Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today for the first time in this new House of Commons. I must admit that it is much bigger. There is a lot of space. It will likely encourage us to give impassioned speeches. All sorts of nice surprises await us over the next 10 years.
I would first like to acknowledge the excellent work that was done by the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I would particularly like to thank our justice critic, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, for his work on this file and for the much-needed assistance he provided to each of our colleagues in understanding the issues related to Bill C-78. I thank him for his valuable advice.
For those watching at home, we are talking about 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.
I will get into the nitty gritty of the bill a little later on, but I would like to take a moment to share something relevant to this topic. I am very fortunate to have never had personal experience with the Divorce Act. I am so blessed to have had such an extraordinary woman by my side for more than 27 years. We have been through good and not-so-good times. There have been many ups along with the downs.
Caro and I have three children, who have always been our pride and joy. Like most parents, we have tried to make every decision in the best interests of our children. There have been hits and misses, but no one can say that we have not tried to always act in the best interests of our children. The longevity of our relationship can be attributed to communication, dialogue and co-operation. Like many of my colleagues, I plan to keep investing in our family in the years to come.
I understand that, unfortunately, no two relationships are the same and that stories do not always have a happy ending. Children are often at the centre of these stories that end badly. Some divorces can be very difficult. There are fights over the children, domestic violence and children who become fought-after pawns because of the law. Parents fight for custody of their children. Any couple who turns to the courts must embark on this long and difficult process.
Throughout this process, people experience strong emotions. Some are hurt, others are angry. There are all kinds of factors that make it difficult for them to go through this legal process. There is also the whole financial aspect. In the past few years, when the time came to discuss custody and determine who was the better parent, the courts used a win-lose approach. One parent would get custody of the children and the other had to settle for weekends. It was time to overhaul this legislation.
The bill does a number of things. First, it replaces the terminology pertaining to custody and access with terms that reflect the parental role to try to minimize these wars where there is a winner and a loser. The bill establishes a list of criteria concerning the interests of the child. It will create obligations for the parties and legal counsel to encourage the use of family dispute settlement mechanisms. I know that we already have such a process in Quebec, but incorporating it into law will make it official. It is absolutely essential. It is often hard enough to make a marriage work. There is no need to make divorce even more difficult.
It is not always necessary to involve the courts. It is not always necessary to pay exorbitant lawyers' fees and spend weeks, months or years arguing in court. There are other ways. That is what this bill will help with. It will also introduce measures to assist the courts in addressing family violence. I will come back to that. It will establish a framework for the relocation of a child and simplify certain processes, including those related to family support obligations.
Those are the key principles. Based on what has been presented, this bill should help attain certain fundamental objectives.
The first is to promote the best interests of the child, by emphasizing the importance of ensuring that the child's best interests are always the primary consideration in family law when parental decisions are being made.
The second objective is to address family violence by requiring the courts to take into account parental violence, its seriousness, its impact on the child, and future parenting arrangements.
The third objective is to reduce child poverty by offering more tools for calculating child support and for enforcing support orders.
Finally, the bill should make Canada's family justice system more accessible and efficient by simplifying the various definitions and processes, giving provincial child support recalculation services more flexibility, alleviating the courts' workloads by allowing provincial administrative child support services to carry out some tasks for which the courts are currently responsible, and requiring legal professionals to encourage their clients to use means other than the courts to resolve disputes.
As I mentioned, all of these measures seek to put the best interests of the child first. In the case of separation or divorce, children are always the victims of their parents' relationship. As we all know, children do not get to choose what family they are born into. Some are lucky, while others are less so. Unfortunately, in an emotional situation like a separation, life can easily become increasingly difficult for children. We all know of children whose parents went through difficult divorces and who had a lot of problems after that, who took years to recover from the experience and who will always carry the emotional scars of that difficult period.
Thirty years on, it makes perfect sense to me that the courts should put the child's best interests first in all their decisions. What makes no sense is why it took so many years to make these changes. Neither the Divorce Act nor any of the other acts I mentioned earlier have been changed to any significant extent in over 30 years, even though the reality of Canadian families has changed a lot in the past 30-plus years. Divorce is more common now than it was when the act initially came into force in 1968.
I would like to share some statistics. According to the 2016 census, five million Canadians separated or divorced between 1991 and 2011. Of those, 38% had a child together at the time of their divorce. I will point out that the act we are discussing today relates only to divorce. It does not deal with common-law partners, only legally married parents. The 2016 census showed that over two million children were living in separated or divorced families. Over a million children of separated families were living in single-parent families, and another million were living in step families.
I want to point out that a separation creates single-parent families. The statistics show that single-parent families, and in particular ones in which a woman is the custodial parent, are more likely to be poor than two-parent families. This is a fact. It is understandable, then, in these cases, that the parent would not have a lot of money to spend on legal fees to assert her rights, for example. We cannot lose sight of this reality in our jobs as legislators.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons we support this bill is that it puts the best interest of the child first. Promoting the best interest of the child, helping to address family violence, fighting child poverty and making Canada's family justice system more accessible and effective are all features that we as parliamentarians must stand up for.
Of course, I hope those folks over there do not expect us to agree with everything in Bill C-78. There are certain items that need a closer look. I know my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights had recommended some amendments to the bill, but they were rejected. There was one that really stood out for me. I would have liked Bill C-78 to provide for the possibility of shared parenting in the consideration of determining factors in the best interest of the child.
This is not always true, but I do know some people who were better at getting a divorce than they were at being married. They exist. This change would make such situations legal, when people can reach an understanding. Shared parenting would give them more flexibility. It can work, although I realize it does not work in every situation. This would have given judges the authority to consider that as a determining factor.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one important amendment to the bill made by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. On December 5, the committee unanimously adopted an amendment to include the right to testify, plead, make observations and receive a judgment in the official language of one's choice. I believe this is very important to all Canadians.