House of Commons Hansard #332 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply ManagementPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to the question of privilege raised on October 2 by the hon. member for Montcalm regarding the supposed contempt of Parliament pertaining to supply management.

In his statement, the hon. member indicated that the USMCA constitutes contempt of Parliament. The Bloc Québécois member's argument is twofold. The first point that he made was that the negotiation of the agreement opened 3.59% of the Canadian milk and dairy products market to American producers. The second was that, on September 26, 2017, the House unanimously adopted a motion in which it reiterated its desire to fully preserve supply management during the NAFTA renegotiations. As a result, my hon. colleague believes that the USMCA constitutes contempt of Parliament.

I would like to demonstrate that the matter before us today is not a question of privilege but a matter of debate.

Pages 536 and 537 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 3rd edition, clearly state the following: “A resolution of the House is a declaration of opinion or purpose; it does not require that any action be taken, nor is it binding.”

I therefore believe that it is impossible for the provisions of the agreement to be found in contempt of Parliament. Consequently, I respectfully submit that this is a matter of debate and not a question of privilege.

Supply ManagementPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I thank the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles for her comments on the question of privilege. I will come back to the House with a ruling in due course.

The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-78, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's East.

I am pleased to rise today as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice to speak to an important aspect of Bill C-78, which is poverty reduction.

Over two million Canadian children live in separated or divorced families. Of these, lone-parent families are the most financially vulnerable of all family types and are more likely to depend upon social assistance.

There are couple of other important statistics.

Right now, there is well over $1 billion in support payment arrears in this country. In the vast majority of such cases, 96% of all such cases, the arrears relate to money owed by men to women.

The data on the economic challenges of single parenthood are quite stark. In 2016, the median net worth of Canadian couples with children under 18 was over $300,000, while the median net worth of single-parent families was less than one-sixth of that, $57,200.

Separation and divorce can cause a financial crisis for some families. The benefits of sharing family expenses often disappear as a second home must be established. Some parents need to significantly change their work hours to accommodate their changed parenting schedule, which can affect their income and their employment opportunities. This is what I hear when I speak to families in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I hear far too often from single mothers who are struggling to access spousal and child support after a marital breakdown. Bill C-78 will directly benefit these residents of my community and the residents of so many other communities in a similar situation right across Canada. It will help lift those individuals, whether they are mothers or children, out of poverty. It will mean less time fighting out support payments in court, which is costly and time consuming, and creates a court backlog. It will mean more tools to allow single parents to identify and locate the assets of their former spouses, and more tools to enforce the actual payment of spousal and child support to single parents and their children.

Allow me to explain. I want to first turn to the payment of child support reducing the risk of poverty.

The sooner a fair and accurate amount of child support is established after parents separate and payments are made, the better the outcomes are for the child in question. The payment of child support is a key factor in reducing the risk of child poverty, especially for low-income, single-parent families.

Parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially after separation or divorce. Children have a legal right to that support. Federal, provincial and territorial child support laws require parents to disclose specific income information, including income tax returns, and set out penalties and consequences if a parent fails to disclose this information. This includes imputing income, which means that the parent’s income is assumed to be a certain amount for child support purposes, and the child support order is based on that income.

Most parents dutifully meet their legal obligations. However, some parents do not provide complete and accurate income information, despite the possible penalties and consequences. This is a significant issue that has serious consequences for children and families going through the family justice system, as well as for the system as a whole.

Family law practitioners and judges often say that income disclosure issues are one of the most contentious areas of family law. Failure to comply with disclosure obligations can put significant pressure on the family justice system. It may also discourage parents from reaching agreements through family dispute resolution processes, such as mediation. If income cannot be properly determined at the outset, it may also prevent families from benefiting from other family justice services such as administrative child support calculation or recalculation services.

I want to turn now to the costs associated with the non-disclosure of income.

The financial and emotional costs to parents seeking income disclosure are significant. They are legally entitled to financial information from the other parent. However, when financial disclosure is not made, they must ask a court to order that the information be provided. This creates significant costs for families and can lead to overburdening of the family justice system, including the courts. The other parent may still not disclose his or her income information, even after the court has ordered it. In these situations, the court may then impute the income of the other parent.

