House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.


Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for his praiseworthy dedication to this cause and his persistence.

However, I would like to ask him how the existing legislation prevents equal parenting, since everything he said over the past 15 minutes gave me the impression that if that were how the courts made decisions, there would be no need for Bill C-560.

I also wanted to mention that I am really concerned about clause 10 of his bill, the retroactivity clause. I would like him to comment on that because it means that cases that have already been ruled on could go back to court. That could result in considerable uncertainty around custody across Canada.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question and I look forward to her speech. We will learn from that, I am sure.

In respect to the member's first question, as things stand in our country, people can work this issue out. I remember Kris Titus, who was the president of the Equal Parenting Council across Canada, an umbrella organization for 40-some groups, telling me about when she and her ex, who were living in close communities, went to the judge the first time around to try to work out this kind of arrangement of approximately equal shared parenting. They could do it because they were living in proximity, but the judge could not get his head around it and said that, no, it would probably be a sole custody kind of thing. This was thinking in the courts at that time, and there is probably still a lot of that today.

They had to go back, and they had a battle. It is a credit to her that they actually did that. They did get an agreement of approximately equal shared parenting, but it was not easy to do in a system biased against it.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I want to come back to a question that was posed by the member for Gatineau but that was not dealt with in the member's answer. It is something that troubles me also.

Most custody and divorce arrangements result in a separation agreement that deals with custody and access to the children. Many of these agreements are then incorporated into court orders. One of the things the bill would do would be to effectively reopen all of these agreements and make them subject to further negotiation and possibly to further litigation.

Does the member have any appreciation for the chaos that would be caused in otherwise settled, stable child custody and access arrangements by this retroactivity?

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, that is quite a statement from the member about the kind of chaos that will be, as opposed to the chaos there presently is across the country.

With due respect to the member, we have shut out people along the way over the course of many years, and the tender years doctrine has sometimes done that in a very considerable way.

Parents never lose the desire to have contact with their children over the course of time. I can tell the member about too many conversations with parents who, after many years, once the money ran out after paying off the lawyers, finally came to an agreement.

I would think that there may be some opening of scenarios, and there will be some reasonable compromises come of that, based on a fair presumption in terms of access. Some of those children at this point will obviously be able to make the choice themselves and say that they want to be with mom or with dad on some kind of basis. They do that now. It is sometimes not honoured, but I think that will be something that will generally work out over time.

I think it is a bit of scare story to talk about chaos when there is actually chaos right now in the legal system in Canada.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Durham Ontario


Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing this debate to the floor here today, and particularly for mentioning Kristen Titus. I am happy to call Kris a friend and a resident of my constituency. She has been a passionate advocate on these issues as a mother talking about the importance of parents in the lives of children.

One of the positive developments I have seen since my years at law school and following the evolution of family law is the increase in collaborative law settings that avoid the strife and the real impact on children that the drawn-out traditional approach to divorce has caused in Canada. Many family law lawyers are opting out of that and agreeing to work within a collaborative setting that is focused on making sure that the children do not get missed as the parents settle these disputes.

I am wondering if that evolution of collaborative law toward family law would complement what the member is suggesting in terms of equal parenting and keeping the children and their needs at the focus of family law.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. In fact, that is the whole point of what this bill is intended to do. There are many good lawyers in the collaborative law practice across the country whom I have talked to, and the collaborative law practices across the country are driving this kind of a bill. As a result, we would probably have more of these situations settled outside of the courts by way of collaboration and mediation.

That is what has happened in socialist countries, left-leaning countries, and right-of-centre countries, where they have implemented equal shared parenting. Collaborative law and mediation, and that kind of thing, become increasingly important when we have a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting, aside from cases of abuse and neglect.

That is a great question, and a sign of the times by way of what we have on the floor here today.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying to the hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, I appreciate the work he has done and his persistence, because this is not the first incarnation of Bill C-560. It came up as Bill C-422 in the previous Parliament.

Clearly, it is a hot topic. I must say that, since my election in May 2011, it has probably been one of the bills on which I have received the most correspondence and heard the most opinions, all of them varied. I received even more for some other bills.

First of all, I would like to thank all those who have written to me, especially those in my riding with an interest in the matter. I think that everyone is interested in it. Everyone in the House shares the concern about providing our children with the best environment possible. There is no doubt about that. I have felt that from both sides, both from those who supported Bill C-560 and from those who expressed major reservations.

I have also had the privilege of listening to many groups on both sides. I had an absolutely fascinating conversation with Brian Ludmer, one of the people who worked on this bill, one of its architects, one might say, in terms of its terminology.

What fascinates me about the debate on Bill C-560 is that, for the most part, everyone is saying much the same thing. Views begin to diverge when it comes to the solution or to what has to be done. That is not so clear.

I have analyzed Bill C-560. I would never claim to be an expert in matrimonial law. That is why, before making any recommendations to the NDP caucus, I spent a lot of time talking with people with much more expertise than I have. I met with people from the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec, among others.

Make no mistake, I have already heard the arguments of those who support Bill C-560. They will say that lawyers just want to protect their turf, but that is not so. I have also spoken with lawyers who have dealt with complex cases that were not always resolved the way they would have hoped. My impression is that those dramatic cases are the reason behind Bill C-560, and Bill C-422 before it. There are a number of them in Canada, including in Quebec. Sometimes, we wonder which legal planet we are living on.

