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.