Although imputing income may work adequately in some situations, it is very difficult for the court to determine a fair amount of support that reflects a parent's true ability to pay in the absence of complete and up-to-date income information. Imputing income may result in child support amounts that are too high, which, in many situations, will not be paid or result in support payments that are too low and thereby prevent children from benefiting from the support of both parents.

Consistent with our government's commitment to poverty reduction and to meeting the needs of low- and middle-income families, Bill C-78 would bring much needed changes to middle-class Canadians. It would limit the negative consequences of income-related disputes for the family justice system and parents. Bill C-78 also proposes much needed changes to help reduce child poverty.

I will turn to one aspect of the law that would be amended here, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. Amendments to this act would ensure that a separating or divorcing parent's failure to meet their income disclosure obligations would not prevent the establishment of a fair and accurate amount of support. We would amend this particular law to allow the federal government to release an individual's income information, including information from tax returns, to a court for the purpose of establishing, varying, or enforcing a support provision.

The income information to be released would be listed in the regulations, and important safeguards would be included in the act. An application for information under this legislation would not be permitted if the court were of the view that a release of information would jeopardize the safety and security of any person. Where information is released to a court, it must be sealed and kept in a place to which the public has no access.

The release of this income information would help ensure that child support amounts reflect the parent's true capacity to pay. It would also reduce legal costs associated with ensuring income disclosure for a parent, as well as the associated use of court resources. Child support orders would be made more quickly, more accurately, with less conflict and less expense, helping the very women I mentioned at the outset, the 96% of recipients of spousal and child support in Canada who are women.

The legislative amendments we are proposing will also allow the disclosure of income information to child support recalculation services. Recent information on a parent's income is needed so that those provincial and territorial recalculation services, which provide an administrative service, can do their job. They are an important tool in ensuring access to justice for parents who pay or receive child support. These services help update child support amounts through a process that is fast, more effective, low cost and non adversarial.

These recalculation services recalculate the amounts indicated in child support orders and agreements based on a parent's current income. However, they cannot proceed with the recalculation on income allocated or when no income information has been provided. In such cases, parents have to go through the courts to amend the child support amount.

These amendments to the act will reduce costs, not only for parents but also for the justice system, by allowing administrative services to recalculate to obtain the income information they need. Agreements with the provinces and territories on the disclosure of information will be updated in order to guarantee the protection of income information disclosed to the services responsible for doing the recalculation.

Bill C-78 also proposes amendments to the garnishment provisions. This act provides for the payment of salaries and pension benefits payable to current and former federal employees to another person to help satisfy family support. Amendments to the legislation would help reduce child poverty by making the process more efficient so that families receive the support they are entitled to in a timely manner. For example, the amendments would prioritize garnishment for family support debts over all other debts, other than debts to the Crown, which allow for earlier garnishment where possible.

In conclusion, separation and divorce can be difficult emotionally and financially for families and children. That most Canadians dutifully meet their obligations when it comes to both the establishment and payment of child support is a testament to our society's values. However, when parties cannot agree on what their obligations should be, our family justice system should be there to help resolve those issues. Federal enforcement legislation is there to help when parties do not meet their support obligations. That is exactly what Bill C-78 would do. I am proud to support it, and I urge all members of the House to do the same.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has raised an excellent point, the issue of disclosure in divorce or separation proceedings. One of the more serious problems is getting information from people who are self-employed when many of those people do not disclose to the Canada Revenue Agency what they are actually making. That happens all the time.

I appreciate that the government is trying to deal with this, because the most serious issue is obtaining disclosure. However, with that specific example in mind, there are many people who are self-employed, and just providing their income tax return does not reveal what their actual income is.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, the member for Dufferin—Caledon raises a very important point. What we are doing with Bill C-78 is providing more tools in the toolbox to allow better access to and disclosure of financial information. Clearly, there are and will remain instances in which people seek to evade such disclosure, which could happen in many different cases.

However, with this legislation we are responding to the concerns we have heard from Canadians from coast to coast to coast that they need better tools and better information sharing between different components of government and departments to access that information. Then it is for the courts through the provisions already provided for in the law to ensure enforceability of that, including imputing income where necessary for those who still withhold information.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, following up on the question that was just asked, I am wondering about the enforceability of this bill.