That being said, just because some judges apply a law a certain way does not necessarily mean that we should shred up that law, throw it out and completely change the system. Whether the Conservative member introducing Bill C-560 likes it or not, this represents an immense change. It is not as easy as he would have us believe. What we do here, the thing that is at the heart of everything referred to as “child care” in Canada, is serving the best interests of the child. That is the basic principle. What this bill does is create a presumption.

When we create a presumption, even if it is refutable, in other words if we can counter or set aside this presumption by introducing evidence, this is still very different than starting with the basic premise, namely the best interests of the child.

In this bill, it is fascinating to see the text that speaks to presumption. I will read the exact text:

The presumptions referred to in subsection (4) [equal parenting] are rebutted if it is established that the best interests of the child would be substantially enhanced by allocating parenting time or parental responsibility other than equally.

Not only does this preclude the essential nature of the best interests of the child, but it demands a considerable interest. There is a major problem with that. Imposing this presumption is the major problem with this bill.

I asked my colleague a question about retroactivity. He could very well have introduced his bill without undoing everything that has previously been done. Not only is this situation tragic, but tons of cases could end up back in court, cases that people have learned to live with. Perhaps those were not good solutions at the time, but this is what could happen now. Retroactivity provisions in legislation are rather dangerous. The Conservative government was able to see it last week with the Whaling decision. That is a red flag for me.

The NDP caucus has often supported bills at second reading to be able to conduct an in-depth analysis in committee. The major amendment that needs to be made in this case is to withdraw the presumption of equal parenting. My colleague is right that major problems need to be addressed. However, we should not do this by way of a private member's bill; we should have a government bill instead. In so doing, we would be able to better regulate the right of judges to grant custody with a view to equal parenting. Everyone agrees with that principle. I come from Quebec, where civil law stipulates that both parents have parental authority. That is something we are still hoping to achieve.

Under the circumstances, it is not even possible to amend the bill. I will therefore not waste my time. I would rather ask the government why it does not consult with experts in the field in order to draft a piece of legislation that is true to what the member is trying to do. In fact, several reports have been signed in the House for Bill C-422. That would be done legally and without undermining the fundamental principle in family law with respect to custody and the best interests of the child.

The problem is that, once custody is granted to the mother, for example, it takes a lot of convincing to get a judge to change the custody terms. Things can change over the years. Sometimes, a person is not ready for joint custody when the child is one, two or three, but is ready when the child is five or seven years old. We should make equal parenting more flexible over the years.

It would have been much better to throw the baby, meaning the system, out with the bathwater, and say that the child's interest is no longer our concern. Although that is not what I heard my colleague say, because I will not put words in his mouth, that is what his bill says.

I am prepared to accept his speech as it stands, but I must deal with the terminology in the bill. It removes the principle of the interest of the child and creates a presumption of equal parenting and a heavier than necessary burden to make the interest of the child the priority again. That is a major problem that adds to the problem with retroactivity.

With all due respect for the drafters of this bill, it is fundamentally so different from what it should be that I would rather we focus our energy on agreeing that we need to make changes to the custody system in consideration of the best interests of the child and equal custody so that both parents have access to the child. That way, we would be doing a service to society. The bill currently has major problems that we cannot remedy or amend.

It is unfortunate, but this bill should not even proceed to second reading. However, we could sit down with the people who are having problems and who have had a difficult time and listen to what they have to say.

Sometimes judges have simply not caught up with the times and need a few gentle nudges to remind them that having two parents—a father and a mother—is important for the child.

Divorce ActPrivate Members' Business

March 25th, 2014 / 6 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, may I begin by first congratulating the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin for his long service in this place. We differ in philosophy. We differ in political stripe. In fact, we differ on this bill. However, for anyone who has served his constituents and Canadians for 19 years, that is indeed something to be commended. I know the member has indicated that he does not intend to re-offer in the upcoming election. We have several months before the next election, I think, but it is not too early to acknowledge the significant contribution of this parliamentarian.

The bill placed before the House in his name, Bill C-560, is an effort to change the standard applied by the courts when dealing with divorce cases. Specifically, the summary contained in the bill reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Divorce Act to replace the concept of “custody orders” with that of “parenting orders”. It instructs judges, when making a parenting order, to apply the principle of equal parenting unless it is established that the best interests of the child would be substantially enhanced by allocating parental responsibility other than equally.

This is not the first time that the member has introduced a bill on this matter. The most significant changes that the bill would bring to the Divorce Act are, first, the removal of the current definition of “custody” from the Divorce Act, replacing it with “parenting”. That is defined as “the act of assuming the role of a parent to a child, including custody and all of the rights and responsibilities commonly and historically associated with the role of a parent”. Second is the creation of a presumption that allocating parenting time equally between the spouses and equal parental responsibility are in the best interests of the child. Third is the addition of factors that courts must consider in making custody orders.

