Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join with my colleagues here in the House to address Bill C-22 at this stage. The bill proposes to modernize the family justice system in Canada by promoting a less adversarial system that will benefit children, their families and ultimately Canadian society.
I want to focus my remarks on the issue of enforcement because the bill also would improve support enforcement and enhance and strengthen existing provincial and territorial support enforcement programs.
These improvements are being proposed through Bill C-22 by amending the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.
As I know we are all very interested in ensuring that we work in the best interests of our children, I will speak about the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. This is a federal statute enacted in 1986 and it is divided into three parts. The first part speaks about the release of information that may assist in locating persons in default of a family provision. The second part speaks to the garnishment of specified federal money to assist support provisions. The third part of the act refers to the denial of certain federally issued licences, including passports to those persons in persistent arrears under a support provision.
The federal government provides locating information for 14,000 requests from provincial and territorial enforcement services annually. That is a good deal of requests. In the last three years between $80 million to $90 million has been collected annually through federal garnishment services.
Several changes are being proposed to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. The processing of electronically transmitted applications for tracing information by the provincial enforcement services will be improved by the removal of the requirement to file an affidavit in support of that application. This requirement is not needed because it is already a condition set out in the agreements entered into between the provinces, the territories and the federal government under section 3 of the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.
Additionally, the binding period of a garnishee summons is extended from five to twelve years. Recent analysis shows that 75% of garnishees that reach the five year maximum are renewed. This amendment in Bill C-22 reflects the upper range of the life of a family support obligation and will better support efficiencies in program operation.
A major amendment proposed to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act is the creation of a mechanism whereby the Minister of National Revenue may demand that a debtor who is subject to this act file a tax return.
The Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act provides tracing and interception services. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, along with Human Resources Development Canada and other federal departments and agencies, is an important partner in the delivery of these two services. Currently, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency will, at the request of the Department of Justice, search its files for address information to assist in the tracing of support debtors.
It is important that the partnership between Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and Human Resource Development Canada and other federal departments and agencies be really affirmed. This would help departments to search files to determine whether a support debtor has a tax refund that can be garnished. The effectiveness of this would be significantly reduced when a support debtor does not file a tax return.
The creation of a mechanism whereby the Minister of National Revenue could demand that a debtor who is subject to this act file a tax return would improve the effectiveness of the tracing process and would further confirm our commitment to ensuring that children continue to benefit from the financial support of both their parents after separation or divorce.
Let us keep in mind that everything we do, and the direction of this bill, is in the best interests of the children.
The CCRA and the Department of Justice would closely monitor the operation of this amendment.
Bill C-22 proposes amendments to the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. That is a federal statute enacted in the early eighties to provide for the garnishment of federal salaries and other moneys. It consists of two main parts: garnishment procedures to satisfy the payments of judgments and orders, including those for family support; and the diversion of pension benefits to help satisfy financial support orders.
In addition to a number of minor technical amendments Bill C-22 proposes amendments that would provide the federal government the option of paying the garnisheed funds to a provincial enforcement service where this is allowed by provincial law, because it is not allowed in every provincial area. It would introduce in part I of the act the notion of recovery of overpayment, and that is already in one of the sections of the act, but the amendment would reflect current practice as well as provide greater uniformity within the act. It would allow for the diversion of more than 50% of a net pension benefit where there were no provincial limits to satisfy arrears, arrears that could be set out in an order or decision. This would provide greater clarity concerning the interpretation of the section as well as ensure its uniform application. We are again working in the best interests of the children.
Lastly, this section speaks about providing legislative authority to make regulations, to amend schedules, and thus ensure greater flexibility and ability to reflect changes to pension legislation that is in the schedule. We were looking for greater transparency. We hope this would be achieved in federal enforcement legislation by including specific provisions concerning the research and monitoring functions.
These functions would help us to determine if policy objectives are being met. This is legislation that speaks to policy, policy change and decision. We must see the bill as providing us with a kind of direction which is backed by the necessary research so that we do the best we can, and again in the best interests of children.
Provision has been made to ensure privacy by setting strict limitations as to whom disclosure of the monitoring and research information can be released. I am sure we are in a period of time where privacy is very important, where information cannot be provided indiscriminately to everyone who asks, so there is cognizance in the bill to ensure that measure of privacy.
There is a major amendment that is being proposed to the Garnishment Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. We are talking about the creation of a priority for family support obligations over other judgment debt, thereby acknowledging the pre-eminence of family support obligations over other debts. In other words, the family comes first, before other debts are looked at.
Both judgment debt creditors and family support obligation creditors may apply under the act. There is currently no section in the act that addresses the situation where a debtor has both support and judgment debts.
Five years ago Canada's governments launched the national children's agenda, engaging Canadians in every part of the country on how to ensure that all Canadian children have a good start in life and that families with children have the tools they need to provide care and nurturing.
We made a presentation at the United Nations regarding the elimination of discrimination against women. We were asked questions about families in our country, the situation of our children, and the issue of child poverty. What we do in all the pieces of legislation that we put forward, especially in this area, is keep the interests of the family and children at the top of the list.
In the Speech from the Throne of January 30, 2001, the government identified as one of its top priorities that no Canadian child should suffer the debilitating effects of poverty. We have been working in this area with programs and policies. We have been looking at all of the possibilities that are before us as policy makers and government to meet the issue of the effects of poverty on our children. Creating a priority in favour of family support obligations over other debts would support this goal. Putting the family first, putting debt toward the family and support obligations before all other debts, must be pre-eminent and supported in this legislation.
Bill C-22 forms part of the government's stated goal to reduce child poverty and reform the family justice system.
Much has been debated and I think all members on every side of the House would agree that we must ensure that the quality of life for families and children is really at the base and the root of everything we say and do in the House.
I applaud all members who have participated in the discussion. I look forward to the work in committee as we ensure that whatever we do as legislators and policy makers will ensure that in supporting Bill C-22, in whatever necessary changes or however the discussion goes, that we come back with something where we keep in mind the best interests of our children.
We want the justice system to work for all of us and in such a way that it will ameliorate and lessen the issue of conflict that arises and brings to some of our families the kinds of distress that faces them on a daily basis today.
This is legislation, not only for today, but for tomorrow. This is legislation that will improve our community and improve relationships. This is legislation that is trend-setting because there are many jurisdictions that are looking at us as federal legislators for the guidance and the policy route that we must take in the best interests of our children.