Would it be up to the provinces through the court system to enforce this bill and the support provided to the children who are in need?

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, family law is obviously a matter of dual jurisdiction. This issue of family law is a matter of shared jurisdiction between the provinces and the federal government. Issues of divorce and marriage are a matter of federal jurisdiction. The issue of separations that do not include divorce, for example, are a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

We have worked diligently on this bill with our FPT colleagues and collaboratively at various ministerial meetings with the provinces and territories. A component of the enforceability will continue to reside with the courts, as administered in the provinces and territories, consistent with the jurisdictional division of powers under our constitutional provisions. It will be a collaborative effort.

However, what is important to emphasize with regard to Bill C-78 is that we are giving more tools and strengthening the enforcement that is available to the very provincial actors that my friend has mentioned, to the courts that are on the front lines of the important work being done on the family law front and, importantly, not necessarily forcing people to get involved in the courts at the first instance, thereby reducing the costs, the court backlog and the necessity of seeking enforcement. We are creating more tools outside of the court structure that people can access to pursue their rights under this regime.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Fayçal El-Khoury Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, could my colleague, if possible, elaborate on how the government with this bill and its previous efforts will improve the life of our Canadian children, particularly by lifting hundreds of thousands of them out of poverty and ensuring them a better life and future?

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Laval—Les Îles for making this point. This is a fundamental theme not just of this bill, but of our government overall in terms of what we have done with the Canada child benefit to lift 300,000 children out of poverty. We have targeted tax-free benefits to those who need them the most.

This bill complements that. It is a staggering figure that two million children in this country live in families that have experienced a divorce. It is equally staggering that over a billion dollars of spousal and child support is in arrears in this country.

What we are doing through this legislation is responding to that very real need, ensuring that there are more tools in the toolbox that will allow the disclosure of information, the arrangement of child support orders and the enforceability of such child support orders so that those children currently living in poverty are able to receive the support they so desperately deserve. Those are middle-class kids whom we are here to support.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-78 and the significant contribution it would make to improve the accessibility and efficiency of the family justice system.

As mentioned, federal family laws have not been updated substantially in over 20 years and changes are long overdue. Access to justice is a priority for our government and access to family justice is a key component of achieving that. Costs, delays, and complex procedures can make it difficult for Canadians to have access to justice. Along with the expansion of the unified family courts and sustained funding for family justice services, Bill C-78 is part of our government's commitment to improving access to justice for families going through separation and divorce. Under the pen of retired Supreme Court Justice Cromwell, the action committee on access to justice in civil and family matters stated that early management of legal issues and encouraging informal dispute resolution were key to improving access to justice.

Bill C-78 recognizes the need to improve access to justice and offers guidance, information and tools to help families going through separation and divorce, including people who represent themselves, as well as lawyers and courts involved in family law issues.

Bill C-78 encourages the use of family dispute resolution processes. These are defined as out-of-court processes used by parties to help them resolve their family law disputes. Negotiation, mediation and collaborative law are examples of such processes. These are often less expensive and faster than litigation and allow parents to actively participate in creating arrangements that are in the child's best interests.

Part of the role lawyers play is to ensure that parents who have family law issues have the relevant information on family dispute resolution. Bill C-78 would create a duty for lawyers to tell parents about family justice services that could help them resolve their disputes, and to encourage them to try family dispute resolution where appropriate.

In addition, if the case is before the court, the bill gives judges the option to refer parents to family dispute resolution where available. Bill C-78 also introduces duties for parents involved in a family law matter to try to resolve their issues through a family dispute resolution process where appropriate.

That said, family dispute resolution processes may not be appropriate in all circumstances, including where there is family violence. For this reason, Bill C-78 only encourages the use of these procedures where appropriate. Courts and lawyers must evaluate each of these situations on a case-by-case basis and take into account families' circumstances, including whether there is family violence, before encouraging the use of family dispute resolution. In addition, other service providers, such as certified mediators, play a critical role in screening for family violence and power imbalances in order to promote a fair and equitable process.

