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House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition on the subject matter of stem cell research signed by a number of Canadians, including from my own riding of Mississauga South.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that Canadians do support ethical stem cell research, which has already shown encouraging potential to provide cures and therapies for the illnesses and diseases of Canadians. They also want to point out that non-embryonic stem cells, which are commonly known as adult stem cells, have shown significant research progress without the immune rejection or ethical problems associated with embryonic stem cells.

The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to focus its legislative support on adult stem cell research for the therapies and cures necessary to cure Canadians.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions, two of which are on stem cells.

The first petition asks Parliament to proceed using all types of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells, because it is impossible to predict which will provide the most medical benefits.

In the second petition the petitioners call upon Parliament to focus its legislative support on adult stem cell research to find the cures and therapies necessary to treat the illnesses and diseases of suffering Canadians.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the third petition the petitioners are asking Parliament to protect children by taking all necessary steps to ensure that all materials which promote or glorify pedophilia or sado-masochistic activities involving children are outlawed.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 68, 69, 70, 71 and 77 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 68Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

For the fiscal years 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001, from all departments and agencies of the government, including crown corporations and quasi/non-governmental agencies funded by the government, and not including research and student-related grants and loans, what is the list of grants, loans, contributions and contracts awarded in the constituency of Don Valley East, including the name and address of the recipient, whether or not it was competitively awarded, the date, the amount and the type of funding, and if repayable, whether or not it has been repaid?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 69Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

For the fiscal years 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001, from all departments and agencies of the government, including crown corporations and quasi/non-governmental agencies funded by the government, and not including research and student-related grants and loans, what is the list of grants, loans, contributions and contracts awarded in the constituency of Malpeque, including the name and address of the recipient, whether or not it was competitively awarded, the date, the amount and the type of funding, and if repayable, whether or not it has been repaid?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 70Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

For the fiscal years 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001, from all departments and agencies of the government, including crown corporations and quasi/non-governmental agencies funded by the government, and not including research and student-related grants and loans, what is the list of grants, loans, contributions and contracts awarded in the constituency of Saint-Maurice, including the name and address of the recipient, whether or not it was competitively awarded, the date, the amount and the type of funding, and if repayable, whether or not it has been repaid?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 71Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

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

For the fiscal years 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001, from all departments and agencies of the government, including crown corporations and quasi/non-governmental agencies funded by the government, and not including research and student-related grants and loans, what is the list of grants, loans, contributions and contracts awarded in the constituency of Victoria, including the name and address of the recipient, whether or not it was competitively awarded, the date, the amount and the type of funding, and if repayable, whether or not it has been repaid?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

For the fiscal years 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001, from all departments and agencies of the government, including crown corporations and quasi/non-governmental agencies funded by the government, and not including research and student-related grants and loans, what is the list of grants, loans, contributions and contracts awarded in the constituency of LaSalle—Émard, including the name and address of the recipient, whether or not it was competitively awarded, the date, the amount and the type of funding, and if repayable, whether or not it has been repaid?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that 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.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa and the Francophonie for his support for this important bill.

I am most pleased to rise today to begin debate at second reading of Bill C-22, an act to amend the Divorce Act and other Acts in consequence. As I have already mentioned clearly on numerous occasions, these reforms deal first and foremost with children.

In December I announced that the federal government would be providing $163 million over five years to support the child-centred family justice strategy. This bill deals with two of the three pillars of this strategy: legislative reforms to the Divorce Act and expanding the unified family courts.

Combined with family justice services, which received $63 million from the government, this bill will allow us to fulfill our commitment from the 2002 Speech from the Throne to improve Canada's family justice system.

The breakup of a marriage often leads to tremendous stress and suffering. Every member of the family undergoes an extremely intense emotional experience. Unfortunately, those who are often the most directly affected by the stress of a family breakup are the children.

This child-centred family justice strategy will attenuate the often negative effects of separation and divorce on children by providing parents with new tools to carry out their parental responsibilities in the best interests of the child.

When parents are unable to resolve their problems on their own and must turn to the courts, this strategy will help to put in place a simpler legal system, expand services, and provide access to expanded information programs and services, public legal information programs, and professional training to make it easier to determine what is in the child's best interests.

In this context, Bill C-22 promotes an approach based on the needs of children. It reaffirms that solely the child's interests must be considered when decisions about the child's care and education are made. It drops the terms “child custody” and “access”. These terms reinforce the notion of “winners and losers” in a context and at a time when it is important to minimize conflicts between the parents and promote their cooperation, whenever possible.

Rather, this bill introduces a new approach to parenting arrangements for children. This new approach is based on “parental responsibilities”. It is flexible and allows parents and the courts to establish the best interests of each child, as well as how responsibilities regarding a child's needs and education must be exercised.

Each parenting agreement or parenting order could grant “parenting time”, which is the time during which each parent is responsible for the child. Each parenting order could also grant one parent, or both parents, decision-making responsibilities regarding the child's health care, education, religion and other matters. The court will also be able to include a dispute resolution process in a parenting order for future disputes regarding parenting arrangements, if the process has been agreed to by the persons who are to be bound by that process.

Our approach, however, does not presume that any one parenting arrangement is better than others. We believe that such presumptions tend to focus on parental rights rather than on what is in the best interests of a particular child, which we believe should be the key aspect that we should focus on.

In its report, the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access rejected the use of legal presumptions when it comes to parenting arrangements and stated:

In view of the diversity of families facing divorce in Canada today, it would be presumptuous and detrimental to many to establish a “one size fits all” formula for parenting arrangements after separation and divorce.

The Government of Canada agrees with the special joint committee. Therefore the proposed approach allows for a wide variety of parenting arrangements that can be tailored and should be tailored to each child's needs.

It is important that any new Divorce Act concept not be interpreted as preferring a particular parenting arrangement. 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.

Bill C-22 also introduces some specific criteria respecting the needs and circumstances of the child, in keeping with the recommendation of the special joint committee. This list of best interests criteria reflects the bill's child centred approach.

The statutory list is intended to help parents make child focused parenting arrangements and to assist family justice system professionals in helping parents through mediation or parenting education courses. Also, legal professionals will be guided by the criteria which provide a foundation for their discussions with parents and any negotiations about parenting decisions.

Finally, the bill directs judges to consider the list of factors when assessing each child's best interests. All relevant factors must be considered including, but not limited to, those specifically mentioned in the bill. The criteria are not prioritized, reflecting the principle that there should be no presumptions. The weight to be given to each individual criteria will depend on the needs and circumstances of the particular child.

Everyone agrees that children need the love and attention of both parents but even such basic principles can become complicated in some situations. The benefit to the child of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with both parents is indeed an important factor for the court to consider and is included in the list of best interests criteria.

