by the courts that the individual just could not cope. When that individual could not cope, unfortunately in some cases it resulted in suicide, and this is not fearmongering, this is a reality. This is an issue we have to deal with and it can be dealt with in fairness and equity in a piece of legislation.

I am disappointed that the Minister of Justice would bring forward this bill without more thought being given to it, without the ability to put into place a piece of legislation that is going to allow divorce to happen in a much fairer and more equitable fashion.

The issue here is not to try to stop the divorce. We recognize that in our society today there are those who, in their own judgment, do not wish to be a married couple. That is a reality. The reality is there. What we must do as politicians and legislators is make sure that the rules are put in place to make this happen in the most fair and equitable way possible.

As I said, there are two issues. One of them is shared parenting and making sure that there is equal access to children. I cannot think of anything worse than being the father of children and not being able to have access to those children, for whatever reason but in this particular case divorce. As part of that, there has to be the opportunity for access for the extended family. We can talk about rights, whether that be rights for grandparents, and we also know that now we have extended families that in fact should have access, either to grandchildren or to nieces and nephews. That has to be protected in this act.

The other issue is support. There has to be fairness with respect to support, and from both parents, from both sides of the equation.

We will see this legislation go forward to committee. I do not think the member for Sarnia--Lambton has in fact convinced the members of his party to stop it at this level. I wish he could, and I hope he can, but if he cannot it is going back to committee. The only hope and wish I have is that members of all parties, and this is not partisan nor should it be, simply listen with an open mind as to how the legislation must be changed, not should be or could be but must be, changed for the sake of the children.

That is what it is about. It is for the children who are going to be growing up in a home divided, but that home divided does not necessarily have to be an acrimonious home. It does not necessarily have to be a home that is going to have one winner and one loser in a relationship. In fact, that is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to children growing up in a family.

From my party's perspective, we will be at the table at the justice committee. We will be putting forward what we consider to be the necessary amendments to make this legislation so much better. Or perhaps we can start from scratch, by pulling the legislation altogether, and try to put into place what is best for the children.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak on Bill C-22, the Divorce Act amendments.

First I would like to say that my colleague from Prince George—Peace River has taken the initiative to ensure that the voices of Canadians and everybody were heard when the bill was being formulated and will be heard as it is going to be formulated when it goes to the committee.

I have listened with interest to my colleague from the Liberal side as well as my colleague from the Progressive Conservative side. Both have articulated a very good point, especially the Liberal member from Sarnia when he said that the bill seems to have been drafted by the lawyers in the justice department without major input from the people of Canada, which would be through the House of Commons. Therefore I thought it was important for me to stand up and speak on the bill.

Why do I think it is important? Let me start by saying that for the last three to four years I have received representations in my office from frustrated people who are in divorce proceedings, whose marriage, for whatever reason, has broken down. They have come to my office and have expressed frustration about the Divorce Act and about the way the courts have acted and have passed judgment.

I had a town hall meeting where I wanted to discuss the issues that were in front of Parliament. I was surprised at the number of grandparents who came, pleading that we do something so that grandparents will have access to the children. At the end of the day, grandparents do have a right to their grandchildren.

In regard to these proceedings, we have a lot of experience. We have seen what happened in the past. We know that on many occasions when divorce proceedings take place it is not harmonious. It is a split that leaves bitter feelings. These feelings tend to be used against the children, who become pawns for revenge purposes, regrettably. As many members will know, even in the last year or so in Calgary we have had cases where parents have taken the lives of small children so they could get revenge against the other partner. What a tragedy, Mr. Speaker.

This calls for Parliament, for the people, to look at this issue, because divorce is on the rise. It is a fact of life. There are single parents out there and we need to listen to them and address this issue, because it is there. It is not going to go away. It is not going to be hidden under the carpet. If we are going to leave it to the unelected officials, to the courts, to create the rules or regulations or laws for this, then we are doing a huge disservice to Canadians.

During election 2000 when I went door knocking, I was stunned and amazed at how many times I met single mothers with children. They had returned home to stay with their parents. In talking to them, I heard their frustration with trying to raise the children by themselves. If statistics are anything to go by, for the majority of children who live in poverty it is because of the single parent. Due to the breakup of marriages, single parenting is what is sending children into poverty.

In the budget the government has said it is going to spend so much money for child poverty. Fair enough. Agreed. It is a good point, but the fact of the matter is that we should go to the root cause one step behind this, to where it is coming from. It is coming from single parenting.

How do we address the issue? It goes back to the divorce cases. We need to look at the divorce case issue and come up with not what the bureaucrats or lawyers are trying to do but with what is really out there, what is really happening, where the cracks are that we need to solve. There are the rights of grandparents and shared parenting.

What if we give direction to the courts to say we want shared parenting because it is the responsibility of both? Why should one parent be put on the other side and carry the burden while the other parent feels he cannot participate and feels neglected in society? There have been recent cases of this in Alberta, where revenge has been taken and the poor children have even lost their lives.

The question here is that it is for the sake of the children. The parents may decide they want to be separate and to go ahead with their own lives, and so be it, they make the decision, but we have to take into account what the children need. They love their children. We all use the same words, interestingly, and we all say “for the sake of children”, but what and how?

When the bill goes back to committee hopefully people will come and offer presentations and will fight to make sure that there is an equitable share for both parents in raising the children. That is good in the long term for society and it is good for us because we are investing in our children, the long term future of this country.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.