There are numerous ways that Bill C-78 would facilitate the resolution of family disputes and help parents reach out of court agreements focused on the best interests of their children. For example, it proposes changes to custody and access language, the definitions in the old version of the act, to use terminology that is more neutral and child focused and reflects the actual tasks of parenting, such as parenting time and other terms used in the act. It also includes a non-exhaustive list of criteria to help determine what is in the child's best interest, as well as criteria to assist parents dealing with relocation issues. This additional information will help parents make informed and child-focused decisions and better understand what the outcome might be if they were to go to court. This in turn is intended to help reduce litigation.

Our government is bringing forward some innovative thinking to help improve the family justice system. There are issues currently determined by courts that are administrative in nature and that could be handled outside of the court. Bill C-78 will expand the range of matters that child support services may address and will allow them to perform tasks currently that were in the sole purview of the court itself.

Many provinces and territories have child support services that recalculate support orders, for instance. Bill C-78 proposes several measures to make these services more efficient. This includes the recalculation of interim child support amounts in Divorce Act orders. In addition, the bill would allow child support services to recalculate child support amounts at the request of a parent, for example, if there were a job loss. Currently, the Divorce Act requires that recalculation be done only at fixed or regular dates.

The bill also includes a new approach allowing for the calculation of initial child support amounts by provincial or territorial child support services, where possible. This will allow administrative services, as opposed to courts, to calculate, based on relevant income information, child support amounts based on child support guidelines.

These proposed additions and improvements to the Divorce Act would make it easier, less costly and less adversarial to determine or recalculate child support amounts.

Changing Divorce Act orders when parties live in different jurisdictions can also be costly and cumbersome for families. Bill C-78 proposes to improve the process to change a support order for parties living in different provinces or territories.

Currently, two courts are involved, a court in the applicant's province that makes a provisional order and a court in the respondent's jurisdiction that confirms the order. The new process would involve only one court and would eliminate the need for the current first stage hearing, thereby saving time and money. Because this new system mirrors that in most provinces and territories, it would also ensure consistency whether interjurisdictional proceedings are conducted under the provincial legislation or under the Divorce Act.

The bill also includes provisions to improve processes in international child support cases. These changes are an essential step for Canada to become party to the 2007 Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, which was signed in May 2017.

The 2007 convention is an international agreement that provides a low-cost and efficient legal framework for cross-border establishment, modification, recognition and enforcement of family support obligations. It will be of particular interest to Canadian families and children, as it provides a means for a parent to obtain child support from a former spouse living in a different country.

Another way in which Bill C-78 would increase access to justice and improve the efficiency of the family justice system is by amending the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. This act is used to help parents enforce support. The bill proposes to amend it to permit, in certain limited circumstances, the release of income information when parents do not provide it.

Accurate income information is key to determining fair child support amounts. This change would help to accurately determine child support amounts and enforce support orders, as well as to reduce time spent in court to obtain this information. Proceedings to obtain this information currently take up a lot of court time and resources and this can be expensive for people who are trying to obtain support and is not a good use of family resources.

When this information is given to a court, it would be sealed and kept in a location to which the public has no access, and the court could make any order necessary to protect the confidentiality of the information.

While the bill encourages resolution of matters outside of the court system, there are some matters that require formal court resolution.

Budget 2018 announced funding to expand unified family courts, fulfilling one of the Minister of Justice's mandate letter commitments to Canadians. The family court in my riding of St. John's East has benefited from this.

Unified family courts provide one-stop shopping for the family justice system by combining jurisdiction over all family law matters into one court. They also provide access to a range of family justice services, such as family law information centres and mediation services to help families through a range of family law issues, including separation and divorce and other services.

Funding is essential for the delivery of family justice services which fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. In budget 2017 our government committed $16 million per year for family justice services on an ongoing basis. This funding will increase Canadians' access to family justice by supporting provincial and territorial programs and services, such as mediation, parent information, education and support enforcement.

We have to work together to improve the accessibility and the efficiency of the Canadian family justice system. Bill C-78, along with the expansion of unified family courts and sustained funding for family justice services, will help support Canadian families going through separation and divorce and the over two million Canadian children who live in separated or divorced families. This is a great step forward and I trust that the changes we have proposed will bring positive changes to the family justice system.