The current maximum contact principle has had the unintended effect of discouraging parents from disclosing the existence of family violence. As a result, and consistent with the recommendation of the special joint committee, the importance of the relationship between a parent and a child has been included in the best interests list, to be weighed and balanced along with other factors that speak to the best interests of the child.

Children also require a safe environment. The difficulties that children experience when their parents separate or divorce can be compounded by the presence of family violence. We all agree that family violence is a serious problem and that all too often children are its silent victims, whether through direct experience or harmful exposure to it. This is why the best interests list identifies violence against members of the family as a factor to be considered.

Furthermore, family violence is defined in a non-exhaustive manner, and the bill clarifies that the civil standard of proof will be used to ensure that all relevant evidence is considered.

While it will always be important, in assessing the best interests of the child, to weigh this factor against other important considerations, in some cases due to the severity, persistence or impact of family violence, this criterion and the need to ensure a child's safety may be given primary consideration in a parenting order.

In light of concerns about the issue of family violence, the current past conduct rules of subsection 16(9) of the Divorce Act would be removed. However it is not that this would change the longstanding rule that conduct should only be considered if it is relevant to the ability of a person to act as a parent to the child. The best interests criteria require the courts to consider the ability of individuals to care for and meet the needs of the child. There is no requirement to consider conduct that is irrelevant to the best interest of the child.

Many important factors are included in the best interests list. Although I cannot comment on all of them today, I would like to stress the importance of considering a child's views and preferences to the extent that these can be reasonably ascertained. As one young person put it during our public consultations, “Don't make decisions for us; make them with us”. Adults have an obligation to create situations that encourage children to talk without fear of recrimination, and children should not be forced to choose one parent over the other.

The bill also introduces a new type of order, a contact order. Contact orders will apply to individuals such as grandparents who wish to maintain a significant relationship with a child and who need a court order to facilitate this. Like parenting orders, contact orders will be governed solely by the child's best interests. As is currently the case, leave from the court will be required to make an application for a contact order to discourage adversarial and unnecessary litigation.

I will now move on to one of the essential components of the family justice system, namely the duties of lawyers. Often lawyers are the ones parents turn to for advice in the event of family breakdown.

In order to facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the strategy, this bill also proposes an expanded role for lawyers. In addition to informing the parents about mediation services, they will also have to provide information on family justice services such as parenting courses. As a result, parents will be more aware of the existence of alternative solutions.

As well, lawyers will be required to explain to their clients their obligation to comply with any court orders under the Divorce Act. We have heard of too many cases of parental non-compliance with orders, whether in connection with financial obligations or their responsibilities as a parent to put their child's interests first.

These new provisions acknowledge the important role which lawyers have played, and continue to play, in recommending cooperation between the parties and respect for the law.

Bill C-22 also establishes a new procedure for making variations to a support order when the parents live in different provinces or territories or one lives outside the country.

It is particularly complicated to use the services of a lawyer in a jurisdiction other than one's own, so the bill facilitates the process for families in this situation by making it possible to make a written application accompanied by evidence to the jurisdiction of the beneficiary. The court with jurisdiction over the area in which the respondent resides will request provision of supporting documents by the respondent.

If additional evidence is required from either party, the court may obtain this in the fairest and most expeditious manner possible, for instance by conference call.

Children also need to be protected from the economic consequences of family breakdown. This means there must be assurance that the financial assistance required for their care is received in full and on time.

Many parents continue to fulfil their parental obligations after separation. Nevertheless, the problem of deliberate non-compliance with parental obligations remains.

In addition to the changes to be made to the Divorce Act, there will also be amendments to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act with a view to enhancing the efficacy of the programs for enforcing support orders.

A major change to the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act is that family support obligations take priority over other judgment debts. This is an unequivocal acknowledgement that the needs of the child are a priority and reinforces our government's child-centred family justice strategy.

Additionally, the effectiveness of federal enforcement legislation is reduced when a child support debtor does not file a tax return. Consequently, federal legislation will be amended to introduce a mechanism to require a child support debtor to file a tax return.

These are the major components of only one of the pillars of the child-centred family justice strategy. The second pillar of our strategy is the expansion of the Unified Family Courts.

As the name suggests, Unified Family Courts unite jurisdiction over all family law matters within one court. Currently, a family undergoing marital breakdown must turn to the Superior Court for a divorce and division of family property. The court that has jurisdiction to grant interim support and custody is either the provincial court or the Superior Court, depending upon whether an application for divorce has been filed. This division of jurisdiction is indeed confusing for families. Under our proposed strategy, one court that specializes in family law issues will deal with all issues related to one family's separation and divorce.

The UFC also offers the benefits of a specialized bench. The judges of the Unified Family Court are experts in family law. These specialist judges fully appreciate the extent to which a decision may affect all the members of a family and are committed to achieving better outcomes through effective use of court processes and family justice services.

The bill would amend the Judges Act to provide resources for 62 additional judges for Unified Family Courts, a commitment that would permit significant expansion of these courts across the country. Various forms of the UFC currently exist in seven Canadian jurisdictions, and interest in this model continues to be strong given the benefits it offers.

One goal of the UFC is to encourage the resolution of issues in a constructive and less adversarial forum to the greatest extent possible. Integral to achieving this goal is the availability of family law services, either attached to the court itself or based within the community. For example, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and conciliation can result in settlements that satisfy all parties and are achieved in a non-adversarial setting.

In conclusion, developing this strategy, as elaborated in our legislation, will take time. There will be a legal framework to support these changes, but they will not come about on their own.

It is sometimes difficult to change the collective mindset. Putting the emphasis on the interests of the child and parental responsibilities—and not on rights—promoting parental cooperation, reducing conflicts and ensuring the security of families will be at the forefront of all our efforts to promote positive outcomes for children who go through breakups.

The federal government cannot do this alone. As a society, we must make an effort to reduce the human, social and economic cost of divorce and separation, and develop a broader and more integrated system of family law that supports families in transition and reduces the vulnerability of children.

Bill C-22 will greatly contribute to meeting the needs of Canadian families. I recommend that the House pass this bill.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wonder if the minister would not leave the chamber but consent to a normal 10 minute question and answer period?

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there consent?

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed unfortunate that the minister's duties called him away from the chamber so that he is unable to answer the questions that my colleague would like to put.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important legislation before us today. The government's Bill C-22 is an attempt to reform the child custody and access provisions of our divorce laws. However, like a baby's first faltering steps, Bill C-22 is a very timid, tentative attempt at reforming the antiquated Divorce Act. After so many years of waiting, the government should have been able to do better. Certainly the children of divorce deserve better.