The current law mandates the application of the best interests of the child test. The best interests of the child test has been a fundamental part of most legislation relating to children for years. This doctrine is not unique to family law proceedings. It is also used in federal legislation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Citizenship Act, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is also used in some provincial legislation dealing with matters, such as custody, access, and child support for unmarried couples; child protection legislation, and by that I mean legislation dealing with the apprehension and supervision of children by child protective services; adoption legislation; and in some provinces, change of name legislation.

None of the federal acts defines best interests of the child, as was pointed out by the member. However, many provincial family law and child protection acts include extensive definitions of the concept. Some provincial acts even include different best interests of the child tests for different contexts. For example, the Ontario Child and Family Services Act defines the test differently for child protection than it does for adoption.

As it stands now, courts must apply the best interests of the child from the perspective of the child, not the parents, and they must consider the long-term interests of the child as well as the child's day-to-day needs.

Three primary considerations under the best interests of the child test that the courts often consider are preserving the status quo in the interests of maintaining some stability for the child, whether one parent acted as the primary caregiver during the relationship, and the importance of keeping siblings together when considering future housing arrangements.

The best interests of the child is a critical component of the Divorce Act, and it appears in sections relating to custody. Under the current act, the best interests of the child, as it relates to condition, means that needs and other circumstances of the child are the overriding factor that the courts may consider when making a custody order. Further, when making a custody order, courts must give effect to the principle that a child should have as much contact with each spouse as is consistent with the best interests of the child. For that purpose, it should take into consideration the willingness of the person for whom custody is sought to facilitate such contact.

We all know that divorce is often a painful experience for couples, particularly when children are involved. In an ideal world, parents would see past their differences and would apply what the courts currently apply, which is to say, the best interests of the child standard. However, since divorce is sometimes acrimonious, painful, and filled with emotion, the best interests of the child are sometimes lost or confused with the subjective interests of a parent, and often those competing interests are to the detriment of the child or children.

It is for that reason, in part, that a judge must have the ability to apply his discretion to ascertain the facts and eventually make a determination of what is in the best interests of the child. I fear that what the hon. member is proposing would seriously alter that standard and would remove the discretion of the judge to assess the case through the best interests of the child and not the father or mother.

I am not alone in my concern about this bill. The Canadian Bar Association has very serious concerns about this bill. This is what the CBA had to say about the bill when it was introduced in a previous Parliament as Bill C-422, now Bill C-560. I will quote the Canadian Bar Association, which stated:

As lawyers, we assist all family members in restructuring their responsibilities and arrangements following separation and divorce. As a result, the CBA Section sees this issue from all sides. We firmly believe that the only perspective to foster outcomes that are best for children is to require that the courts and parents focus solely on the children’s interests in making decisions.

Bill C-422 [now Bill C-560] does not accomplish what it proposes. It does not give parties tools to resolve differences, nor does it assist them in making plans to share decision-making and physical care of children to minimize conflict and maximize children’s benefits. It would move from considering the individual child to preferring parents’ rights. It would encourage contentious litigation in future cases of family breakdown, and equally important, would cause thousands of children to be re-exposed to litigation and conflict as many settled cases would be reopened.

Those are the words of Canadian Bar Association. They are not mine.

It further stated:

Under current law, the legal playing field is even; there is no gender bias in law requiring judges to consider “the best interests of the child” as paramount. Instead, the Bill proposes an overly simplistic idea of equality: rather than considering a fair result best for the children involved in the case at hand, children must be split right down the middle. The Bill does not advance equality for either fathers or mothers. Its proposals would come at the sacrifice of the appropriate focus, solely on what is best for children.

There is more in the way of opposition to this bill, and it comes from the member's own party. Senior ministers have come out against this effort. In 2009, speaking at the Canadian Bar Association's annual conference, the then minister of justice and attorney general, now defence minister, was asked his position on equal parenting and the bill we are now debating. He stated, “the best interests of the child are always paramount...and should be”.

The member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin will know that just two weeks ago, his colleague and friend, the current Minister of Justice, appeared at the justice committee to account for his supplementary estimates request. During the meeting, the minister was very willing to answer questions, and I felt he was reasonable and fair in some of his responses, including the response to a question about whether the government intends to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the charter on matters where it disagrees with the Supreme Court.

I posed a direct question to the minister about Bill C-560, which is before the House today. This is what I asked the minister at committee:

A private member's bill is coming before the House, C-560, dealing with the Divorce Act. Back in 2009, your predecessor, [the Minister of National Defence], indicated that the best interests of the child are always paramount. Given that this question is about to come before the House, what are your views on that, sir?

He answered:

This particular private member's bill will receive, I'm sure, the rigorous examination that all private members' bills receive. I am familiar with the one you're referencing. I can tell you, having practised some family law—as you have in Prince Edward Island—that the long-held legal maxim and the jurisprudence definitely supports that the best interests of the child will remain the primary concern. I see no change in that regard.

I asked a supplementary:

The bill proposes to weaken that in favour of parental rights. Do you realize that?

The minister's response was “Yes, I do realize that”.

The Divorce Act currently establishes the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration in custody cases. In other words, the rights of the parent are subordinate to the interests of the child.

This legislation seeks to weaken that. It is not acceptable to the Liberal Party of Canada. It is not acceptable to the Canadian Bar Association. It is not acceptable to the present Minister of Justice or to the former minister of justice. That is why we will oppose the bill.