In closing, I encourage all members of the House to support this legislation, as I do, so we can see it move to committee where it can be studied further.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for St. John's East on his presentation to the House on this topic and in particular, for zeroing in on the topic of dispute resolution.

As a legal representative, my question is: Is one of the problems the lawyers? Litigation is very adversarial in family law matters. Dispute resolution already exists. Currently, a lawyer acting for one of the parties or indeed both lawyers could say they are not interested in dispute resolution and that the matter should go to the courts. This causes a problem because generally speaking, one of the parties does not have the resources to go all the way to the courts. The party has the resources to go to dispute resolution but not to the courts. That creates unfairness and more adversarial attitudes.

Would the proposed legislation correct this discrepancy? Is there something in the bill that would force the legal representatives to encourage dispute resolution?

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague, who sits next to me in this corner of the House, mentioned that this might fall under the framework of sharp practice. I do not think that would be the case for the vast majority of members of the family bar that I know who always try to encourage their clients to obtain the appropriate level of service and support and to try to reach resolutions that are in the best interest of the child. That is very much what this legislation is trying to do.

With respect to the issue of going through the less acrimonious and often more deliberate and successful route of dispute resolution, the bill contains requirements on legal counsel to instruct their clients to do so where appropriate. I provide the caveat “where appropriate” because in this particular bill, there is a new definition for family violence. It is a fairly comprehensive definition. It includes things like psychological harm and other types of manipulation that parents may engage in and former spouses may engage in with one another. In such instances, staying within the court system may be in the best interests of all involved. Otherwise, lawyers are instructed to provide a dispute resolution process to the parents, which would better conserve family resources, which is also, of course, in the best interest of the child.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to mention the fact that today is my son's 20th birthday and say happy birthday to Henry. One of the hardest parts for all people in the House, and so many people across Canada who have to work away from home, is not being with their loved ones on these important dates, so I just wanted to take that opportunity.

Getting back to the issue at hand, one of the challenges in addressing child poverty, in the context of the bill, is when domestic violence is part of the equation. Often it is a safety issue for the family, largely for the children and the wife. This often results in either child support not being received or, on the other side, not being paid.

Consultation is key. It is really important we look at how we are going to make sure this can happen in the safest way possible. I would like the member to talk a little about where he may identify some gaps in the current bill.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is an important one. I also want to say happy birthday to her son. It was my son's 10th birthday yesterday. I had a chance to speak with him on the phone a couple of times, but I really did miss the chance to see him go into double digits. It was a tough one to miss.

The bill does attempt to address many of the concerns raised by the member. I do not see any particular gaps, because this particular legislation builds upon 20 years of work the provinces have done to start to address some of these issues in the courts and before we finally have come to the point where we are actually implementing it into federal legislation.

I have a copy of the definition in front of me now. I will highlight the fact that family violence includes all types of conduct, whether or not the conduct is criminal in nature, that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. It includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, threats to kill or cause bodily harm, harassment, failure to provide the necessities of life, psychological abuse, financial abuse, threats to kill or harm an animal or damage property, and the killing or harming of an animal.

If we look at the financial abuse problem the member raised in that context, it is actually embedded right there in the definition of family violence. Therefore, I am hoping her concerns are addressed, but as I suggested in my remarks, I look forward to the bill going to committee where that can be addressed and more gaps might be elucidated.

JusticeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-78, the government's family law bill.

As other hon. members have alluded to in this debate, issues relating to family law, by and large, fall within the parameters of provincial jurisdiction. However, section 91, class 26 of the Constitution Act provides that it is within the jurisdiction of Parliament to make laws with respect to marriage and divorce.

In order to discuss Bill C-78 and what it seeks to do in terms of updating family law and divorce legislation in this country, it would be helpful at the outset to provide some context to how divorce law in this country has evolved. Indeed, the Divorce Act is a relatively new piece of legislation. It was passed in 1968, only 50 years ago.

