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37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights


EVIDENCE

CONTENTS

Thursday, June 13, 2002




¿ 0935
V         
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman (Individual Presentation)

¿ 0940

¿ 0945
V         The Chair
V         

¿ 0950
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett (Front Line Counsellor, Bridge House Inc.)
V         
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Mills (Red Deer)

¿ 0955
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett
V         
V         Mr. Bob Mills
V         The Chair
V         

À 1000
V         Mr. Bob Mills
V         
V         Mr. Bob Mills
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman
V         Mr. Bob Mills
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Lanctôt

À 1005
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Robert Lanctôt
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Robert Lanctôt
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Robert Lanctôt

À 1010
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman

À 1015
V         Mr. Robert Lanctôt
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin (Northumberland, Lib.)
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin
V         Ms. Lisa Dillman

À 1020
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Robert Lanctôt

Á 1135
V         
V         
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Cadman

Á 1140
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett
V         Mr. Chuck Cadman
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett
V         
V         Mr. Chuck Cadman
V         
V         Mr. Chuck Cadman
V         The Chair
V         Mr. MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett

Á 1145
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         

Á 1150
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         Mr. Peter MacKay
V         
V         The Chair
V         Mr. McKay
V         
V         Mr. John McKay
V         
V         Mr. John McKay
V         Ms. Karon Van Koughnett
V         Mr. John McKay
V         
V         Mr. John McKay
V         
V         Mr. John McKay
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin

Á 1155
V         
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin
V         
V         Mr. Paul Harold Macklin
V         The Chair
V         
V         The Chair
V         

 1200
V         The Chair
V         
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Chuck Cadman
V         
V         Mr. Chuck Cadman
V         
V         Mr. Chuck Cadman
V         

 1205
V         Mr. John McKay
V         The Chair
V         
V         The Chair
V         
V         The Chair










CANADA

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights


NUMBER 099 
l
1st SESSION 
l
37th PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Thursday, June 13, 2002

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

¿  +(0935)  

[English]

+

    The Chair (Mr. Andy Scott (Fredericton, Lib.)) Today we are receiving witnesses on Bill C-400, an Act to amend the Divorce Act (limits on rights of child access by sex offenders).

    First of all, we have Lisa Dillman, appearing as an individual. We also have the chair of Children Visiting Prisons, from Kingston, Joyce Waddell-Townsend; and a front-line counsellor from Bridge House, Inc., Karon Van Koughnett. In making your presentations, please keep your interventions to around ten minutes each, if you could. I will bring it to your attention when you're within a half minute of that time. This will give more of an opportunity for members of the committee to engage in dialogue.

    I'm going to go first to Ms. Dillman, for ten minutes.

+-

    Ms. Lisa Dillman (Individual Presentation): My little girls were only 13 months and 20 months of age when my eldest daughter, then aged 15 years, disclosed to me details of the sexual abuse that she had been subjected to at the hands of my husband and her stepfather. On April 25, 1997, my world was shattered when my daughter told me what had been happening to her in our own home. I wanted to be sick to my stomach. I didn't know where to turn. If it hadn't been for family and friends, I'm not sure I could have made the arduous journey.

    Due to the seriousness of his crimes, particularly towards a child, social services granted me interim custody of my two young daughters. A family court judge granted the accused supervised access every weekend from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, as well as every afternoon on Wednesday.

    This order was extremely disruptive to my entire family. My youngest daughter was only 13 months old at the time and I was still nursing her. It broke my heart every time he would come to my home and literally rip her out of my arms. I would sit down and cry every time I saw her little face as he carried my screaming baby away from me. This happened for months on end, and I begged the courts to allow me to keep my daughters at least every other weekend.

    My son was aged 14 at the time. He was away in boarding school and only came home on occasional weekends. He lost out on so much that year, and when he returned home he was literally a stranger to his little sisters.

    I felt as though the courts were unsympathetic towards my children and me and were focused more on the rights of the accused. The generous access he was granted while he was awaiting trial on such serious charges was absolutely ludicrous. Each time I opened my front door I had to face the perpetrator who had drugged and raped my child.

    Words cannot express the pain I had to endure each time I had to face this man and hand over my two precious daughters to him, knowing full well the crimes he had committed against a member of our own family. It was over a two-year period while we awaited trial that I was forced to watch him drive away with my daughters not knowing what could happen.

    My children never asked for this upheaval in their lives, and I feel as a mother that it is my duty to provide them with as normal a life as possible. I want them to grow up knowing they are loved and cared for by those around them. I am the only parent they have ever known in their lives.

    I have not had to explain to my young daughters why the offender is in prison; they were only aged four and five when they witnessed first-hand an attack towards me by the offender. They were terrified when they saw their mother's bloody face and blackened eyes. That image will forever stay with them and they will never forget it.

    In preparing the girls for the prison visit, the social worker asked the girls if they knew why he was in prison and they both responded, “Yes, because he hurt our mommy.” It saddens me to think they remember such a violent episode in their young lives. It saddens me even more when they are old enough to know the truth, that this man drugged and raped their sister.

    When the Saskatchewan courts granted me permission to relocate to Alberta, I was elated. It was a chance for a new beginning for my children and me.