Of all our Canadian laws, the Divorce Act is perhaps the most important to Canadians because it directly affects our families and their lives. With this in mind, it is especially important that we as parliamentarians embark upon debating this legislation with the utmost seriousness and careful consideration of the impacts it would have on Canadian families and, in particular, Canadian children.

Unfortunately divorce is an all too common occurrence in our society today. For some couples their marriages do not work out and require an annulment to provide a divorce of their relationship as husband and wife. To that end, governments provide a mechanism for people to separate under the laws that govern our nation.

The history of divorce law has constantly changed over time, evolving to meet the needs of society. The earliest form of divorce legislation enacted by the federal government was as recent as 1968. Before that time, married couples could obtain a divorce only under provincial legislation, using the strictest of conditions. Husbands could file for divorce on the grounds of a wife's adultery, yet the wife could file only on exceptional grounds, like incestuous adultery, rape, sodomy or bigamy, to name but a few. In Quebec and Newfoundland, a divorce required a private act of Parliament.

Thankfully, divorce laws provide a more accurate reflection of the realities Canadians face in their lives today. However, they still require improvement.

Although originally divorce legislation was created for the sole purpose of facilitating an end to a marriage, as a matter of consequence it also determines parenting arrangements for children of a relationship. For those families going through a divorce in the court system, children should be protected by the courts and the law. Ideally divorce law should provide a mechanism for a marital separation and deal with issues pertaining to the children of a relationship independently. After a divorce, both spouses still maintain their roles as parents and our laws should reflect that reality.

The Canadian Alliance has been a long time advocate of reforms to our divorce law. Article 27 of the Canadian Alliance declaration of policy states:

We will make the necessary changes to the Divorce Act to ensure that in the event of a marital breakdown, the Divorce Act will allow both parents and all grandparents to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and grandchildren, unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the children.

The Divorce Act as it is currently written has a chaotic set of rules dealing with parenting arrangements. The act uses terms such as custody and access to describe how children are dealt with by the courts. Bitter divorce cases over child custody often come down to declaring a winner and a loser. The “better” parent, as determined by a judge, gets custody of the kids while the other parent is only allowed access to them. As a result, the law fosters an adversarial, divisive focus on parental rights versus the best interests of the child.

For kids who have always lived with both parents, a divorce is a bad enough shock for them. The prospect of not being able to see one of their parents can be devastating. The concept of custody and access is completely foreign to children. Six year old children do not understand why they are only allowed to see their mother or father every other weekend. That is because they do not realize that a judge has decided when they can see their parents. However, in our world today too many children are forced to become acquainted with these stipulations.

Furthermore, we should not ignore the valuable role that other family members have in a child's life. Under our existing divorce law, grandparents' and other related family members' contact with the children could be substantially reduced after a separation. There are no provisions in the current Divorce Act to guarantee grandchildren access to their grandparents. In fact, grandparents must seek leave from a court before they may even apply for an access order.

Child custody arrangements are in one area of family law that invokes heated debate. Canadians are sincerely upset with how our legal system fails children. Since the government introduced this legislation on December 10 of last year, my office has received many e-mails and telephone calls on the subject of child custody and access. There is one e-mail in particular that I would like to mention because I feel it provides an accurate depiction of the capabilities of our current divorce laws. This e-mail came from a father describing his personal experience. His e-mail reads:

I'm a father of three children, ages 11, 13 and 15. On November 1, 2002 my wife was granted an ex parte order removing me from my home and our children. I believe I've been treated unfairly. Here is a brief summary of the recent events:

October 23: [I] learned my wife was having an affair with her boss.

October 24: I locked myself in our bedroom and called “911”, after my wife became enraged; kicking on the bedroom door, screaming, yelling, swearing, all within earshot of our children. The police came and found her foot stuck in the door.

October 29: My wife was served with my petition for divorce.

November 1: I received an ex parte order, after my wife lied to the judge convincing him that I was unpredictable and erratic. She also suggested I had become mentally ill. (This is a complete lie!).

December 2: The same judge acknowledged that the ex parte order was in error, however he still ruled in her favour where she now has “sole” custody of our three children and exclusive possession of the matrimonial home.

I'm self-employed, and had been working from an in-home office since 1995. My lawyer tried to convince the judge that I had been the primary caregiver, as my wife worked outside the home.

I believe the justice system favoured my wife because she is the mother. I have been a great father and husband! Can you offer me some help?

This is a very sad case and unfortunately all too representative of many others. Divorces such as this one happen way too often and they have nothing to do with mothers' rights versus fathers' rights. They are symptomatic of a legal system that simply does not care for the needs of children.

Having been through a divorce, I can say that not all divorces need to have such a devastatingly negative impact on children. Negative, yes, there is no question of that: When parents separate there is a negative effect on their children, but it does not have to devastate their lives for years to come. At the time of our separation my ex-wife and I knew that although our marriage had to come to an end, it did not mean our relationship with our children had to as well.

I want to speak for just a few minutes, not as a politician, but as a parent, for parents. About a month from now it will be five years since my separation from my former wife and three and a half years since my divorce. Even though my marriage of 25 years came to an end, my role as a parent did not. That is because it is the one job that never ends, and as parents we sometimes joke about this, but almost always in jest.

Being a parent is a terrific honour. It is something that is impossible to adequately explain to someone who is childless. That is why I fervently hope that all MPs who are also parents or grandparents and even a few who are geat-grandparents, I suspect, will take the time to really study Bill C-22 and look at these proposed changes from the perspective of a parent rather than a legislator to truly consider what is in the best interests of the children. Members must try to imagine the bill as it would apply to their families.

As I said, I want to take a few minutes to explain my own personal circumstances. About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 50th birthday. My children came to a surprise party here in Ottawa. My children now are 24 and 22, and my son is going to be 20 very shortly. They are young adults and I am extremely proud of these three young people.

They came to my birthday party and presented me with what is now one of my most prized possessions. It is upstairs in my office today, on a shelf. It is a pewter mug engraved with “World's Greatest Dad”. It is inscribed as well with “Love from Holly, Heather and Heath”, my three children. It is one of my most prized possessions, because I believe the most important job I have is not that of being a member of Parliament, although that is important, the most important job I have is that of being a parent and hopefully someday a grandparent. They are the roles that I think are most important in life. I have enjoyed the relationship I have built with my three children, at every stage of their lives. I often hear parents complaining a bit, perhaps, that their kids go a little off the rails when they are in their adolescent years, but I can truthfully say that although there were some trying times the love saw us through those tough times.