Prior to the passage of the Divorce Act in 1968, this country had a patchwork of laws with respect to divorce. In some provinces, there were no divorce laws. As a result, it was necessary for couples to seek a private act of this Parliament in order to obtain a divorce. In other provinces, divorce was possible if it could be established that there had been some wrongdoing in the relationship.

Fast forward to 1968 when Parliament did pass legislation to provide uniform laws with respect to divorce. The Divorce Act of 1968 remained in place until it was updated in 1985, which is when Parliament made some very significant reforms to divorce and family law. Among the changes made in the 1985 Divorce Act was to provide a single ground upon which divorce could be obtained, namely, when there was a breakdown in the relationship. A breakdown in the relationship could be established based upon a number of different criteria, including one year of separation of the couple, or if it were established that there was adultery in the relationship or physical or mental abuse.

Since Parliament took steps in 1985 to update divorce law in Canada, over the last 30-plus years there has been very little change that has been made to update family law in this country. I have to say, I was born in 1984, one year before the Divorce Act was updated, so 1985 was a long, long time ago. Canadian society has evolved considerably in these last 33 or 34 years, including the structure of families and, unfortunately, the increased prevalence of divorces and marital breakdown. It is about time that Parliament moved forward to consider a comprehensive update to the Divorce Act.

In terms of the substance of this bill, let me say that we are open to looking at it carefully. On the surface, it would seem that this bill contains a number of positive measures. Among the key substantive aspects of this bill is the updating of terminology, encouraging families to settle disputes outside of the court, improving child support enforcement, and preserving the well-being of impacted children. All of these measures, on the surface, appear to be a step in the right direction.

In terms of the road to reform, it has been, as I mentioned, a long time coming. We saw a very thorough review undertaken by Justice Cromwell, back in 2013. One of the key recommendations from the Cromwell committee was the need to update terminology. Right now, under the Divorce Act, the terminology is quite adversarial, and that is not helpful as families deal with what is often the most difficult and challenging time couples can face when they are in a situation of marital breakdown.

Among the changes Bill C-78 would make would be to change the language to make it less adversarial, in accordance with the recommendations of the Cromwell committee. In what ways would the bill make the language in the Divorce Act less adversarial? For example, it would replace the term “custody” with the term “contact” and the term “access” with the term “parenting”.

Another aspect of the bill is that it would encourage parties to try to settle disputes through mediation or alternative dispute resolution. Far too much money is spent in our courts, and to the degree that families can settle their marital matters outside of court, outside of what is, by definition, an adversarial system, is a step in the right direction. Of course, as I alluded to, it would codify what is at this time a wide body of case law and have regard for the best interests of the child.

I spoke to an acquaintance of mine, who is a judge, and he told me that upon being appointed, one of the challenges was to get up to speed on different aspects of the law that he had never practised. For example, he had never practised criminal law before, so he certainly had to spend a lot of time getting up to speed. He said that aside from the academic side and getting up to speed on different aspects of the law, what he found to be the most difficult was trying to settle disputes when children were involved in terms of making orders respecting parenting, for example, because so often, he is making a decision that is going to profoundly affect the parents, the family and the child. I tell that anecdote to underline the gravity, the importance and the impact these changes would have.

As I say, we will study the bill at committee. I look forward to hearing from a wide array of witnesses and to exploring possible amendments.

JusticeGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I noted that the member acknowledged some of the very strong provisions in the legislation with respect to putting children first and enforcing child support payments. I want to ask him about the bill's impact on women. The context of my question is a couple of statistics.

We know that 96% of all people in what are called registered maintenance enforcement agreements involve payments of men to women. We also know that 60% of all of those registered in these maintenance enforcement agreements are in default, and the default is in excess of $1 billion. While this bill would impact children in a positive way, I want to hear the member's comments on how it would impact women, because Liberals very much feel that this is at the heart of a feminist approach by government and putting women, including middle-class women, first.

JusticeGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me first thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice for his question and also congratulate him on his appointment as parliamentary secretary. I had an opportunity to get to know the hon. parliamentary secretary over the last three years. I know that with his background as a lawyer, he will be well suited to his new role. I look forward to working with him closely on the justice committee.

