Mr. Speaker, we all know that divorce is a very terrible thing. It can be a traumatic experience for families, children and parents. However, when it does occur, it really is imperative that the best interests of children should be at the heart of any divorce proceeding they may be caught up in.
According to the 2016 census, more than two million Canadian children are now living in separated or divorced families and 38% of the five million separations and divorces in Canada between 1991 and 2011 involved a child. Therefore, divorce has, sadly, become a regular part of the lives of everyday Canadians. With this legislation, we really have a duty to try to minimize the trauma of divorce as much as possible, especially on children.
Overall, the intention of Bill C-78 is good. I am especially glad to hear the legislation will be centred on the child. Too often, children become pawns in bitter divorces. We have all heard those heart-wrenching horror stories.
A woman near and dear to my heart has been going through a living hell, battling to get what is best for her daughter for years after her divorce. Under shared custody, the daughter was succeeding in school and attending regularly, especially when she was at her mother's home. However, at subsequent family court appearances, the daughter's dad managed to convince the family court it would be in the best interest to have the daughter spend all of her time at his residence. After that happened, the teenage daughter's marks plummeted. She missed a ridiculous amount of school and got into trouble with police. It is a very sad story.
Despite fighting tirelessly in family court, this woman's daughter is now hopelessly alienated because one parent wanted to punish the other. This child was used as a weapon and essentially brainwashed by one parent to punish the other parent. This daughter will now no longer speak to her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, uncles or young nieces and nephews, who absolutely adore her.
Alienation is one of the most terrible things that can be inflicted upon a child. It is something that can literally ruin a person's life and could take years of psychological help to overcome.
Part of the problem I have witnessed in family court is people who appear there do not even testify under oath. Remarkably, there is no requirement to actually tell the truth. Therefore, how can a judge truly make a correct decision in the best interests of the child if there is little or no ability to compel people to tell the truth? It is really quite ludicrous and it is no wonder that some people criticize family courts as kangaroo courts.
That is also why subsection 16(10) of the act is an important first step and states the principle that children should have as much contact with each parent within the confines of their best interest. It also takes into account the willingness of the parent to facilitate visitation as a consideration in custody disputes. It is a move that will penalize parents who, for petty reasons, try to limit visitation and access of the child or children to the other parent. It is a positive first step to ensure that even in acrimonious divorces, the best interests of the child are always first and foremost, and that is as it should be.
Promoting the use of alternative dispute resolutions, such as divorce mediation, to settle divorce cases is also an encouraging move. It should help make divorce proceedings as amicable as possible in very bitter situations at times.
Being caught up in the middle of an acrimonious divorce is never in the best interests of children. Therefore, taking steps to create a valuable alternative to litigation in family court is a sensible idea. It obviously would not solve the worst of cases, like the case I mentioned, but it is a start. If done correctly, it could have a meaningful impact for millions of Canadians.
Ultimately, Canadian children are best served when the custody and divorce proceedings are as harmonious as possible, with both parents having a meaningful relationship with their children.
A third important part of the legislation is the introduction of measures on combatting domestic violence and child abuse. That is a laudable goal. Having dispute mechanisms and courts taking into consideration domestic violence and child abuse is imperative, considering the move to a more dual parenting framework.
As I stated before, it is always in the best interests of the child to have both of their parents having meaningful relationships. That, however, is definitely not the case in situations where one of the parents is violent, neglectful or abusive. I see the government is committed to creating 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. That is another positive step, especially considering the extraordinarily slow pace the current government has taken in appointing badly needed new justices and judges. Let us certainly hope they appoint them a lot faster than they have been filling other judicial vacancies.
Unfortunately, my colleagues across the aisle's support of the best interests of children rings somewhat hollow. Let us talk about another case from the headlines about which everybody is talking.
It is the case of Terri-Lynn McClintic, a convicted child murderer who is now living at a healing lodge. Canadians are saying, loudly and clearly, that she should be back behind bars. The Liberals are refusing to act on that, saying that the Conservatives are ambulance chasers, that we are just creating this whole controversy and that it is very low of us. However, all we are doing is reflecting on what the father wants. He has spoken about it very clearly on CBC and other media.
For instance, I just am not sure how it can be said that promoting the best interests of the child is best served. She was murdered. The Liberals talk about promoting the best interests of the child in this legislation, yet her murderer is not even behind bars. She is in a healing lodge. Would Tori's best interests not be ensured by her murderer being held behind bars?
I also do not see how having a child murderer at a healing lodge is in the best interests of the children who are often present there, yet this is the position the members across the way supported in votes. It is really enraging Canadians. One day there is what seems to be a flippant disregard for what is Tori Stafford's best interests and the best interests of children at that healing lodge. Then on the next day we hear the Liberals' talking points about this bill and how much they care about children. It is rather shameful, to be honest.
This is also the case with Bill C-75, the government's new crime bill. Again, l am not sure how many parts of that bill mesh with the priority of the best interests of the child, which my colleagues across the aisle seem to believe today. How is giving a mere fine in the best interests of children who are forced into marriage, or marriage under the age of 16 or the abduction of a child under the age of 16? How does that act in the best interests of the child? I fail to see that.
How do any of these reforms put the interests of the child first? Very simply put, I do not believe they do and that it is not the government's position. If the minister would like to truly put children first, as she should, I recommend she do so in a consistent manner and go forward from there.