I have enjoyed the relationship I have been able to build throughout my lifetime and I cannot imagine not having had the opportunity to build that relationship with those three children. In fact, I cannot imagine a worse living hell than having anything bad happen to my kids. Every time we hear of children who are lost, like the seven young children lost in the avalanche a couple of days ago, our hearts go out to those parents and those families that suffer that indescribable grief.

However, I think a close second would be the frustration and anger that would well up in me if I were denied access to my children, for whatever reason. I cannot imagine anything worse than having my kids somewhere on this planet and not being allowed to have contact with them. I was lucky. As I said, my ex-wife was extremely reasonable. We just automatically decided that joint custody under today's laws was the way to go. There was no question about it from the beginning. We both recognized that we were both terrific parents and wanted that relationship to continue for our children. I was lucky. Unfortunately, so many are not.

Every effort should be made to isolate children from the negative impacts of a marital breakdown. Enhancing the roles both parents play in raising children after separation can mitigate some of the harmful influences. Our laws need to acknowledge the best interests of children by allowing them to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents and even with grandparents after a divorce, with the natural exception of circumstances that are clearly not in the best interests of the child.

The best method of facilitating this legislative change is to provide an automatic shared parenting role for both parents. Instead of using the adversarial language of custody and access, the Divorce Act should only use a single shared parenting term to reflect custody arrangements.

I listened to the minister's speech a few moments ago. To be quite blunt, I was appalled with the fact that he said that the use of the term shared parenting in the Divorce Act would have led to confusion. That was his summation. Yet that was the centrepiece of the “For the Sake of the Children” report.

The many married couples who separate on amicable terms today already benefit from shared parenting, as in my own personal example, which I have revealed to the House. They benefit by working cooperatively together on matters affecting their children. Shared parenting does not mean that parents equally split up the time they spend with their children. It means that parents share the rights, the responsibilities and the obligations to their children.

Naturally, given the wide diversity of individual situations, we must also acknowledge instances where children should not have a relationship with a parent. Under very serious circumstances such as domestic violence the courts would not use shared parenting and one parent would be denied access to the child. My colleague from Red Deer has a private member's bill on this very topic. His bill, commonly referred to as Lisa's law, would protect children who have been sexually abused by a parent by not allowing judges to grant forced visitation to that parent.

Shared parenting should not be a foreign concept in our legal system. In 1989 the UN brought forward the convention on the rights of the child signed by 191 countries, including Canada. Within the convention, the United Nations recognized the need for children to have a relationship with both parents.

Of the many articles included in the convention article 12 refers to a child's guaranteed right to free expression in all matters affecting them. Article 3 states:

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The most pertinent article I would like to mention is article 9 which states:

Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.

It goes on to read:

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 interests.

The UN convention is clear on the matter of parental access for children. More important, Canada is bound by the convention due to our ratification in 1991. The United Nations is not alone in recognizing the merits of shared parenting. There are several places in the world that have properly guarded the rights of children during a divorce. Countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and many individual states in the United States, have all established shared parenting laws. Some of these laws may vary on the individual details, however the objective remains the same. Both parents retain their shared parental responsibilities for their children, regardless of any changes to their marital relationship.

With other countries implementing a shared parenting strategy, why does Canada not have any shared parenting provisions in its family law? Canadians want the best for their children, yet it is not reflected in our laws.

Canada has refused to take the lead on providing the best for our children, nor has it followed. Instead, our government seems content with the status quo ensuring not to rock the boat by upsetting special interest groups.

The last time Parliament amended the Divorce Act was in 1997 with Bill C-41. During that period many Canadians were genuinely upset that grievances with child custody laws were not being addressed. As with any issue of importance to Canadians members of Parliament and senators heard many demands for the government to take action. After folding to public pressure the government authorized both the Senate and the House of Commons to form a special committee to examine this critical issue.

The Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access had a straightforward objective. It was vested with the mandate to:

...examine and analyze issues relating to custody and access arrangements after separation and divorce, and in particular, to assess the need for a more child-centred approach to family law policies and practices that would emphasize joint parental responsibilities and child-focused parenting arrangements based on children’s needs and best interests;

As the committee prepared to hold its first public meeting in February 1998, all members were aware of the importance and the complexity of the work they were about to embark upon. In total 55 meetings were held across Canada allowing over 520 witnesses to testify before the committee. These presentations provided an insightful look into the many different aspects of divorce and separation, from stories of heart-rending personal experience to social workers who worked with children of divorced parents on a daily basis. Committee members heard testimony regarding all aspects of divorce law.

The end result of the committee's work was a comprehensive report to Parliament laying out 48 recommendations for improvement. The final report entitled “For the Sake of the Children” provided an accurate representation of where the government could take action to help children. Each individual recommendation would make an important improvement. I do not have time to read all of the recommendations, but I will touch on a few.

The first recommendation calls for a preamble to be included in the Divorce Act making reference to pertinent principles of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. As I mentioned earlier, I specified three articles that should be included in such a preamble.

The second recommendation reads:

This Committee recognizes that parents' relationships with their children do not end upon separation or divorce and therefore recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to add a Preamble containing the principle that divorced parents and their children are entitled to a close and continuous relationship with one another.

That is a great recommendation, but not one which we find in Bill C-22.

Number five calls for the terms “custody” and “access” to 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. This is the very term that the minister has just mentioned that he did not want to use because it would be confusing. This term would then be taken to include all the meanings, rights and obligations, common law and statutory interpretations embodied in the terms “custody” and “access”.

To effectively implement shared parenting we must eliminate any cause of bias between parents in our legal system. Recommendation number eight calls for the common law tender years doctrine to be rejected as a basis for making a parenting decision. The doctrine is used by judges to help them determine the better parent for the child during the early part of its life. Many years ago courts automatically assumed this role could only be fulfilled by a mother, however today, it is not an accurate reflection of our society.

Shared parenting arrangements may not be ideal for every divorced couple, however our laws must encourage parents to work together on providing the best for their kids. The committee's report suggests that all parents seeking a parenting order from a judge should first submit a parenting plan with the court. Those parents who do not submit a plan would have to attend an education program to help them become aware of the post-separation reaction and detrimental impact that divorce has on children and the child's developmental needs at different ages. These parents would learn about the benefits of cooperative parenting after divorce and of mediation, and other forms of dispute resolution mechanisms available to them. By requiring a parenting plan, parents would be forced to at least consider the children by attempting to work out an agreement with each other.

