moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is with humility that I rise for the first time as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
I want to thank the right hon. Prime Minister for the trust he has placed in me. I also thank the people of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun for their continued support. I would also like to thank the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for their guidance. I also want to thank their teams.
I would also like to salute the work of my predecessor. It was a historic appointment, and it was matched by a historic quantity of substantive legislation. I want to thank her as we move forward.
I would also like to thank the chair and the members of the committee, as well as the witnesses who expressed their support and provided insights and recommendations on Bill C-78. I would also like to acknowledge the recent expression of support for Bill C-78 on the part of the federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety.
Finally, I could not go on without mentioning the constant support of my very able parliamentary secretary, the member for Parkdale—High Park.
The needs of families going through a separation or divorce have changed significantly over the past decades. Federal family laws are now outdated and do not meet their needs. That is why we are proud to present the first major changes to these laws in more than 20 years.
The bill will modernize federal family laws and improve the family justice system, in particular by encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution methods, and ensuring that the best interests of the child are at the heart of any decisions affecting them.
The best interests of the child is a fundamental principle in family law that must be reinforced to ensure that the support and the protection of our children are always paramount. Bill C-78 entrenches in law the best interests of the child as the only consideration when making decisions about parenting arrangements.
Along these lines, the bill introduces a primary consideration, according to which a child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being will be considered above all else. Courts will have to weigh each best interest criterion in light of this primary consideration.
Proposed changes also recognize the importance of a child's voice in family justice proceedings. Bill C-78 puts forward concrete measures to promote the best interests of the child in situations in which children are most vulnerable. The bill introduces criteria to determine the best interests of the child, as well as important considerations and exceptions when there has been family violence.
With thanks to witnesses heard by the committee, the bill has been amended so that in some cases of family violence, applications to modify a parenting arrangement or to relocate can be made without notice to other parties, which will provide further protection to children and families fleeing these situations.
A number of witnesses addressed the issue of a presumption of equal shared parenting under the Divorce Act. While some witnesses were in favour of a presumption, most were strongly opposed to it. Creating such a presumption would have gone against our commitment to ensure that each child's best interests would always be put first. Given that each child and each family's circumstances are unique, courts need flexibility to tailor parenting orders to the needs of each particular child.
We recognize, however, the important role that both parents can play in a child's life. Bill C-78 reflects social science evidence that it is generally important for children to have a relationship with both parents after divorce. Thus, the bill requires courts to apply the “maximum parenting time” principle that a child should have as much time with each parent as is consistent with the child's best interests.
Witnesses raised concerns that this principle may create a misunderstanding that equal time with each parent should be the starting point when establishing a parenting order. To address these concerns, the bill was amended to further clarify that this principle is always subject to the best interests of the child.
Another important aspect that has been the subject of considerable discussion over the past few years is recognition of linguistic rights in the Divorce Act.
After hearing from witnesses on the matter, including the Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law and the Canadian Bar Association, we amended the bill to allow parties to use either official language in any proceedings under the Divorce Act.
Parties will have exactly the same linguistic rights as those provided for under Part XVII of the Criminal Code in criminal matters. In other words, anyone can testify and submit evidence in the official language of their choice. Parties will also be able to be heard by a judge who speaks their language and can obtain any ruling or order in the official language of their choice.
This important change will improve access to the family justice system and help enhance the vitality of official language minority communities.
Our government has been growing the middle class and helping those working hard to join it. Bill C-78 furthers this work by making important contributions to help address child poverty.
Family breakdown often places significant financial strain on families. For some families, divorce may lead to poverty. Lone-parent families, most often led by women, are at a particularly high risk of experiencing financial hardship. This bill will improve federal support enforcement tools, such as the release of income information, to ensure that fair and accurate support amounts can be calculated.
Bill C-78 sets out obligations for parents who divorce in order to protect the children, promote their best interests and foster the amicable settlement of family disputes.
Parents will now be required to exercise their decision-making responsibilities in a manner that is compatible with the interests of the child and will protect children from conflict. These obligations should already have been accepted by divorced parents. However, making this an explicit rule will remind parties of their obligations under the Divorce Act.
To foster Canadians' access to justice, the Department of Justice will prepare various documents to inform the public of the changes proposed by the bill and guide families through the divorce process.
This leads me to mention another important objective, that is, making the family justice system more accessible and efficient.
In closing, Bill C-78 shows our commitment to enhancing the family justice system. This bill seeks to protect families, especially the children, from the adverse effects that can be caused by a divorce by focusing on dispute resolution and the interests of the child.
Once again, I would like to thank all those who contributed to the committee process.
I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to join me in supporting this very progressive bill.