Bill C-13--Notice of time allocation motionProtecting Canadians from Online Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise that agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose, at the next sitting, a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

Bill C-2--Notice of time allocation motionRespect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise that agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose, at the next sitting, a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-560, An Act to amend the Divorce Act (equal parenting) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

6:10 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House of Commons today to speak to Bill C-560, An Act to amend the Divorce Act (equal parenting) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

The provisions of the Divorce Act regarding custody and access have not changed since they came into effect in 1986. According to section 16 of the Divorce Act, when making an order respecting custody or access, the court must be guided by only one principle, the best interests of the child.

Provincial and territorial family laws are also guided by the principle of the best interests of the child. This principle is also recognized by many instruments of international law, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The principle of the best interests of the child recognizes that each child is unique and that his or her best interests must be determined on a case-by-case basis. When applying the principle of the best interests of the child in cases of custody or the role of the parent, the courts take into account a number of factors. The main factors pertain to the child, such as age, stage of development, presence of special needs, and the wishes of the child, if any. There are also factors related to the role of the parents, such as the parenting abilities of each parent and how they plan to take care of the child. Finally, there are a number of other factors such as the child's relationships with brothers and sisters, grandparents or any other relative.

Subsection 16(10) of the Divorce Act also refers to the principles of maximum contact and co-operative parenting, which the courts must also take into account when considering all the pertinent factors in order to determine the best interests of the child.

These principles are as follows: the courts apply the principle whereby the child of the marriage must have as much contact with each spouse as is consistent with the best interests of the child; and for the purposes of applying the principle of maximum contact, the court shall take into consideration the willingness of the person requesting custody to facilitate such contact. This is known as the friendly parent rule.

Courts do not consider a person's past conduct unless the conduct is relevant to the ability of that person to act as a parent. When a custody order is issued, the court can amend it if the court is convinced that the child's situation has significantly changed since a judge issued the most recent order.

If the court determines that there has been a significant change, it issues an order that meets the best interests of the child. When it issues a variation, the court applies the principles of the best interests of the child, of maximum contact and of cooperative parenting. It also applies the rule on past conduct, if needed. Basically, the court has the discretionary power to establish any arrangement that it deems to be in the best interests of the child.

Bill C-560 would amend the provisions on custody and access in the Divorce Act. It would add an approach based on an equal sharing of the parental role and will replace the terms “custody” and “access” with “parenting orders”, “parental responsibility” and “parenting time”.

The bill would add two presumptions about the role of the parents. These are the presumption that parenting time should be shared equally between the spouses and the presumption that parental responsibility should be equal or joint. In Bill C-560, parental responsibility essentially comes down to the power to make decisions on behalf of the child.

The presumptions would not apply if it is established that the interests of the child would be better served by the unequal division of parenting time or parental responsibility. When the presumptions do not apply, the court would still give effect to the principle that a child of the marriage should have as much contact with each parent as is consistent with that child's best interests.

The bill proposes to add several criteria that the court would have to consider when determining the best interests of the child. It also proposes to add rules about changing the child's residence. It also contains provisions encouraging the spouses to settle their differences without going to court and to use other dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation.

Family law is a very important area of law.

Canadians are much more likely to have problems related to family law than problems related to other aspects of the justice system.

As is the case for many areas of jurisdiction set out in our Constitution, responsibility for family law is shared by the federal government and the provinces and territories. The provinces and territories have authority to legislate on issues related to couples that are not married and separate, as well as married couples that separate but do not divorce. The provinces and territories are also primarily responsible for administering this justice. This means they are responsible for the operation of the courts and family justice services, such as education programs for children and mediation. The federal government has jurisdiction over divorce and any related matters, such as custody.

Given that this is a shared jurisdiction, both levels of government, that is the federal as well as the provincial and territorial, have been working together for some time to improve the legislation on family law and the family justice system. For instance, as part of the supporting families experiencing separation and divorce initiative, the federal government provided the provinces and territories with funding to support family justice services, especially innovative projects such as specialized services for families experiencing major conflicts and using mediation services from a distance.

During these many years of collaboration, the family law system has gone through many changes. For instance, authorities now focus more on appropriate mechanisms for dispute resolution. In order to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children and other family members, families need a system that will maintain good relationships as much as possible.

Collaborative family law, alternative dispute resolution and mediation are examples of different approaches that help parents come up with solutions themselves. Another example of the ever-changing system of family law has to do with the results of custody cases.

The Divorce Act itself has not changed, but the kinds of orders handed down have changed considerably since new provisions regarding custody and access came into effect in 1986.

In 1986, the majority of orders gave so-called “traditional” custody to mothers, and only 1% of orders resulted in joint legal custody.

The data coming out of certain Canadian courts between 2010 and 2012 paint a very different picture. The data are compiled according to who is living with the child. It is sometimes known as physical custody, which is similar to the concept of parenting time in Bill C-560. The data also show that legal custody of children refers to making important decisions about them. Legal custody is similar to the idea of parental responsibility found in the bill.

The proportion of orders made under the Divorce Act that require parents to make important decisions together has increased from 1% to 75% in recent years.