Recommendations 15 and 16 are also very important. They call for amendments to the Divorce Act to require parents and judges to consider the best interests of the child and provides a list of criteria for deliberation. Recommendation 26 says:

...in matters relating to parenting under the Divorce Act, the importance of the presence of both parties at any proceeding be recognized and emphasized, and that reliance on ex parte proceedings be restricted as much as possible. Ex parte orders are directives issued by judges after only having heard one side of the story in a court case. These types of court orders are only supposed to be used under rare and exceptional circumstances, however all too often they are issued based upon false testimony.

The one area in which I find myself in disagreement with the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access is on the issue of presumption. Again, this is an area on which the minister touched on in his remarks. The report says that the committee did not believe the courts should be constrained by presuming, because in divorce, one size cannot fit all. I believe it is somewhat of a contradiction to state that shared parenting should be the norm, but we should not presume both parents are good parents and therefore quite capable of properly raising their children.

To those opposed to this presumption, I say that our entire justice system is based upon a fundamental basic presumption. We are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is not up to those accused to prove their innocence in court. It is up to the Crown to prove their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. It therefore puzzles, frustrates and angers me that the court does not apply the same principles consistently to divorcing couples. If both parents were believed to be good parents prior to separation, then why should the courts not presume them to be after divorce?

If we were to begin from the premise that shared parenting is in the best interests of the children, then the natural conclusion is that we must presume that both parents would be worthy of maximum contact with their children unless proven otherwise.

That being said, the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access is a quite a valuable document with lots of sensible proposals put forward despite the few areas I would like to see more heavily emphasized.

The members of the committee, regardless of political affiliation, and I know, Mr. Speaker, because you sat on that committee yourself, worked collaboratively on writing a persuasive report. Shamefully the government has dragged its heels on implementing these critical changes. It has taken over four years for the government to finally table legislation, but what it has presented before us is a shy and timid representation of what the report called for.

Let me explain by going over the government's reforms to family law. The first change would remove the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act. At first glance this appears to be a positive change however upon closer examination we find the terms are replaced with parenting order and contact order. Whether this change is merely semantics is anyone's guess. We do know that it is not shared parenting and it would not provide a presumption that children deserve access to both of their parents after a separation. If the government were serious about reforming divorce law it would not simply play around with the wording of the legislation.

The government has removed the maximum contact principle in subsection 16(10) of the existing legislation that would require judges to ensure children receive as much time with each parent as possible. In Bill C-22 there are no clauses that would replace this maximum contact principle.

The one area where the government's bill vaguely mentions this principle is in a new section that would require judges to consider the overall best interests of the child when granting a parenting order. The list of criteria overall is not bad. It loosely implements recommendations 16 and 17 of the committee's report, however, having a judge consider the amount of contact a child has with a parent along with 11 other decisive factors weakens a very important principle. It must be complimented with stronger statements in other sections of the bill.

Overall the criteria which comprises the best interests of children in clause 16.2 of the bill is nearly identical to those recommended in the committee's report. It provides a helpful guide to judges when deciding on parenting arrangements for children after a separation. One specific criterion was not mentioned in the “For the Sake of the Children” report. The government took the liberty of adding “The history of care for the child”, as another decisive factor for the courts to consider.

For all intents and purposes a spousal agreement regarding the care a child receiving preceding a divorce has absolutely nothing to do with what parents would agree to is appropriate care after divorce. Understandably couples make tough decisions when children enter their lives. They must decide who will take care of the child and who will continue to work to provide an income. For most families the higher income earner will continue to work outside of the home or perhaps a parent who has better than most maternity or paternity benefits will stay home with the child.

Parenting arrangements before divorce should have no relevance on the care a child will receive after a separation between parents. By examining Bill C-22 it is apparent that the government has gone through the “For the Sake of the Children” report selectively choosing which recommendations it wishes to legislate. If the government wants to provide Canadians with the real change that they are so desperately seeking, it should have brought forward a bill including all the relevant recommendations. After four years even the government should have been able to do much better.

Since becoming a member of Parliament I have worked very hard to change the Divorce Act to allow children a better opportunity to be with both parents after separation. I have introduced a private member's bill on the subject some five times since 1996. In 2001 my bill overcame many obstacles to finally be debated on the floor of the House of Commons.

Even then the government turned its back on the children of divorce. As I mentioned earlier, it argued that by using a one size fits all approach to parenting after divorce would hurt children in the end. It will use the same old argument, indeed the minister did already this morning, against shared parenting.

It is true that for each divorce case before the courts there are individual circumstances that must be considered, but we must acknowledge the assumption that both parents deserve an equal role in raising their children.

Just before I get to my summary, I want to refer to another letter that I received. I think this letter probably went to all members of Parliament of all parties. I will not have enough time to read the entire letter but I think members will get the drift. The letter is dated July 2, 2000 and it was sent to the Prime Minister. It reads:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

I am the 14-year-old daughter of Darrin White, the father who recently took his life in British Columbia as a result of the frustration and hopelessness caused in dealing with Canada's family justice system. Although the justice system was not 100 percent the cause of his death, based on what I and members of my family have seen, it was the biggest factor. My father took his life mostly in part because of the injustices being perpetrated against him by what many Canadians say is a biased and morally corrupt Canadian family justice system. Our family justice system seems to allow good fathers to be destroyed while it allows vindictive and revengeful mothers to rule over the court.

Prior to my father's death, he told me of the anguish he was going through trying to see his children. He told me of the abuse that his wife subjected him to. She did not want him to have a relationship even with me, his own daughter, because she was jealous. He told me of the frustration in dealing with the courts and the lawyers. He told me how the court did nothing except put further barriers to him seeing his children.

As a young Canadian I can only say that I am utterly ashamed to see how the country I call Canada treats fathers in its courts. It is a disgrace! I know my father was a good man and a good father. He did not deserve to be pushed over the edge as he was. He did not deserve to be kept from seeing his children. He obviously reached a point where he could see that justice was beyond his reach and for reasons that only God will know, decided that taking his life was the only way to end his suffering.

From what I have learned about the family justice system in this country, Canada is not the home of the proud and the free. In my view, Canada has become a safe haven for corrupt lawyers and biased judges who think nothing about the lives of the children and parents they destroy every day in our family courts.

I have learned that Canada's Justice Minister...has been stalling legislation about shared parenting which is intended to prevent the kind of tragedy that has been forced upon my family. I understand that a special committee recommended that the justice department should promote a concept called shared parenting. If shared parenting had been in place before my father took his life and if our system of justice guaranteed the rights of children to see their parents, I have no doubt in my mind that my loving father would be alive today. All he wanted was to see his children, but it seems that our justice system would not give him that.

The letter goes on and on. This is from the 14 year old daughter of a gentleman who felt his only way out was to commit suicide. It was signed by Ashlee Barnett-White, the daughter of Darrin White from Prince George in my riding.

