Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the issue of a unified family court although it took a long time to get around to that in the hon. member's address. It occurred to me that perhaps she was trying to use Motion No. 147 as a way to go back over Bill C-41. It is interesting that would be the case.
It is also interesting since we are so close to International Women's Day that the member would again promote an anti-feminist agenda which promotes the interest of the boys and not of women as the Reform Party usually does.
She suggests the federal government has somehow failed in the area of unified family courts when these courts virtually exist all over the country. We are talking about a court system that requires a lot of provincial co-operation. She should return to her own province and speak to them about the importance of unified family courts and of co-operating with us on that process.
It is unfair to suggest the federal government has failed here. A simple reading of the Constitution by a child would indicate that the court system is the responsibility of the provincial government.
Unified family courts as they exist now have provided a model of co-operation in the administration of justice. Governments, providers of professional and community services, the judiciary and the bar have all co-operated to establish these in some provinces. Unified family courts send a strong message of what can be accomplished through the development of partnerships and the sharing of ideas. The federal government is ready, willing and able to be at the table but not all provinces co-operate. The federal government has supported the establishment of unified family courts for over 20 years.
It is interesting the hon. member would cite the 1974 Law Reform Commission of Canada report. When we recently reinstated the commission the Reform Party voted against it. In any event she is relying on their old work and I suppose we should be thankful for that.
Discussions followed shortly after that report with all governments. What we found out at that time is that all governments were concerned over the division of jurisdiction of family law matters between two and sometimes more levels of court.
In some provinces as many as five different courts were handling family problems. There was overlapping, fragmentation and different judges for custody, wardship, adoption, child maintenance and divorce. This led to a multiplication of efforts but also sometimes to irreconcilable decisions. This complexity also had an effect on the ability of families to resolve their disputes quickly and at reasonable cost.
An additional concern for governments was the provision of adequate support services for family litigants. It was agreed that intake services, including referral to community based professional services, was essential for the effective operation of a unified court. Family counselling and family life education programs were recommended by the Canadian Law Reform Commission and enforcement services were also recommended that could take on the responsibility for ensuring that court orders were respected.
In Ontario those enforcement provisions have fallen apart because Ontario wants to put in a multi-billion dollar tax cut which results in their not having enough money for their enforcement proceedings. My office and the office of other Ontario MPs are receiving requests for assistance every day to enforce their orders.
The hon. member might want to keep that in mind when she is talking about tax cuts.
There was wide agreement in 1974 that these kinds of services were important in ensuring that those who sought help could get it in the form most appropriate to their needs. In July 1975 Prince Edward Island became the first province to create a unified family court. Then, in May 1976 a funding program administered by the Department of Justice, under which the federal government agreed to cost share the operation of unified family court initially for three years, was instituted. Four other provinces then participated, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
The first unified family court was in Hamilton-Wentworth, established in July 1977, 20 years ago. In August 1995 the family court became a separate branch of the Ontario Court general division and expanded to London, Barrie, Kingston and Napanee.
Saskatchewan established a unified family court in December 1978. In December 1994 those services which started in Saskatoon were expanded to Regina and Prince Albert.
A unified family court in St. John's, Newfoundland was established in June 1979, providing services to St. John's and the surrounding area.
New Brunswick established a unified family court in 1979. In September of that year a court was created to provide family services at Fredericton. In 1983 a family division of the Court of Queen's Bench in New Brunswick was established to provide those services province wide.
Manitoba did not participate in the pilot projects but in 1983 it established a family division of its Court of Queen's Bench to serve greater Winnipeg.
All these courts, including one in Nova Scotia which is now being established, have been set up with the co-operation and financial support of the federal government. A unified family court will be one of the options considered in discussions on court structure for the new territory of Nunavut.
Progress on the creation of a nationwide system of family courts has proceeded at a steady pace. It has been aided since 1981 by the maintenance of a pool of judicial salaries, pre-authorized by Parliament, that can be used as the need arises to fill positions created by provinces and territories.
With respect to the unified family courts and the structure and the need they fill, I would like to talk a bit about the philosophy behind the unified family court as it exists. It is to able families to resolve their differences to the greatest possible extent in a single forum. This can only be done if the courts are given both federal and provincial powers to deal with all aspects of family law. This is something the Reform Party seems to forget.
Since a large part of family law, including divorce and custody, falls within federal jurisdiction, unified family courts have to be established at that level. This ensures that the single court concept, one stop shopping, is maintained. Unified courts de-emphasizes the adversarial approach normally associated with courts of law in favour of a more informal dispute resolution approach.
Alternatives to legal resolutions are sought where practicable. A wide variety of professional and community services are made available to court users.
This model is seen as a way of making the court system more accessible, less threatening and more responsive to the needs of family members. It has wide acceptance among the public, family support professionals and organizations as well as the legal profession.
There has been high degree of co-operation between provincial and federal governments in the process of identifying women and men who are best suited to exercise the role of judge in these courts. There has been co-operation on funding. For example, when Ontario expanded its court in 1995 the federal government required that the salary savings realized from the federal government paying judges' salaries instead of the province be funnelled back into support services for the court.
Nova Scotia is willing to accept or has at least suggested a similar arrangement to assist in the funding of its courts. The obvious benefits for both governments are that we take over the payment of judges' salaries and the province uses that money that it has saved and it does not have to find new money to pay for important services.
All the things that my hon. friend is suggesting are going on, while the federal government then has the assurance that it requires that adequate funding will be made available to support the court once it is established.
All governments are wrestling with the problem of maintaining court services in attempting to reduce overall costs. To suggest, though, that the federal government is not doing its share is quite unfair. The hon. member talks about case load management like it is something new.
Case load management in Hamilton-Wentworth grew out of a system in Windsor, Ontario in the federally appointed court which was applied to family matters and other matters. All courts are working with this.
Mandatory mediations, all the things that the hon. member is suggesting, exist. They may not be mandatory but they do exist. After all, I would suggest to the hon. member that it is up to the litigants, the people who are involved, to decide whether they want to slug it out in court or whether they want to go to mediation. It is not up to the hon. member who, I would suggest, is following an
agenda which is more suitable to the support of men's rights than to the support of the rights of families.