Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for sharing her time with me today to speak to this very important topic. I will be taking a different perspective.
I have no legal training or background. I have been happily married for 29 years now to my beautiful wife, Liane. However, having worked in the emergency services as a firefighter in my previous life, I have certainly witnessed a high propensity of divorce situations within the emergency services, and there are a lot of reasons why that happens. However, I saw first-hand the effects of divorce on many of my colleagues and friends, not only in the fire services, but the police services and all emergency services as well.
Bill C-78 is a very timely bill in the sense that it would bring into line and modernize, in fact, codify a lot of case law that has gone on, the many divorce cases that have been dealt with over the course of the last several decades. Therefore, there is a lot of which to be supportive.
Let us look at divorce in our country and see the extent of it. The 2016 census shows that over two million children were living in separated or divorced families. Five million Canadians separated or divorced between 1991 and 2011. Of those, 38% had a child together at the time of their separation or divorce. This affects over one-third of the Canadian population, children of those who are part of a divorce situation. In addition, 1.16 million children of separated or divorced parents were living in a lone parent family. Another 1.02 million children were living in step families.
I will also be taking another perspective. I have had meetings with several of my constituents on the implications and impact of Bill C-78, and of course I am here to represent my constituents. Later on, because I received several letters, I will be reading one letter in particular into the record. The hope is that when the bill does go to committee, there will be reflection on what people across the country would like to see as changes to this legislation.
There is a lot to support in Bill C-78. It is rather robust legislation, 190 pages. When we contrast that to the Divorce Act, at 41 pages, there is a lot to consider and reflect on within the bill. There are some things to support and some things that need to be changed when we get to committee.
The reduction in delays of the justice system would save costs. Another thing I have witnessed over my years in the emergency services is the devastating impact divorce can have on families. There is a cost not just to fathers but to mothers as well, and that impacts the family.
What does Bill C-78 attempt to do? The bill was tabled on May 22. The proposed bill amends the Divorce Act to, among other things, replace terminology related to custody and access with terminology related to parenting. This is a simple modification, but it reflects modern times. It establishes non-exhaustive list criteria with respect to the best interest of the child. All of us in the House, and quite frankly across the country, are interested in the best interest of the child. It creates duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes. As I said before, the cost associated with divorce is debilitating for many. Some parents simply cannot recover from those costs.
There are things to like about the legislation. It would modernize the Divorce Act, but, more important, as we get it to committee, we will get to hear from stakeholders.
As I said earlier, I want to read into the record a letter that I received from Mr. Andrew Corbett, a constituent of mine. He is part of a Simcoe County support group called “Fathers Equal Parenting”. This is a letter that was subsequent to a meeting we had in my constituency office in Barrie—Innisfil and it provides a different perspective, a different context.
Today we are debating Bill C-78, which the government has proposed, but it is also important, I believe, and I think you will agree with me, Mr. Speaker, to find those contrasting views, those things that can help parents across the country. The letter states:
As one of your constituents I am writing to express my concerns about Child Custody legislation and the recent Bill C-78. Bill C-78 fails to give sufficient credence to the views of the vast majority of Canadians who support a Rebuttable Presumption for Equal Shared Parenting when it comes to Child Custody law.
Although there may be some plausible, positive measures in the new government initiative, Bill C-78, there are a number of serious deficits in this proposed reform of child custody legislation. Notwithstanding, I believe that there are tenable solutions to significantly improve Bill C-78.
Andrew further wrote:
Canadians overwhelmingly support Equal Shared Parenting. In recent polls, nearly 80% support Equal Shared Parenting, country-wide. Moreover, many countries have adopted shared parenting, or have endorsed shared parenting, and are proposing legislative changes. Furthermore, social science research and literature has strongly came in favour of shared parenting, concluding that children in these relationships have superior academic, emotional, social and economic futures with drastically lower incidence of substance abuse, crime, and incarceration.
In view of the changes in social norms and family structures in the intervening 33 years since the current Divorce Act was passed, our child custody legal system requires fundamental structural changes. While the government initiative with bill C-78 should be commended for its housekeeping changes, we really need to make lives better for children and their parents, with reform of a more fundamental nature. I ask you to advocate a number of amendments to Bill C-78. I ask that you advocate for legislative change that incorporates accepted social science research findings and the consistently expressed views of the Canadian public. A rebuttable presumption in favour of Equal Shared Parenting is the appropriate course of action in light of the research and the consistent polling data over many years (ie. about 80% in favour). Interests groups, including Bar Associations and other interest groups, will surely oppose. In summary, the following points need to be incorporated into Bill C-78.
Canada needs a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting. This principle should be the starting point for “best interests of the child” deliberations.
Adopt continuity of family relationships as the definitional basis for the “best interests of the child” standard.
Amend proposed relocation clauses to place the onus on the relocating parent for changes in parenting responsibilities and arrangements.
Include arbitration as an explicit component of dispute resolution options.
Include provision for a “Parental Coordinator” to mediate and, if necessary, to break deadlock situations in day-to-day implementation of the Parenting Order.
Andrew goes on to say:
On paper the proposed Bill C-78 seems to support some admirable measures but I ask that you advocate for a less adversarial family justice system with implementation of the following:
Further implementation of the Unified Family Court;
Support for alternative and non-adversarial dispute resolution (e.g. expansion of such programs as “393 Mediate” where free, low cost mediation is provided in courts.);
Increased legal Aid Funding (wider access to justice in the family system is essential);
In conclusion, a Rebuttable Presumption in favour of Equal Shared Parenting will set the stage for equality and serve to reduce conflict stemming from unwarranted senses of entitlement; reduce excess legal expense, thus allocating family finances for the needs of the family and children; and promote the “best interest” of Canadian children to enjoy a decent relationship with both parents. Many like-minded Canadians support these changes. Now please propose these changes.
He thanks me for reading the letter. I will submit this into the record.
I have asked Mr. Corbett to come to committee once this bill passes through the House of Commons so that he can testify and submit his own view on where Bill C-78 needs to be approved. Many people believe that Bill C-78 is a good piece of legislation, but there are some amendments that could provide a better, solid piece of legislation that is in the best interests of Canadian children and their families.