In summary, the Canadian Alliance is opposed to Bill C-22 as it is presently worded for the following reasons.

First, Bill C-22 completely misses the basic fundamental principle laid out in the report “For the Sake of the Children”, that modern Canadian society is best reflected by shared parenting.

Second, Bill C-22 would not ensure that our courts and judges receive the direction that first and foremost it is in the best interests of the children to maintain maximum contact with both parents following divorce.

Third, Bill C-22's passing reference to the relationships between children of divorce and siblings and grandparents in clause 16.2(i) is insufficient to ensure the survival of those vital relationships following divorce.

Fourth, any agreement made between the parents regarding the best parenting arrangement prior to separation and divorce is completely irrelevant following separation and therefore any reference should be removed from clause 16.2(c).

Fifth, Bill C-22 drops the so-called friendly parent rule that at least provided some direction to the courts.

For those and many other inadequacies addressed in the 48 recommendation of the “For the Sake of the Children” report, we will be proposing substantive amendments at committee stage to fix these deficiencies.

I sincerely hope that, unlike so many previous bills on so many issues that I have seen go through the House in the last nine years that I have been an MP, the government will allow those amendments to pass so that not only the Canadian Alliance can support Bill C-22 but all Canadians.

I also have an amendment. I move, seconded by the member for Edmonton North:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:

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 not now read a second time but that the order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

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11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The amendment is in order. Resuming debate, on the amendment. The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier.

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11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, before taking part in the debate, I would like to know if the debate is on the amendment introduced by the hon. member from the Canadian Alliance or on the entire bill.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The debate has to be on the entire bill, which the amendment now is part of since it was moved by the hon. member from the Canadian Alliance.

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11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Quebecois critic for Justice, I have the pleasure of being the first speaker from our party in this debate on Bill C-22. This is a very important bill and, if passed, it could considerably change the legal framework for marriage and its dissolution.

In fact, anticipating this bill, several people have already contacted me, and I have had the opportunity to meet with many citizens from my riding, who shared their hopes and concerns about this bill with me. I am thinking of, among others, Ms. Lafortune, who very eloquently expressed her views.

When we met, this lady pointed out the serious hardship unfortunately experienced directly or indirectly following a divorce by people like a second spouse or the children of the second spouse.

All this to say that the debate that got underway this morning is very important because it will affect the personal, daily life of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

I am calling on my colleagues to ensure that, as we debate this whole issue, we do so bearing in mind these men, women and children who are unfortunately adversely affected by a marriage breakdown and that, in our consideration of the various clauses, we never lose sight of these people. This is not just a matter of coldly dealing with words written on a piece of paper; this is about the lives of individuals.

Bill C-22 will amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Judges Act and other existing acts.

On December 10, the Minister of Justice unveiled a new legislative initiative known as the Child-centred Family Justice Strategy. The minister says he wants to upgrade and modernize the various existing acts to try to harmonize to some extent relations between spouses who eventually decide to break up. We know that such an ordeal, affecting a huge segment of the population in Quebec and Canada, causes major wranglings, over children in particular.

Divorce is difficult and sometimes tragic. The harsh reality of divorce, which is the break-up of a loving, emotional relationship between two people, is that, too often, it involves children who, also too often, feel as if they are being torn in two. It is essential to remember and, above all, to explain to these children that their parents' decision to separate has nothing to do with them and that they will always be loved and cherished.

As I was saying, the minister's bill aims for relative harmony, sometimes achieved with great difficulty, the ultimate goal being the well-being of children. However, I would say that, despite his efforts, the minister has missed the mark. On behalf of children and in his quest for happiness, the minister has missed an important issue in this debate, which is the harmonization of the various applicable acts regarding divorce.

During my speech, I will endeavour to demonstrate how the minister could have simplified his approach, better promoted the well-being of children, and in a more relevant way, while helping them through something as difficult and as complex as divorce.

The goal of the child-centred family justice strategy is to assist parents who are divorcing or separating and guide their attention to the needs of the children. The Minister of Justice's approach is based on three specific aspects: family justice services, legislative reform and expanding the unified family courts.

I must first clarify and repeat the fact that the Bloc Quebecois, because it opposes Bill C-22, will present a firm and very structured opposition to the minister's initiative. My colleagues and I will clearly show how and in what way the minister is going about this all wrong, and what would be the right way to reach the initial objectives, which should be those of society as a whole.

As is usually the case—and those who listen to us are aware of this—the Bloc Quebecois, despite its opposition to the bill will actively participate in all stages of the legislative process to try to drag a compromise out of the minister and thus make an effective contribution to this overhaul of divorce legislation. As always, our general attitude will be guided by indepth research into the situation, since the Divorce Act involves numerous considerations and affects a great many people.

Furthermore, we hope the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will hold extensive consultations on the matter because the impact of this legislation could become a determining factor in the lives of thousands. I also strongly hope that when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights holds hearings on the matter, it will not only listen to certain groups, such as lawyers, associations that defend the rights of spouses, children and so on, but also make a concerted effort so that children, ordinary people, the average citizen will also have the opportunity to come and give us their point of view on a bill that affects them so closely.

Not everything in Bill C-22 is new. For instance, the criterion related to the interests of the child is a recognized principle in current divorce legislation and in the Quebec Civil Code. Similarly, the well-known list of criteria in the bill with regard to the interests of the child, is basically a consolidation of existing jurisprudence. It is not new legislation, but simply the consolidation of existing legislation.

From this perspective, we will take advantage of this debate to highlight the elements of the proposed reform that cause us the most concern with respect to some of the practices that are specific to Quebec.

Our political party, true to its primary objective of defending the interests of Quebec, opposes the very principle of the bill because we feel that, in fact, the Divorce Act should be repealed. We think it would be better, more appropriate and more efficient if Quebec had full jurisdiction over matters of divorce. This call for full jurisdiction over family law in its entirety has been Quebec's traditional stand.

In fact, for decades all governments of Quebec, whether the Parti Quebecois, the Union Nationale or the Liberal Party of Quebec, have called for this power to be transferred from the federal to the Quebec government. This, along with marriage, being the only area of federal jurisdiction over family law, its would be both appropriate and advisable for it to be transferred to Quebec and included in civil law.

Before continuing with this debate, I believe it is important to draw attention to the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access and its considerable accomplishments during the 36th Parliament.

When its task was over in December 1998, after months of intense efforts, the committee tabled a thick report which, unfortunately, did not take into account the specific nature of the Quebec reality. Nothing new there; it is too often the case.

The Bloc Quebecois therefore felt obliged to express a dissenting opinion on the contents of this report, based solely on its desire to see legislation on divorce be made the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces.