Statistics show considerable changes in physical custody or parenting time. In 1998, barely 5% of divorce orders set out a shared custody arrangement, under which the children had to spend at least 40% of their time with each parent. However, if we look at the numbers between 2010 and 2012, approximately 21% of cases involved shared custody. That is a significant increase.

Between 2010 and 2012, only 5% of the cases involved sole custody arrangements. That is a lot of numbers, but that is how family law has evolved.

In more than one-third of the orders made under the Divorce Act, judges order that children spend at least 40% of their time with the father. That is a significant, positive shift from what was happening in 1998.

Bill C-560 raises important issues, and I am looking forward to hearing the other members' thoughts on it.

6:20 p.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, over the past few decades, society has gone through some serious economic and social upheaval. We are seeing the emergence of new types of families. There is a growing number of single parent and blended families.

According to the most recent census of 2006, there were 1,267,000 families in Quebec. Of that number, one-third were single parent families. They now represent a little more than a quarter of all families. That is the highest percentage ever recorded. We must take this new reality into account.

That is why I am speaking to Bill C-560, which amends the Divorce Act to replace the concept of custody orders with that of parenting orders. This bill instructs judges to apply the principle of equal parenting when making a parenting order.

This is not the first time that this bill has come before the House. It is similar to Bill C-422 from the last Parliament, in 2010. As with its predecessor, I have some reservations about Bill C-560.

When it comes to divorce, we must focus the debate on the real issue and that is the best interests of the child. I fear that is not the case with Bill C-560. It shifts the emphasis from the children to the rights of the parents.

In June 2010, in the context of its submission on the issue, the Canadian Bar Association said:

...any discussion of “parental rights” is misguided when resolving arrangements for children. The sole focus must be what is best for children.

When a parent before the law must put the interests of the child first, he or she is more inclined to put aside personal interests and make compromises. What is more, under the existing legislation, there is already the option of shared custody, if that is in the best interests of the child.

By amending the existing law, as Bill C-560 proposes, I wonder if we are not encouraging families to engage in lengthy and costly legal battles that will have an adverse affect on the child and the parents.

I would like my esteemed colleagues across the way to tell me whether this bill will give rise to an increased number of more aggressive litigation cases.

I fear that the consequences of Bill C-560 will put more emotional and financial pressure on parents and children who are already vulnerable. Combine that with the fact that some jurisdictions provide very little legal or financial aid for family matters, and we see the limits of this bill. The Canadian Bar Association shares these same concerns.

Parents make decisions before going to court, and those decisions will be better informed if they have their community's support. Parental equality would be more appropriate if those communities had more funding for parental education and had better legal services.

The current legislation always takes these variables into consideration, while keeping the best interests of the child in mind. The child must remain the primary principle in family law in Canada.

Here is how Bill C-560 changes this principle. It tries to create a presumption of equal shared parenting by ignoring the best interests of the child. However, shared custody would not be suitable for all family situations. In fact, many factors need to be taken into account to determine how the child's interests would be best served.

In other words, one size does not fit all. Each child's situation is unique, with different variables. Children grow up in different communities with dynamics that are not always the same. Judges must assess each case separately.

The NDP supports the principles in certain provisions of Bill C-560 concerning the importance of consultation, mediation and arbitration, provided that all this is done in the best interests of the child.

However this bill does not take that into account. I therefore find that this bill is inadequate and, unfortunately, I cannot support it.

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi will have four minutes when the House resumes debate on this issue.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from March 4 consideration of the motion.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to this subject. It was discussed during the first part of our debate. We are actually talking about two subjects here.

Let us recall what happened. This debate began because the Conservative side wanted to avoid a debate about one of its members who was in prima facie contempt of Parliament. Contempt of Parliament is no small thing; it is serious. The Speaker found that the member was indeed in contempt of Parliament.

We were here in the House. I will repeat the expression I used at the time: I was, quite simply, outraged. We were discussing a matter of major importance to our democracy when the motion was presented without notice to prevent us from discussing the incident of contempt of Parliament. That was the tactic they used. That is totally unacceptable and in violation of our democracy. It also shows a profound lack of respect for an extremely important issue. Using that kind of tactic is politics with a little p, one so small that it is impossible to see and all we are left with is “olitics”. I hope that I will never find myself getting used to those kinds of tactics and that I will never learn to tolerate them.

That being said, if we have to talk about the report, I would like to point out that the New Democratic Party submitted a supplement to the report. Since our supplement is very short, I will take this opportunity to read it.

New Democrats wish to thank the witnesses for their important and often highly personal testimony, which shed significant light on the experiences of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. This historical experience is one that must be better known by all Canadians. It is also an occasion to recognize and condemn the injustices and anti-Semitism experienced by many Jewish refugees, and to recommit to the protection of refugees everywhere. New Democrats are in support of Recommendation 1, which calls on the Government of Canada to officially recognize the experience of Jewish refugees who were displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948.

The NDP put out that supplementary report at the time. A little while ago we received the government's response to the committee's report. It was very interesting to see that the government essentially endorses the NDP's position, even though the Conservatives on the committee took a different position. In its response, the government endorsed the NDP's position. The government said the following with respect to the first recommendation:

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Fair and equal acknowledgement of all refugee populations arising out of the Arab-Israeli conflict requires the recognition of Jewish refugees. The Government shares the Committee’s belief that such recognition does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees.