The member raises a valid point about the issues around collection and in respect of women who often are disadvantaged in a divorce or marital breakdown. There is no question that it really has a significant financial impact. Oftentimes, people are losing half of what they have when there is a divorce.

All I can say is that we will look very carefully at the bill and work with the government and the parliamentary secretary in a constructive manner to hopefully craft the best possible legislation for women, families and children in Canada.

JusticeGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit awkward for me to stand to speak to a divorce bill, having enjoyed almost 40 years of a very happy marriage. Although we have had a very happy marriage, we also have a number of friends who have gone through uncomfortable divorces.

One thing that comes up, and has been mentioned as part of this bill, is child support payments. I would like to ask my colleague this. If this bill gets to committee, will he ensure that there are phrases and language in the bill to address some of the ways individuals are avoiding payments, such as by working for cash and not paying income tax so that none of it is reported to Revenue Canada? If it is under the table, it cannot be seen by the courts. I would like to ensure that he can look at wording to address that issue in the bill.

JusticeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with the comments of my colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap. I certainly agree with him on the importance of the matter he has raised. However, seeing that my time is nearly expiring, on a slightly more partisan note, I want to say this. It is a bit ironic that paramount in Bill C-78 are the best interests of the child, among other things, and rightfully so. What a contrast to Bill C-75, which is currently before the justice committee, which would water down sentences for a whole host of serious offences that directly impact children, including kidnapping a minor and forced marriage under the age of 16, and I could go on. The government is downgrading those offences that directly impact children from serious indictable offences to hybrid offences that could be punishable with a mere fine. Therefore, while it is encouraging that we are focused on the best interests of the child in this bill, I only wish the government would have the best interests of the child in all bills, including Bill C-75.

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11:05 a.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments, both in his speech and in his most recent responses to the question. However, what I would say is that we see strong statements in Bill C-78 with respect to defining family violence for the first time in a much more expansive way. It would give judges tools to use in interpreting family violence. I find a strong thematic consistency in Bill C-75, which he just mentioned, with respect to intimate partner violence. I would also say that, thematically, what both bills are trying to do is reduce reliance upon lawyers like me, and many in this House, who are involved in part of the overly litigious nature of the family law system. By encouraging people and giving them the tools to remove themselves from the court system, we would be reducing some of the backlog that characterizes that system, which is a goal that I think the member opposite and those on this side of the House share. I would put to him that those two are in fact compatible goals and that the legislation is moving in the same direction.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-78 appears to contain a number of measures to, among other things, combat family violence, and we welcome improvements to address the very serious and systemic issue of family violence. We have always stood up for the safety and well-being of children and families as Conservatives. Again, I reiterate that I, along with all my colleagues, intend to work closely with the government to achieve some of those objectives, which are very important.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I noticed that the government has also allotted, under this bill, approximately $77.2 million to be utilized in a program to help in situations like this. Often I get people calling my office, either one spouse or the other, who are in financial hardship, especially over these last three years of things happening in Alberta, and they do not have the funds to sit down and negotiate with a lawyer because of the cost.

I wonder if my friend from St. Albert—Edmonton could comment again on this alternate resolution process that might be started as a result of this program and whether it would be of benefit to couples and save them a lot of money. We used to have an old saying in Alberta that if people end up going through divorce, they take their estate and half goes to the legal firms, and they might end up with a quarter each if they end up going through a dispute.

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11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Yellowhead is absolutely right that the costs involved in litigating family disputes are extremely high. It costs thousands and thousands of dollars, often to do very little. By the time the matter is resolved, and it really is never resolved, because these things are ongoing when we are talking about children, who often are at the centre of these disputes, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars may be expended on lawyers. At the end of the day, no one benefits from that. Parents do not benefit, nor do children.

Of course, the obvious consequence when people are spending tens of thousands if not, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars is that a huge amount of resources that could otherwise go to support the children of the family are being expended on litigation. Lawyers, I guess, to some degree, benefit, although I do not think any lawyer takes comfort in seeing families in these disputes expending all kinds of money to no end.

As I mentioned, it is encouraging that this bill focuses on alternative dispute resolution. The faster these matters can be resolved outside of court, at as little cost as possible, stands to benefit everyone in the process. It is an encouraging sign.