This position, you will understand, has not changed, and the arguments we made at the time are as relevant today as ever.

I will quote, if I may, an excerpt from the Bloc Quebecois dissenting opinion on the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access:

—all matters relating to the family, education and social services are clearly within the jurisdiction of the provinces, as are any questions relating to separation from bed and board.

The report goes on to say:

In Quebec, separation from bed and board is covered by articles 493 et seq. of the Civil Code of Québec. On the other hand, divorce is under federal jurisdiction, by virtue of the Constitution. The vast majority of divorces are settled out of court. In most cases, agreements regarding child custody and access are made when a couple separates. Since separation from bed and board is under provincial jurisdiction, it would be logical for legislation on divorce to be as well.

Accordingly, we recommend that the Divorce Act be repealed and that jurisdiction over divorce be transferred to the provinces.

It would also be logical to repeal the Marriage Act and transfer that jurisdiction to the provinces. The celebration of marriage, as well as division of property, the civil effects of marriage and filiation are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, while the substantive requirements (capacity to contract marriage and impediments to marriage) are under federal jurisdiction. In Quebec, for example, the Government of Quebec has legislated to permit civil marriages. In our view, this is another example of the pointless and outdated division of powers. It would be much simpler for all family law to be under the jurisdiction of a single level of government: the provinces.

As an aside, I can tell you that, for the sake of logic and rigour, this is also the position the Bloc Quebecois will defend when the time comes to debate the whole issue of whether of not homosexuals have the right to marry, which is currently under consideration in committee.

I could go on and on quoting Senator Beaudoin, a renowned expert on the Constitution if there was ever one, about the division of powers at the time when the federation was established, in 1867. The national duality at the time also reflected religious division.

So, the decision of the Fathers of Confederation to confer upon the federal government constitutional authority over divorce was essentially predicated upon a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants concerning the dissolution of the bond of marriage.

I will now read on:

What was appropriate in 1867 no longer is today. Given that the religious issue no longer has the same significance, our laws ought to reflect reality. Our recommendation would mean that the provinces could have complete jurisdiction over their family law and could legislate in that field as appropriate to their own social context.

Naturally, this includes everything having to do with marriage and divorce.

As Senator Beaudoin stated further in his report entitled “La constitution du Canada, institutions, partage des pouvoirs, droits et libertés”, and I quote:

The question then arises of whether the field of marriage and divorce should not be returned to the provinces, thereby enabling Quebec to have more absolute control over its family law, an important part of its private law, which is different from the private law of the other provinces.

I would point out that this is a quote of comments made by a federalist Conservative senator from Quebec, and not a sovereignist.

This illustration of the issue and the Bloc Quebecois' approach reflects the long term historic claims made by Quebec and its governments.

Allow me to highlight some of the most significant steps taken by the Government of Quebec in this approach.

Take the government of Daniel Johnson, Sr., from 1966 to 1968. Members will recall he was a unionist premier, in other words, from the Union Nationale political party. His government demanded that the constitution be amended to include divorce as an exclusively provincial area of responsibility.

Later, in December 1969, at a first ministers conference, the very federalist premier, Jean-Jacques Bertrand, said that marriage and divorce should come under Quebec's jurisdiction under the constitution, in which case the decision to establish family courts would be up to it.

During the second term of the great René Lévesque's government, in the early 1980s, he made proposals in the area of divorce. The Parti Quebecois government at the time was proposing that divorce become a concurrent jurisdiction, even though Quebec law would override federal legislation. As such, a province could exclude the federal Parliament from divorce if the province wanted to.

Finally, in 1985, the Government of Quebec said that the division of constitutional powers should be reviewed in order to grant Quebec exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce.

This proposal was laid out in a document prepared for the federal government by René Lévesque entitled “Projet d'accord constitutionnel—Propositions du gouvernement du Québec”.

Obviously, Canadian federalism being what it is, the changes Quebec has called for are not likely to come about any time soon. Federalism is increasingly heading toward standardization and uniformity, rather than the other way.

As a result, in view of the fact that for now divorce unfortunately remains under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we will review the minister's proposal and we will endeavour to preserve Quebec's particular and specific character in the reformed legislation.

The immediate impact of this type of government initiative is certainly too important and will affect so many people that we must remain ever vigilant and, understandably, beware of the intentions of the Liberal government.

Bill C-22 proposes radical changes to the Divorce Act, by including a new approach to agreements reached between parents with regard to the children, one that is based on parental responsibilities.

Rather than issuing custody or access orders, the court will issue “parenting orders”, which will establish parenting time blocks, as well as decision-making responsibilities in such matters as health, education and religion.

The court will also issue “contact orders”, establishing the nature of contacts that the child may have with persons other than the spouses.

A detailed study of the proposed clauses in Bill C-22 indicates the nature of these orders. These two types of court orders are based on the notion of the best interests of the child.

The minister took the time to establish a non-exhaustive list of criteria that the court must consider. The enactment also makes amendments to the Divorce Act by anticipating questions related to the nature and scope of such support orders when the spouses reside in different provinces.

That was a brief overview of Bill C-22. As I stated when I began, the proposed legislative measures would amend various other acts presently in force. Of these, I would mention the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

This legislation will make family support obligations a priority, include powers of monitoring and research and provide for protection from liability.

In this regard, and I know that many of my hon. colleagues are aware of this problem, it is important to point out that there is an organization in Quebec defending the rights of second spouses. In fact, the Association des secondes épouses et conjointes du Québec represents the interests of women with regard to support orders paid to former spouses. According to this organization, many divorced women are abusing the current system by using support payments for their own purposes instead of making an effort to take control of their lives.

The existing Divorce Act does not set a time limit on support payments when the divorce is granted. These payments are, therefore, a type of lifetime pension which, being a “pension”, is indexed and can be revised.

Of course both parties may avail themselves of this right. However, if, for instance, an ex-husband requests a variation he is not the only one involved. The assets, income, insurance, and pension plans of his new spouse—married or not—all come into play. It is slightly different when an ex-wife requests a variation. Citing a difficulty of some sort, she can take advantage of the arrival of the new spouse to have her pension increased.

It is easy to see the potential disputes inherent in such provisions. I feel it would be wise to address this issue head on in committee, and to make sure that this problem is examined at length when Bill C-22 is studied.

It will be important to meet with the Association des deuxièmes conjointes, the second wives association, and its equivalent for first wives, and listen to what they have to say, to ensure that the committee makes a thorough examination of this problem that affects so many people.