The government expressed some hesitations about the second recommendation, which went a bit further. It was somewhat cautious, as were we. The government said:

The Government of Canada understands the positive intent underlying this recommendation but at this time, Canada has offered its support to the peace process as presently structured.

That is key. Despite what the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister are currently doing, Canada cannot and should not act alone on such issues.

We need to work with the others. This is not the time to try to change the framework for negotiations that was agreed upon. Everyone wants peace in the Middle East, but to achieve peace, we will have to pursue diplomatic avenues. We have to accept that it will be a long, hard and sometimes tiresome diplomatic road, and that we will have to do the ground work and keep working over the long term.

Canada used to have a lot to contribute to this work, since it chaired the committee on refugee issues. Unfortunately, we can no longer play such a positive role because we have lost our reputation. That is too bad, since we will still have to examine issues related to peace negotiations and Palestinian refugees in the future. This is an essential part of finding a solution to sustainable peace for everyone in this troubled part of the world.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her intervention and the amazing work she does on her file and back in her riding as well.

As I sat here and listened to the points she made, I was reminded of the practices that I have seen being amplified in this House since I have been a parliamentarian. Since I have come to this House, I have had my eyes opened. I have seen our parliamentary democracy at work.

Unfortunately what I have seen is the majority in the House over and over again using closure, time allocations, or other tactics to shut down debate.

During question period we see colleagues across the way—ministers, the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, and parliamentary secretaries—getting up time and time again to answer questions in such a way that those who are outside of this House, as well as those of us who are inside the House, are left wondering what the question was because the answers are totally unrelated. They go off into some kind of trajectory. If I were teaching in a classroom, I would be pulling the students right back, saying, “Here is the question; here are the parameters for your answer.”

In a similar way, here we had a very serious issue in the House, before Parliament and before the Speaker. The issue was of contempt. Instead of dealing with it very seriously and in a way that respected every single parliamentarian in this House, as well as this august body in its totality, what we had was, once again, searching the annals of history and putting on the table a very sensitive document that all of us had considerable debate on and that should be debated in a deliberative way.

We were not dealing with something that could be dealt with in a nanosecond, but instead tactics were used to stop this House from hearing a response or having any kind of a discussion on the issue of contempt.

I know I am probably getting very close to stretching my time limits, so the question I have for my colleague is this. Does she feel that the actions taken disrespected the process we have for dealing with committee reports?

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I do not know that the question is pertinent to the question that is before the House. However, I do appreciate that the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie did include some commentary along the line of that particular narrative in the course of her comments, so if she is willing, we will go to the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question and her very relevant comments. In her question, she used the key word “respect”. The way everything was handled in this matter smacks of utter disrespect. Indeed, the approach used to avoid debate in the House on another major issue is disrespectful to the work of the committee. It is disrespectful to the parliamentary process.

As my colleague said, it is another way to prevent debate and to prevent people from talking about the issue and giving their feedback. During this same week, the members of the committee voted against hearing the testimony of the Chief Electoral Officer, which I think is absolutely incredible. This shows disrespect for the committee and the House.

This lack of respect for the House was shown just as we were discussing a matter of contempt of Parliament. Our democracy is being disrespected all too often and regularly, unfortunately. I would add that this is disrespectful to Canadians. When I went back to my riding, I met with people affected by the issue. They are directly affected by the issue. They find that using this file for purely partisan purposes is disrespectful to the situation, those affected and the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and touched us with their testimony.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understand correctly, the report was used primarily to change the position. What was happening in the House did not suit them. Then witnesses were invited and we heard their testimonies in committee. There were things the government might have done, but the government decided not to listen to the witnesses.

I would like to know what important things some witnesses had to say about what that the government might have done to help them.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development did indeed hear some very moving testimony from people who have experienced very difficult situations and personal and human tragedies.

People working in foreign affairs often tend to become a little colder and try to distance themselves from discussions. I personally remember these testimonies as really quite moving. I think that what most of the people were asking for was that the government recognize that terrible things had happened to them. The NDP agreed, but the Conservatives wanted to go a little further in their recommendations. The NDP thought that the witnesses' recommendation was legitimate and entirely valid. In the end, we tabled a supplementary report basically on that. It was rather interesting and rather ironic to see that the government itself supported the NDP's position rather than that of the Conservatives on the committee.

I am coming back to these people. I am sure that many of them must be frustrated that their questions and issues are being used for purely partisan purposes to avoid a debate in the House on a point of contempt of Parliament.

I am a relatively new MP, but I hope that even after 10 years on the job, if I am given that privilege, I will still be outraged by such wrongdoing.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the chair and the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for their report on recognizing Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. I also want to thank those who appeared before the committee as witnesses.

The refugee experience holds a special place in the Canadian heart. Indeed, one of the primary roots of modern Canada lies in the mass northward movement of displaced United Empire Loyalists seeking refuge from the American Revolution.

