Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-78, which, as has been said by the minister, is an 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.
As has been said, it has been 30 years since we have seen substantive amendments to the Divorce Act. In that time, the courts and the family law bar have been moving forward with modernizing divorce proceedings in Canada with updated language and terminology aimed at making the process less adversarial. It is good to see that the government is moving forward with legislation to bring the statute in line with the direction the family law sector has been moving in for several years now. While support for these amendments is by no means universal, they are generally being well received by the family law bar, at least in terms of the research that I have gone through in the response to Bill C-78.
Since its tabling in May, there has been a fairly steady stream of commentary, mostly in the legal press, regarding the bill and most of it has been positive. The bill's focus on updating the language surrounding controversial terms such as custody and access and replacing that with language that places the emphasis on parenting responsibilities, parenting time, parental decision-making, etc., is a positive one, in my view.
The language of the current statute is clearly adversarial and establishes a winner and loser scenario in which one parent wins custody of the child over the other. In the already emotional situation of divorce, this adds to the tension and is clearly not in the best interests of the child. With this change in language, my hope is that, should the bill make it to committee, the ramifications beyond the courts and involved parties with the new terminology will be looked at closely.
While many judges and family law practitioners have been using this less adversarial language for years now, other parties that have less direct involvement in divorce and custody proceedings are still rooted in the 30-year-old terminology this bill seeks to replace. I am thinking of Children's Aid societies, schools, law enforcement and others who may be called to intervene in disputes. They are operating under the existing language of custody and access. How will they react to this new language? Will their own enabling legislation or internal rule sets require changes as a result? How will they adapt? My hope is that the justice committee takes a long and detailed look at these potential rough spots.
The road to this set of reforms has been a while in coming. In 2013, the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, which is known as the Cromwell committee, published its final report calling for meaningful change in the family justice system. Specifically, the committee report called for particular emphasis on increasing the use of consensual dispute resolution methods. It also recommended the language of custody and access be replaced by the language of parental responsibility and contact.
In preparing for this debate, I reviewed some of the case law that is of significant importance to the bill. In particular, I would like to quote a 2015 case from the Court of Appeal of Ontario, known as M v. F, 2015 ONCA, at page 277. This is with respect to the old terminology of custody and access and its tendency to produce a culture of winners and losers.
From paragraphs 38 to 40 of the decision, the appellate justice wrote:
 The Ontario legislation does not require the trial judge to make an order for custody. Section 28(1) (a) of the CLRA is permissive, not mandatory: The court … by order may grant the custody of or access to the child to one or more persons.
 For over twenty years, multi-disciplinary professionals have been urging the courts to move away from the highly charged terminology of “custody” and “access.” These words denote that there are winners and losers when it comes to children. They promote an adversarial approach to parenting and do little to benefit the child. The danger of this “winner/loser syndrome” in child custody battles has long been recognized.
 It was therefore open to the trial judge to adopt the “parenting plan” proposed by the assessor without awarding “custody.” It was also in keeping with the well-recognized view that the word “custody” denotes “winner” so consequently the other parent is the “loser” and this syndrome is not in the best interests of the child.
Therefore, we see in this instance that the words “custody” and “access” have been causing trouble for a long time, and the bill's proposed move away from them should be viewed positively. How that plays out on the ground remains to be seen, of course. Divorce is, by definition, an emotional experience and with children in the mix, reason sometimes escapes the participants.
Another emphasis of the bill is to encourage those involved in divorce proceedings to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms rather than resort to litigation. Again, I view this as a positive step. Litigation over children is very expensive and potentially very destructive. It is certainly almost never in the best interest of the child. Moving away from litigation and moving towards alternative dispute resolutions such as the use of parenting coordinators, family justice counsellors, mediators or arbitrators will go some distance in protecting children from the fallout of adult litigation.
When choosing to go the litigation route, parents can often lose sight of the fact that their children stand to be adversely affected by the litigation process. Indeed, they can even become weapons used by one or both parties to the litigation, to the great detriment of the child or children. Efforts to protect children against adult litigation are commendable and it is a positive aspect of this proposed legislation.
Another aspect of the bill seeks to establish a framework for the relocation of a child. The bill would establish a shifting burden of proof when one parent wishes to relocate. If the parties have substantially equal parenting time assigned by the court, the relocating party bears the burden of establishing that the relocation is in the best interest of the child. If the child spends the vast majority of their time with one party, the other party must establish that the relocation is not in the best interest of the child. The court retains flexibility to make adjustments to existing orders when determining these arrangements, again, in the best interest of the child.
I mentioned earlier in my comments this afternoon that while the overall reception of the bill has been positive, the reaction has not been universally so. Some critics have argued that the bill's lack of a rebuttable presumption for equal shared parenting as the default position for any divorce negotiation is less than ideal. They point to social science research that suggests that the default position of equal shared parenting leads to better outcomes for children. Of course, equal shared parenting is not always ideal, which is why they suggest that a default position should be rebuttable. The lack of this default position in the bill is a detriment for these critics.
Others have noted that replacing the terms “custody” and “access” with parenting-based terms would not substantially reduce the conflict that can be central in divorce proceedings. Some predict that the fights between parents over custody would, in future, turn into fights over who has “decision-making responsibility”, another term in the legislation. They claim that it is inherent in the process. There is clearly some work here for the members of the justice committee, should the bill pass second reading.
I trust my colleagues will seek out the views not only of the family bar but of all those who have an interest in supporting the decision of the courts in divorce matters, as well as experts in research and academia who make this their field of study. This would require a broad range of witnesses who will no doubt have suggestions for improvements to the bill. I would encourage the government side not to reject those suggestions out of hand but to consider them in light of this legislation's more positive, less adversarial approach to divorce proceedings in Canada. There may well be room for improvement here.
In closing, I for one am generally positive about the direction the bill seeks to take and look forward to the deliberations at the committee stage. I am sure they will be enlightening for all members.