Bill C-22, introduced by the Minister of Justice, also specifies some related and rather technical changes to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

However, in amending the Divorce Act, one of the crucial elements of Bill C-22 is the inclusion of a list of specific criteria for parents, jurists, lawyers and judges, so that they will take into account the best interests of the child. The purpose of this list is to reaffirm and implement the basic principle of family law, which is that the interests of the child are paramount.

We would like to remove the terms “custody” and “access” from the legislation. A new model based on parental responsibilities will be developed to eliminate any connotation of winner-loser and any notion of possession that some people associate with these terms. According to the minister, this change will contribute to reducing parents' levels of conflict and stress and supposedly allow them to focus more on their most important obligation, which is to make sure that their children receive all the care they need.

The intention is certainly laudable, but it will not change the perception of parents, especially in such a conflict situation, that there is a winner and a loser in a court-decreed arrangement.

Whether the words access and custody 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. Change form and wording as we may, it does not change the fact that one parent will have the child for a period of time and the other will have him and her of another period of time.

Cooperation between the parents will also be encouraged, but we must recognize that happy, amicable divorces are rare. Unfortunately, it seems somewhat unrealistic to want to raise the parents' awareness of their parenting responsibilities, and particularly of how they intend to carry them out, when a case is before the court and, all too often, the parties are communicating only through their lawyers.

It is well known how painful divorce is. Emotions run high, and this may get in the way of an amicable settlement between spouses.

Parents would be provided with the services of a mediator or lawyer to achieve the department's objectives. However, need I insist that this is an approach that has been favoured for many years in Quebec, Quebec once again showing its leadership in this regard?

Taking a step back and looking at the bill as a whole, we must recognize that the proposed amendments to the Divorce Act are not the revolution they were made out to be by the Minister of Justice. Without being overly pessimistic, one cannot rely on this bill to overhaul current legislation and its enforcement.

Where the interests of the child is concerned, the Bloc Quebecois has taken a clear philosophical position. In their dissenting opinion in the 36th Parliament, my colleagues also asserted their recognition of the principle of the best interests of the child. It read, and I quote:

—a child must not be the victim of conflicts between his or her parents, and the child's interests must not be confused with those of the child's parents or extended family.

The principle of the best interests of the child is not a new idea in law. It strikes me as appropriate in this connection to draw attention to subsection 16(8) of the current Divorce Act, which states the following:

In making an order under this section, the court shall take into consideration only the best interests of the child of the marriage as determined by reference to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child.

This does not strike me as much different or broader than what the minister is proposing today.

As well, the principle of the child's best interests is part of the philosophy of Quebec, and is moreover set out in section 514 of the Quebec civil code. It reads as follows:

The court, in granting separation from bed and board or subsequently, decides as to the custody, maintenance and education of the children, in their interest and in the respect of their rights, taking into account the agreements made between the spouses, where such is the case.

The courts have spoken on numerous occasions on these provisions and have, in connection with them, already established a list of criteria to which they refer when interpreting what constitutes the child's best interests.

The only thing that is new about this list of criteria is that it is now included in the law. What the minister has done is merely to codify existing criteria from the jurisprudence. This cannot be considered new law.

However, I will be pleased to share my views as to whether it is appropriate to enshrine it in the act. I wonder if this change will have the effect of setting criteria that will help determine the best interests of the child. Could this way of doing things have the opposite effect, that is restrict the judge's options? These are important issues that I intend to raise in committee, and I hope that we can get some clear answers.

I will follow very closely the work relating to the various legislative stages of this bill. I am especially looking forward to working in committee to examine and debate every aspect of the bill, and particularly the possible impact of the list of criteria regarding the best interests of the child, when these criteria are considered by the courts.

I mentioned this in my introduction, but I want to repeat it: in my view, this bill does not represent the innovative and revolutionary approach that the Minister of Justice would have had us believe when he introduced this legislation. Once again, the government has very little to show for all the promises it made.

In many ways, it seems that the only thing that has changed is the terms used for principles that are already recognized. The government uses some fine sounding terms which, unfortunately, do not reflect, far from it, the harsh reality experienced each year by thousands of couples or former couples.

Even though the terms custody and access are removed, the fact remains that, in reality, children will have to spend x number of days with their father and y number of days with their mother.

The minister argues that avoidance of anything suggesting winners and losers will help reduce the level of conflict and stress between parents. This is, theoretically, a step forward. In actual fact, however, it does not really do anything to change parents' feelings.

The legislative measures proposed are based on the model of parental responsibility. According to this model, both parents will be responsible for their child's well-being after separation or divorce. It is up to them first and foremost to decide how they will agree to fulfill their obligations to their child.

Should a major impasse occur, as for example when parents do not manage to reach agreement or in cases where there is a high degree of conflict or family violence, the court will in future issue a parenting order setting out the responsibilities of each parent. In my opinion, this reflects the way the courts are already handling the cases submitted to them. Despite the minister's claims, we wonder about the true impact of this change in terminology.

Before I end my remarks, I have a duty to raise one other important aspect of the minister's family justice strategy, namely the unified family courts.

When the new child-centred family justice strategy was announced, the Minister of Justice announced the expansion of the unified family courts. According to him, these courts will improve outcomes for children and families through the following advantages: a single place with jurisdiction over any matter of family law, ready access to a full array of family justice services, specialist judges who are experts in family law, and a user friendly environment with simplified procedures.

I would remind those listening that the Bloc Quebecois spoke out in its dissenting opinion on the December 1998 joint committee report against one recommendation that:

—the federal government continue to work with the provinces and territories to accelerate the establishment of unified family courts, or courts of a similar nature, in all judicial districts across Canada.

It is still clear to the Bloc Quebecois that the Quebec government does not endorse the unified family court. The reason is quite simple, since the approach currently favoured by the federal government is to grant jurisdiction for all matters pertaining to family law to the provincial superior court, for which the judges are appointed by the federal government. Quebec would rather combine all jurisdictions in this area under the Quebec court, which would, naturally, mean amending the Constitution.

In this regard, I would remind all my hon. colleagues that, in terms of the unified family courts, civil law and the administration of justice are the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces. I believe that it would be appropriate, however, since the federal government has announced increased funding for the unified family courts and since Quebec does not wish to set up such courts, for Quebec to receive its fair share of the federal funding to deal with this matter in its own way, according to its character and specificity.

That, then, as an introduction, is the position that the Bloc Quebecois will defend throughout this legislative process. We strongly hope that the government will hear our point of view and understand the scope of our line of reasoning, the first cornerstone of which is the fact that all family law, including marriage and divorce, should be under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, should they so wish. This is the basis of the Bloc Quebecois' philosophical and political action. It is, naturally, on the basis of this philosophy, on this solid basis, that we will base our action in Parliament when the time comes to take other positions on Bill C-22.