It should come as no surprise that our country has had a long history and tradition of providing protection to those who need it. We were a haven for African Americans fleeing slavery before the American Civil War; for Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians fleeing oppression in the 1800s and the first decades of the 20th century; and for Hungarians, Czechs, Chinese, Tibetans, Vietnamese, Afghans, and others fleeing communist oppression in the middle of the last century. Later in the last century, and more recently, we have embraced refugees from South America, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

These are just a few examples of the many noteworthy times we have seen Canada's long-standing commitment to protecting those most in need of refuge. In fact, since the Second World War, we have welcomed more than one million refugees.

Canada is among the world's most generous and fair countries in our treatment of vulnerable populations. The United Nations has described Canada's refugee system as “a model for other countries”. We are that model for the world, and today Canada welcomes about one out of every ten of all resettled refugees globally, more than almost any other industrialized country in the world. Even in absolute terms, and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' global trend analysis, Canada ranks number one for resettled refugees on a per capita basis. We are proud of that record and we are continuing that record.

Those who have found refuge on our shores, and their descendants, have shaped the country we live in today, as do those who selflessly sponsor refugees, help them settle, integrate, and succeed in their new home.

Canadians are very familiar with the dramatic, often tragic, and frequently inspiring stories of the waves of refugees who have come to this country. The dramatic and harrowing tales of their struggle to find refuge are an integral part of our story as a nation.

As Canadians, we never take our rights, freedoms, and peaceful coexistence for granted because we know all too well what it means to live without these things: persecution, tyranny, and violent oppression. We know this either through our own experience, through the experience of our ancestors, or through the experience of our neighbours.

There is no greater character trait of being Canadian than our compassion, and that is what compels our government to acknowledge the experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. As a country that slammed its doors on Jewish refugees from Europe before and during the Holocaust when the Jewish people needed us most, it is vitally important for us to acknowledge that dark period of history.

Whether born here or elsewhere, we all benefit from the shelter that this great country provides for us and from the troubles that plague too many parts of the world. As stewards of that shelter and of our regrettably mixed legacy of providing protection, our refugee policy now focuses on those most in need.

Since we started our resettlement efforts for Iraqi refugees, more than 16,000 have arrived in Canada, and we are on track to meet our commitment of 20,000 by 2015. This is in addition to our other notable recent initiatives, including the resettlement of up to 1,000 more Bhutanese refugees over the next two years, many of whom have family ties here in Canada. That means that, in total, Canada will resettle 6,500 Bhutanese refugees who have previously been living for years in refugee camps in Nepal.

We will also resettle up to 5,000 refugees who are now in Turkey, by 2018. These refugees will be mainly Iraqis and Iranians.

Canada has also committed to resettling up to 1,300 Syrians by the end of 2014. This includes up to 200 extremely vulnerable refugees, such as women at risk and minorities with urgent protection needs, through the government-assisted refugee program.

Moreover, we have allocated up to 1,100 spaces for privately sponsored refugees and are promoting and supporting partnerships between experienced refugee sponsorship agreement holder organizations and Syrian-Canadian community organizations.

Furthermore, the reforms made to our asylum system just over a year ago are making it faster and fairer. Under the new system, asylum claimants receive a hearing much faster than they did previously, generally within two to three months, instead of a year and a half under the previous regime. I am happy to report that the new system is working and that we are providing faster protection to genuine refugees. In addition, the majority of refugee claimants now have access to a fact-based appeal for the first time ever.

However, Canada's welcome does not negate the experiences of refugees in their places of origin. On the contrary, when Canada offers asylum to someone, it is a recognition of that experience. As the committee stresses in its report, our recognition of what drove Jewish refugees from their home countries does not diminish or compete with the experience of Palestinian refugees. Through Palestinian immigration, their story has also become part of our story as Canadians. One of the main messages of the committee's report is that two refugee populations were created by the Arab Israeli conflict, one Palestinian and one Jewish.

However, as Stanley Urman, executive vice-president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, told the committee, between 1949 and 2009 there were 172 United Nations resolutions dealing specifically with Palestinian refugees while none specifically mentioned Jewish refugees from Arab countries. As Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, noted, “The inclusion of the issue of Jewish refugees is meant to complete, not revise, the historical record”.

The experience of Jewish refugees has been undervalued because most Jewish refugees went from being a vulnerable minority in societies where they were perceived as “others”, to fully integrated citizens of their new countries, while Palestinian refugees became part of a new diaspora that for the most part has not been fully embraced. Not surprisingly, most Jewish refugees do not wish to return to their country of origin, while some Palestinian refugees long for the places they or their ancestors left. This difference in outcomes does not, however, change the fact that Jewish refugees left their homes as a result of discrimination, intimidation, and fear. When they left, individual and communal properties were seized or confiscated without any compensation.

Judaism is indigenous to the Middle East, with the biblical narrative unfolding from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities, both inside and outside Israel, have, or had, deep historical roots. The most authoritative version of the Talmud was in fact compiled in Babylon.

However, communities outside Israel have for the most part been displaced since 1948. As Sylvain Abitbol, co-president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, told the committee, “...even in Morocco, despite its tolerant attitude, only 3,000 Jews remain there today out of a population of approximately 265,000 in 1948”. Dr. Urman told the committee that under Muslim rule, Jews and Christians in the region had historically been considered “dhimmi, a privileged minority but still second-class citizens”. And “The status of Jews worsened dramatically in 1948, as virtually all Arab countries declared war or backed the war against Israel. Jews were either uprooted from their countries of residence or became subjugated, political hostages in the Arab Israeli conflict”. Dr. Urman estimates that Jewish refugees lost assets in the neighbourhood of $6 billion.

