Mr. Speaker, over the past few decades, society has gone through some serious economic and social upheaval. We are seeing the emergence of new types of families. There is a growing number of single parent and blended families.
According to the most recent census of 2006, there were 1,267,000 families in Quebec. Of that number, one-third were single parent families. They now represent a little more than a quarter of all families. That is the highest percentage ever recorded. We must take this new reality into account.
That is why I am speaking to Bill C-560, which amends the Divorce Act to replace the concept of custody orders with that of parenting orders. This bill instructs judges to apply the principle of equal parenting when making a parenting order.
This is not the first time that this bill has come before the House. It is similar to Bill C-422 from the last Parliament, in 2010. As with its predecessor, I have some reservations about Bill C-560.
When it comes to divorce, we must focus the debate on the real issue and that is the best interests of the child. I fear that is not the case with Bill C-560. It shifts the emphasis from the children to the rights of the parents.
In June 2010, in the context of its submission on the issue, the Canadian Bar Association said:
...any discussion of “parental rights” is misguided when resolving arrangements for children. The sole focus must be what is best for children.
When a parent before the law must put the interests of the child first, he or she is more inclined to put aside personal interests and make compromises. What is more, under the existing legislation, there is already the option of shared custody, if that is in the best interests of the child.
By amending the existing law, as Bill C-560 proposes, I wonder if we are not encouraging families to engage in lengthy and costly legal battles that will have an adverse affect on the child and the parents.
I would like my esteemed colleagues across the way to tell me whether this bill will give rise to an increased number of more aggressive litigation cases.
I fear that the consequences of Bill C-560 will put more emotional and financial pressure on parents and children who are already vulnerable. Combine that with the fact that some jurisdictions provide very little legal or financial aid for family matters, and we see the limits of this bill. The Canadian Bar Association shares these same concerns.
Parents make decisions before going to court, and those decisions will be better informed if they have their community's support. Parental equality would be more appropriate if those communities had more funding for parental education and had better legal services.
The current legislation always takes these variables into consideration, while keeping the best interests of the child in mind. The child must remain the primary principle in family law in Canada.
Here is how Bill C-560 changes this principle. It tries to create a presumption of equal shared parenting by ignoring the best interests of the child. However, shared custody would not be suitable for all family situations. In fact, many factors need to be taken into account to determine how the child's interests would be best served.
In other words, one size does not fit all. Each child's situation is unique, with different variables. Children grow up in different communities with dynamics that are not always the same. Judges must assess each case separately.
The NDP supports the principles in certain provisions of Bill C-560 concerning the importance of consultation, mediation and arbitration, provided that all this is done in the best interests of the child.
However this bill does not take that into account. I therefore find that this bill is inadequate and, unfortunately, I cannot support it.