moved that Bill C-232, an act to amend the Divorce Act (granting of access to, or custody of, a child to a grandparent), be read the second time and referred to committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin the debate on Bill C-232, an act to amend the Divorce Act. I am speaking today on behalf of all our grandchildren who are without their grandparents at this time and on behalf of all the grandparents in Canada who have worked long and hard to convince the legislators of Canada that this bill is necessary.
In the time I have to speak today I would like to go through exactly what this bill sets out to accomplish and then discuss the need for the bill. Finally, I will attempt to give enough reasons so that all members of this House can unite in support of this bill.
The main purpose of Bill C-232 is to fill a void in the Divorce Act in the area of access and custody. At present only parents of a child are allowed to discuss access and custody in a court in the case of divorce. The practical effect of this is that grandparents
who may have spent considerable time with their grandchildren have no automatic right of standing in court.
At the present time if grandparents are concerned that this access might be cut off as a result of the divorce, they must first seek leave of the court to raise the access or custody issue. Should leave be granted, then and only then have they a right to ask the court to put a right of access clause for them as grandparents in the divorce decree of the parents.
Dealing specifically with the provisions of the bill, the first clause would amend section 10 of the Divorce Act. This is the section of the Divorce Act which deals with access and custody. Under clause 1, grandparents would have standing in court to seek either access or, I suppose in some exceptional circumstances, custody of the grandchildren.
Clause 2 of the bill seeks to amend section 17 of the Divorce Act dealing with applications to vary access or custody orders. Therefore, if at a time after the order for access or custody was granted under section 16 and it was found that the original decision was not appropriate, then it would be open to the grandparents to go back to the court just as parents can do to seek amendment of the original order.
Again, with the adoption of this clause grandparents would have the automatic right to standing in the court should either the parents or they seek to wish alteration of the original access or custody order.
Finally, the bill would add a new clause to the Divorce Act which deals specifically with the amendments contained in Bill C-232. This new clause requires that the clauses contained in this bill be referred to an appropriate committee of this House four years after their coming into force so that a committee of this House can review the effectiveness of the provisions.
One part of the bill I did not refer to is clause 2 part (2). This clause seeks to amend subsection 16, part (5) of the Divorce Act. It would give grandparents who have a right of access a right to make inquiries and to be given information as to the health, education and welfare of the child.
I have had discussions on the legality and appropriateness of this clause with my friend on the other side of the House, the member for Nepean. My friend from Nepean has a private member's bill on the Order Paper quite similar to Bill C-232. We have approached this matter in a non-partisan fashion.
She has brought to my attention that this subclause could give grandparents more rights than the parents of the children presently enjoy. This subclause may also contravene privacy acts or rights of the child which may exist by statute or common law.
Therefore while procedurally it cannot be removed at this time, I trust when the bill gets to committee this clause can be deleted.
While I am dealing with technicalities, I thought it important to bring to the attention of the House the wording of the new Quebec Civil Code as it relates to grandparents and the issue of access arising out of divorce of the parents. It states in section 611:
In no case may the father or mother, without a grave reason, interfere with personal relations between the child and his grandparents.
Failing agreement between the parties, terms and conditions of these relations are decided by the courts.
Therefore in Quebec, thanks to the Civil Code, grandparents enjoy the right of standing in court and therefore this bill would compliment the Civil Code or simply not be operative in the province of Quebec, as the matter is already covered by legislation.
Having dealt with what Bill C-232 does, it is important now to turn to the need for such legislation.
This proposal has a long history. In the last Parliament it appeared as a private member's bill in the name of the former member for Delta from the Progressive Conservative Party. In this Parliament there is a private member's motion by the member for Winnipeg Transcona. The subject matter has also been the subject of the member for Ottawa West's householders. Of course my good friend from Nepean also has a private member's bill on the Order Paper dealing with the same subject matter.
Therefore, the subject matter of this bill receives wide support in the House. For that reason I want to make it clear this is not a partisan issue, not a Reform issue, not a political issue, but a grandchildren's and a grandparents' issue, a human issue which has to be addressed now.
When we discuss grandchildren we usually envision a happy family scene with the entire family present. Perhaps it is a holiday time like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when grandparents are always a part of the celebration, or Mother's Day or Father's Day, when a special part of the day recognizes grandparents as well as parents, with gifts made by children who are also grandchildren.
It is my sad duty today to remind Canadians everywhere that this happy scene is not always the case, that in fact many of our senior citizens no longer have happy Christmases or Thanksgivings, or any other holiday celebrations, because one of the major parts of the whole is missing. Many Canadian grandchildren no longer see their grandparents.
I suppose many of us, busy with our lives, never took the time to care or find out that some Canadian families are missing vital parts to keep them whole. We cannot do anything about the growing divorce rate which seems to know no check point. These are adults who must make their own decisions. We can address the needs of the family members for whom no one seems to be speaking, the rights of the grandchild, the rights of
all our grandchildren to see, to visit, to talk to their grandparents.