The committee heard several personal and very tragic testimonies. Regina Bublil Waldman, president of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, who grew up in Libya in the 1950s, spoke of her family's experience: “Our Jewish community was forbidden to leave the country. We were denied citizenship. We were denied passports. We were denied the right to travel, yet we had to live in this very anti-Jewish environment”. Then in the period following the 1967 war, Jews were expelled from Libya under order of the government and their property was confiscated. In Ms. Waldman's words, “We were being expelled from the country we had lived in for over 2,000 years”.

Her family was forced to leave with almost nothing, one suitcase per person and the equivalent of $25 per person. At the time of Ms. Waldman's birth in 1948, the Jewish community of Tripoli constituted almost 30% of the total population of the city. Today, that entire community is gone.

Gladys Daoud, a teenager in Baghdad when the 1967 Six Day War broke out, spoke of the Iraqi government of the time proceeding with “a plan of total isolation and economic strangulation” against the Jewish population. Ms. Daoud's acceptance to Baghdad University was retracted and she was refused a passport to study abroad. Her family's bank accounts were frozen and their property was confiscated. They were forbidden to leave Baghdad, but eventually escaped the country in 1971.

Another refugee from Iraq, now Canadian, Lisette Shashoua, also spoke of the retaliatory measures that were instituted against the Iraqi Jewish community following the 1967 war. She told the committee that, “In 1968 the random arrests intensified. [Jewish] Men were tortured and forced to say they were spies”.

In January 1969, following mock trials, 10 Jewish men were publicly hanged and accused of being Israeli spies. The next day was made a public holiday with people invited to come and dance in celebration underneath the dangling corpses. Ms. Shashoua said, “You can just imagine the sheer terror that dominated our daily existence after that horrid day”. Ms. Daoud reports still having nightmares about being back in Baghdad and reliving the anguish of those days.

The overall result of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and discrimination and intimidation practised against Jews in various countries in the region was summarized by Dr. Bensoussan in his testimony. He said, “...Jews who had been present in Arab Muslim countries for a thousand years were squeezed out in the span of one generation...”.

Dr. Urman informed the committee that nearly 650,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, while more than 200,000 Jews found safe haven in countries other than Israel, including Canada.

Raising awareness of the experience of Jewish refugees from the region can also shed light on broader issues of inclusion and diversity in the Middle East and North Africa. On that topic, I am very pleased that, last year, our government officially opened the Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. This office was created to advocate on behalf of religious communities under threat, oppose religious hatred, and promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right under increasing threat around the world, including in Egypt, where Coptic Orthodox Christians continue to face daily, violent persecution at the hands of extremists, and in Syria, where extremists seek power by trying to pit faith communities against each other.

These extremists ultimately reject a pluralist view of their societies based on the universal principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, in which all communities have a right to freedom of religion. They reject a vision of society in which all communities have a right to participate based on the principles of social cohesion, where all can contribute to society and can openly, freely, and in assurance of their peace and security publicly profess their religious faith.

The threat to freedom of religion is increasing around the world. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that one-third of the countries in the world have high or very high restrictions on freedom of religion. As some of the restrictive countries are very populous, roughly 75% of the world's population live in countries with high restrictions.

Christians are targeted in terms of both social hostilities and government harassment, more than any other faith, in countries including Iran, Pakistan, and Vietnam. In addition to Coptic Orthodox Christians, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Baha'is, Chaldean Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews, and Shia Muslims are experiencing difficulty in their ability to worship and practise their faith in peace.

Acknowledging the experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa is an act of peacemaking because it helps us understand the world more holistically and with greater integrity. It speaks to who we are as Canadians and to the aspirations of others to live in societies that celebrate human diversity.

With respect to the committee's second recommendation, “...that the Government of Canada encourage the direct negotiating parties to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts”, we must respect the integrity of the Middle East peace process as it is currently structured.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations take place in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel peace with the broader Arab world if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. There are currently no direct negotiations on the subject of Jewish refugees between Israel and the refugee countries of origin in the Middle East and North Africa.

The government understands the positive intent underlying the second recommendation, but it would be imprudent to attempt to implement it at this delicate time in the peace process.

Canada continues to advocate for a comprehensive two-state solution, reached through a negotiated agreement between the two parties, that guarantees Israel's right to live in peace and security with its neighbours and leads to the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state. We welcome the relaunch of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and we congratulate both sides on taking this courageous and necessary step. We commend U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for the leadership he has shown in the peace process, and we support him in this endeavour.

Canada stands ready to assist the peace process in any way it can. When Secretary of State Kerry undertook a $100-million initiative to contribute to economic development in the West Bank, Canada was the first country to respond, contributing $5 million toward that effort. Our ongoing support for the Palestinian people to promote security and the rule of law, stimulate sustainable economic growth, and deliver humanitarian assistance continues unabated.

Indeed, it is the Conservative government's profound support for the peace process that compels it not to take up the second recommendation at this time. The current peace process is, and should be, our number one priority.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is the House ready for the question?

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7 p.m.

Some hon. members


Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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