moved that Bill C-252, An Act to amend the Divorce Act (access for spouse who is terminally ill or in critical condition), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to stand today and speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-252. It is an act to the amend the Divorce Act. This bill seeks ensure that divorced parents who are terminally or in critical condition are granted access to their children to say goodbye before passing on.
The bill is about families, specifically families where parents have been divorced. Divorce is an unfortunate reality in Canadian society today, a reality that transcends socio-economic, racial and religious boundaries. The bill recognizes that although divorce severs spousal bonds between parents, the family bonds between parents and their children remain. Although divorce usually means that a family structure and dynamic is forever changed, it is very important that the bonds and relationship between parents and their children remain intact, unfettered and free to evolve.
The bonds that exist between parents and their children are both natural and essential, a physical and emotional attachment. From birth, children depend on their parents for all of their needs and continue to depend on their parents in one way or another throughout life. Children are dependent on parents for more than just physical or material basics for survival. Parents provide a primary example, a template for their children. Parents are their children's best teacher. Parents are their children's first friend. Parents bring their children into the world, and I believe that all parents should consider their children to be the centrepieces of their lives and achievements.
Few people in children's lives, if any, play as significant and as meaningful a role as their parents. Likewise, few, if any, people in the life of a parent mean as much to them as their children. These bonds are like no other. Few bonds run deeper than those between parent and child.
Divorce does not have the automatic effect of severing or suspending all parent-child bonds. Indeed, parents, divorced or not, usually continue as primary supporters and nurturers of their children. Whether this means taking them to a hockey practice or celebrating a graduation or a wedding, divorced parents, like all parents, need to share in their children's lives.
They need to share these times with their children just as their children need to share special times with their parents. The sharing of life between parent and child is essential as they walk the path of life together, through the good times and the bad, until it is time to say goodbye.
The circle of life is made up of segments of individual lives, lives with beginnings and ends. It is always a happy occasion when we say hello to a family member for the first time and a very sad event when we say goodbye for the last time. Nonetheless, the two occasions are both important and essential--not just saying the cheerful hellos but also the sad goodbyes.
This is a bill that I have undertaken because there are indeed regrettable situations that exist across the country where divorced parents who are terminally ill or in critical condition have difficulty achieving or are denied the opportunity to say goodbye to their children before passing away. This is truly regrettable and requires the attention of the House.
Parents and children need to be ensured, as much as is possible, access to each other to say goodbye in these sorts of circumstances. Although saying goodbye under such sad circumstances is always difficult, it is an important step for both parent and child.
There was such a case involving a former constituent of mine who died of leukemia. This young divorced mother was in her final days of a courageous fight for her life when her children were removed from her custody. This is why I have undertaken this bill.
Judges need to be empowered through the amendment proposed by this bill to grant access to divorced parents who are terminally or in critical condition. It is not enough for us to hear of such a sad story and to shake our heads and turn away. We need to take meaningful action to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
This private member's bill seeks to guarantee parental rights but also ensures that such rights are not granted at the expense of the rights of children. The bill declares that any access granted under the authority of the proposed amendment would be subject to subsection 16(8) of the Divorce Act , which clearly states that any custody order must be based upon the “best interests” of the children.
For instance, if a parent who had been abusive were critically ill, the history of abuse would influence the ability to gain access to the children. This ensures that the interests of the children involved are upheld and protected in situations where such protection is necessary.
Once again, the ability to say goodbye is important for both parent and child, but we must approach this issue in a balanced and prudent fashion. I believe that this bill and the condition it contains do just that.
I know that topics of family and emotional bonds are not common to the House. Indeed, it seems a bit ironic for such matters to be addressed by Parliament and discussed from a legal or policy perspective. However, the bill and this debate are indeed necessary.
The work of the House is of a normative nature in that we seek to establish norms, legal rules and ideal standards. The Divorce Act as it currently exists does not provide divorced parents who are terminally ill or in critical condition with access to their children to ensure that they can say goodbye. I believe this is a natural and essential right that the House needs not only to recognize but to pass into law.
The Divorce Act was created by Parliament as a legal framework from which divorces and the conditions of divorces are to be structured. The Divorce Act therefore provides our judges with a road map which they use to navigate through cases of divorce in the pursuit of fair and balanced settlements, settlements that hopefully make the best of a bad situation for both parents and children.
Having to say a final goodbye, especially at a premature juncture of life, is perhaps one of the most difficult yet essential events that a parent may face. I use the word “essential” here because it is important for both the parent and the child. The parents need to have the chance to say goodbye to the most important people in their lives, their children. The children likewise need that chance to say goodbye, for different reasons. If a child is faced with losing a parent, saying goodbye is an important step of preparing for the imminent loss they face. Without the chance to say that goodbye, closure is complicated and the grieving process is skewed. Guaranteed access for divorced parents who are terminally ill or in critical condition, so that parent and child are ensured the opportunity to say goodbye, is important for both child and parent.
I believe that as elected members of Parliament representing parents, including divorced parents, and their children, it is time for us to amend the Divorce Act to ensure that divorced parents who are in their last days or hours of this life are guaranteed access to their children to say their goodbyes. This is a bill that Parliament needs to pass. It is an instruction that our judges need to be empowered with. It is a right that every parent, divorced or not, deserves.
I look forward to hearing what the other parties have to say on this issue today. I know that the Divorce Act and some of the issues in it are in need of a tune-up, not just this aspect, but this is one that I have chosen to key in on. I think that most of us as members of Parliament hear from divorced parents many times on custody issues, maintenance issues and issues of access. To have the bill passed through the House and to get it to the justice and human rights committee for discussion and debate would give us an opportunity to have a look at this aspect of what needs to be changed.
As I indicated, there are other problems with the Divorce Act, and perhaps in the future there will be an opportunity for those problems to be addressed, but I want to reiterate that under section 16 of the Divorce Act, custody orders, subsection 16(8) is the key here. We want to make sure that we are doing this in the best interests of the children. Subsection 16(8) does that. It clearly states that in making an order under this section the court “shall only take into consideration the best interests of the child of the marriage as determined by the reference to the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of the child”.
If there were a case where an order had been issued that the child should be kept away from a parent for some reason, whether it is abuse or whatever, that would be upheld by subsection 16(8). Our amendment would simply be added as subsection 16(11) after the other subsections, which would allow that to be upheld.
It is hard to imagine a situation where people could come to such a state in their lives or in their personal feelings that this type of problem would actually exist for a terminally ill parent. In the case I mentioned, it was leukemia that took this young lady over a period of time. In the last days it became very difficult for her to have her children with her because of the divorced partner.
If we address this it will be one small step toward bringing some justice to this issue and allowing a healing process.
I think many of us in this House, probably all, have had to go through that at one time or another in our lives with somebody who was very close and that ability to have that last chance to have contact to say that last good-bye is very important. It is almost hard to believe that this could happen in our society today here in Canada without the protection of the law.
I look forward to what the other parties have to say and I will wrap up later during my remaining five minutes.