The movement for this type of legislation, which will only give grandparents standing before the courts, began a number of years ago in 1986 in British Columbia with the founding of the Canadian Grandparents' Rights Association. Now we have other chapters across Canada.
In Ontario, one grandparents group goes by the name of Grandparents Requesting Access and Dignity or GRAND. Another Ontario support group is Grandchildren/Grandparents' Rights of Wholeness through Heritage or GROWTH. It was formed by the group of grandparents concerned over the failure of provincial and federal legislation to adequately address the issue of grandchildren's rights to visit with their grandparents.
All these groups and others I have not yet mentioned are trying to address grandchildren's rights. Article 5 of the convention of the rights of the child, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989, requires state parties to respect the responsibility, rights and duties not only of parents but also of members of the extended family.
Article 16 of the said convention provides that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with family. Preventing a child from seeking his or her grandparents without just cause is unlawful interference with family. It is important that we look at why it is important that contact between grandchildren and grandparents be maintained after the divorce of the parents.
Would it simply not be cleaner and neater to cut off access so the children of the divorce, the memories of grandparents and the way it used to be when mommy and daddy lived together simply faded with the passage of time? Fortunately this is not the opinion of experts in the files of family psychology. Anton Klarich, chief psychologist of the French language separate schools in Essex county states: "A tremendous amount of love and security can go a long way to help children who are worried about what lies ahead of them in an increasingly uncertain world".
Klarich was referring to a report released in August 1993 by the Ontario government which showed that children as young as 10 are overwhelmed by the helplessness that grips family members worried about personal and financial problems. The children absorb feelings of insecurity, worry and fear. Klarich says: "With such a scenario it's good to know there is someone there within a child's family, the grandparents, who always provide love and stability".
This short poem reflects just such a feeling of love and security instilled in a young grandson by his grandpa entitled "Grandpa and Me":
He's never too busy to listen He's never too tired to play We go up on a hill and down together we ski My Grandpa and me.
We go camping and we go fishing A great fisherman is he And then we sleep out under the trees# My Grandpa and me.
I know that someday he will leave me And I'll be as sad as can be But I'll always remember the good times we had My Grandpa and me.
This poem was written by an 11-year old grandson and I think he says it all very well. Lynn Wells, chief psychologist for the Wellington Board of Education in Guelph, Ontario, believes that grandparents contribute to the upbringing of grandchildren in more positive ways than they realize.
Young children create their self-concepts from the comments that people give them. So the more positive and loving people that are around them, to give them different perspectives of themselves, the more widely developed their self-esteem is.
A study in 1986 at the University of Guelph found that grandmothers have an innate tendency to respond to the needs and emotional upheaval of a grandchild.
The study was conducted by Jim Gladstone, a professor of social work surveyed 80 grandmothers in southwestern Ontario whose children had divorced or separated. Gladstone has said: "Previous research on children of divorce suggest that young children have very little opportunity to talk about the break-up. Grandmothers seem to be prepared to talk and listen to their grandchildren".
I want to share with members a poem written by a grandmother who has been denied access to her grandchildren. I believe she is asking us to listen:
The Voice of the Children
We've given our all or we wouldn't be here And I'm saddened to say we don't have the ear Of those, who we pray, might listen to us, Until then we'll cry and try not to fuss- Or worry about the children we love-
May they be safe, while God up above Listens and answers our prayers from the heart- While giving us guidance and some way to chart A way, to the children, so near yet so far- Hoping their plight is not going to mar
An innocent child, whose crime was to be Bonded to parents who don't wish to see The child is a victim, who does not deserve To be treated as chattel-the purpose they serve When used in a battle they can't understand- Their cries go unheeded-the laws of the land Must soon see the light, in the grandparent's role, Until then, their lives are the terrible toll
That are paid, while they suffer, alone, with no way To fight for their rights, with so little say In who they might see or what they may do- To whom they can speak-yet never to you- Do they forget-believe we don't care? I pray they are happy and not as aware
As I, who am saddened, with each passing day, Not seeing their sweet little faces, at play- With tears, never ending, at least in my heart Each day is forever that we are apart- Grant me some wisdom-the strength I will need To comfort another, for I know how they bleed- In their anguish and sorrow they look for a sign As their tears intermingle, so freely, with mine-
All children are precious and sacred to me- We're fighting a battle to help them be free Of parents who own them-both body and soul As long as I live may this be my goal! They suffer, in silence, and never a word- The voice of the children needs to be heard!
This poem is both a statement and a question. It is from one of our many hurting grandparents.
Ruth Isbister, Toronto author of Grandparents Don't Just Babysit says that the role and function of grandparents as the connection between past and future has not changed nor has their natural ability to make a child feel special. ``You transfer a feeling of confidence to your grandchild''. By their presence, grandparents add something to the child's comprehension of the continuity of life.
In fact one of the leading jurists in the United States in the area of grandparents' rights stated in 1992 that there were over three million children nationwide in the states being raised by grandparents.
The case for grandparents' rights has also been captured dramatically in the brief submitted by the Canadian Grandparents Rights Association of Richmond, B.C., to the Department of Justice. I would like to quote some passages from this brief:
The experience of the grandparents' society shows that the true safety net with regard to child rearing is not the state but the grandparents.
It is important to understand that this safety net is provided by grandparents not based upon the hopeless inefficiency of state bureaucracies. It does not function on the basis of filling out forms, making appointments, or qualifying by any test, nor is it governed or supervised by a psychologist, a counsellor, a therapist or a mediator. It is usually available on a phone call, the call often being a product of an emergency and attracts no publicity at all. It does not become an occasion for grandstanding in the press or in the courts.
The brief goes on to say:
At present when there is a family break-up and the need to look after children, there is no obligation on the state to even notify members of the extended families, let alone consult with them, although state agencies will occasionally issue statements suggesting that that is the policy. In fact the state's policy is that the family ends with the parents which defies the social practice of Canadians across the country. In dealing with aboriginal communities in B.C. the same policy has come to be quite otherwise. An Indian band for instance will be notified if children of a band member have been apprehended. They will be given every assistance to look after the child within that community.
It is not clear to us why a perfectly sensible policy now developing in the case of aboriginals should be denied the overwhelming majority of Canadians. "This, with regard to grandparents specifically, where they are often more than ready to look after the children of a broken family.
When family is available, grandparent or extended family, it should be preferred to strangers in matters of custody, and that should be a statutory presumption. Access should be provided to grandparents also by a legal presumption, so that a parent who would deny it will have to make that case, will have to go to a judge and persuade".
I think you will agree this is pretty powerful stuff. On the other hand it is written by people who have contributed to society for a great many years and are now frustrated by the rules of that society.
There is another issue here we need to address. We have a growing crime rate with young offenders. Jails are crowded already. Is it not time we began to use common sense and preventive measures? We must reach children before they begin school. This is not a problem to be dumped on teachers. It begins in the home. Responsibility begins in the home.
Why then are we ignoring the very group in our society who can help build strong character and a sense of responsibility within our children, our senior citizens. They are experienced. They are wise. They are loving. They are willing to help, yes, willing to help.
I recently had the honour of listening to Judge Andrea Ruffo speak of her concerns that children know they are loved and needed, that they are encouraged to try to follow their dreams. Grandparents have the time to discuss our grandchildren's dreams with them and to encourage them.
I am not suggesting that all grandparents should have access to their grandchildren. I know there are some problems. That is why I stress the courts will make the decision in the best interests of the child. We must not punish 95 per cent of grandparents for 5 per cent of the problems.
Bill C-232 is designed to relieve some of this frustration. We owe it to these grandparents and we owe it to the grandchildren to see this bill passed into law. This is the year of the family. Families should include grandparents and great-grandparents. It is important that grandparents be given the rights set out in the bill.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the House, we can do something. We have been sent to Parliament to make a difference. The passage of Bill C-232 will not cost the Canadian taxpayers anything except the cost of a stamp to alert grandparents when the divorce case will be heard before the courts. This bill will only give Canadian grandparents the right to be heard.
Access will only be granted if the judge feels it is in the best interests of the grandchild.
We often say we can do nothing. We have no excuse to say today we can do nothing. If and when this bill goes to committee, necessary changes can be made if it is decided in the best interests of the child.
Bills are amended every day if necessary. Here we can address a problem too long denied in our country, the right of the child to his or her family. May I suggest that this is such a time to relieve the frustrations of grandparents not able to visit or see their grandchildren.
I know that some will question the appropriateness of this bill because it deals with the problems of a very small group of people. It can be argued that this type of change should be made in the context of an overall review of family law at the provincial level. There it could deal with common law relationships and with children put in foster homes.
I can tell you that the grandparents groups that tried this avenue have been given the usual bureaucratic runaround. It is time to do something positive for those who helped to build this great country, grandparents. If this bill is passed and becomes law then perhaps the provincial jurisdictions will move to broaden the group who could benefit from such as law. However, let us, the members of this federal Parliament, take a stand today and get on with this bill.
May I remind the House our Prime Minister on his recent tour to China made the comment that representatives of different political stripes can pull together for the benefit of the country and all Canadians.
As I said at the beginning of my speech this is not a partisan issue. I hope and I know grandparents across the country hope that the government will support this measure so that it will be passed into law and fill one of the large holes in the Divorce Act. The voice of the children needs to be heard.