    I was shocked when I received word from my lawyer in November 2000 that my ex-husband was going to ask the Saskatchewan courts to uphold his access rights to see my daughters while in prison. I couldn't stop crying. How could this happen? Everyone tried to console me by telling me that there was no way this could ever happen. I was trying to provide a safe and secure home for my children. No court in this country would ever force me to take my children to a man who had sexually assaulted their sister. I could not have been more wrong.

    When I received word by e-mail from my lawyer in Saskatchewan that I had lost my fight to keep my children from having to go to the prison, I couldn't believe what had happened. In desperation I called Bob Mills, MP for Red Deer, to ask if there was anything that could be done to prevent taking my girls to the prison.

    I cannot thank Mr. Mills enough for all he has done on behalf of my family.

¿  +-(0940)  

    May 27, 2001, stands out as one of the most difficult days of my life. As we prepared to go to the prison for what was to be the first scheduled visit, a social worker tried to prepare the girls for what was going to take place. Both of the girls were very quiet and clung to me for fear that I would leave them. Once inside the prison, we were told that the offender was seated in a common visiting area and would not be allowed to move from his chair. As we attempted to approach him, both girls literally froze in their tracks and grabbed my legs. They both buried their faces in my thigh and dug deep into my skin with their clenched fists. They both asked that I not make them go there. The social worker who accompanied us on that visit was visibly upset by what she had witnessed and called the visit off.

    In the weeks that followed this visit, my girls did not sleep an entire night without getting up and crawling into bed with me. They had no trouble sleeping prior to this visit. Both girls are still seeing a child psychiatrist on a regular basis to help them cope with the trauma they were subjected to. My seven-year-old daughter has become very insecure, and I worry that this will lead to a serious psychological social problem in the future.

    Since his failed attempt at trying to see the girls in prison, he has continued to harass me at my home and my work. I've had the misfortune of being contacted by women who he has recruited from inside the prison. I am certain that these women are well-intentioned, caring people who have been taken in by his manipulation and deceit. These intrusions into my private life have been extremely upsetting to me and my family. Apparently he has been able to convince corrections officers that he is a reformed pedophile, as he has been granted a parole hearing one year sooner than was previously scheduled.

    As a mother, I am terrified for my children. I will forever live with the guilt that I was not able to protect my daughter from his abuse. The scars from the abuse that she has had to endure at the hands of a man who she trusted will stay with her forever. I will not allow this man to abuse my other daughters.

    I sit before you today to ask that the law be amended in an attempt to protect this country's most precious resource: our children. Words cannot adequately convey the gratitude I feel that a mother from Red Deer can be heard by the leaders of this country. I sometimes feel that I'm fighting alone against some monstrous justice system that lacks fairness and reason. All I want is to protect my girls from a sexual predator. I only ask you to put the children's rights ahead of those of the perpetrator.

    I would also like to make it perfectly clear that I have no political affiliation. I turned to my member of Parliament, Bob Mills, and am ever so grateful that he took up my cause. That members of different parties could recognize and support a just cause regardless of who initiates the bill gives me hope.

    Finally, I have one more great favour to ask all of you. I ask that you consider what happens when predators such as my ex-husband get out of jail. My nightmare will start all over again. My little girls may once again be forced against their will to visit the deviant who repeatedly molested and raped their sister. You have the power to help me and others who find themselves in my position. I beg you to use your wisdom and power to protect us.

    Thank you.

¿  +-(0945)  

+-

    The Chair: Thank you very much.

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend, the chair of Children Visiting Prisons, Kingston.

+-

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend (Chair, Children Visiting Prisons, Kingston): Thank you, Lisa. It's very enlightening to hear your particular story.

    We sent out a letter at the end of May to this committee's hearing two weeks ago saying that we support much of the proposed bill, but we are concerned that the children involved should have the opportunity to participate in the process of decision-making when their welfare is at stake. According to our reading of the bill, it seems that the child of an incarcerated parent convicted of a sexual offence, whether or not the child was the victim, does not have the opportunity to voice an opinion as to whether he or she wants to see that incarcerated parent; the other parent has the option to make that decision.

    Of course, if the child were to have contact with the parent perpetrator, any visits would have to be carefully monitored. While many children up to 18 years of age in this situation would elect not to have contact with that parent, the issue here is that the child should be involved in the decision-making, as outlined in two relevant articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 9 ensures that any child who is separated from one or both parents has the right to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if that is contrary to his or her best interests. Article 12 ensures that any child who is capable of forming his or her own views is given the right to express them. In turn, these views must be given due weight in any proceedings affecting the child.

    The point is that this option is not included in this amendment to the Divorce Act. It leaves the total right to that decision to the parent who has custody of the child. But it's a very complex matter, and in some cases--not all cases--it might be to the child's best interest to have access depending on how serious the crime is.

    I can certainly understand Lisa's concerns about her particular situation, but it is an extreme situation--and I really regret that you and your family had to go through all of this. But one can imagine that there are other situations that are not as extreme where the parent on the outside is really wanting to get back at the parent on the inside. Karen will say a little bit about that because she works with a lot of the families who visit in prison.

    I'm an early childhood person, and for a long time I've been concerned about how the children see what has happened to a parent, particularly to a father. We're in Kingston, where we have eight federal penitentiaries. It's the only city outside of Abbotsford that has as many incarcerated men.

    These children are very young, and as far as they're concerned, someone they know--and if it's been a good relationship, somebody they love--has been taken away. Those children tend to feel, first of all, that the person has disappeared, or they could have died, or if that person could disappear, why couldn't the other parent disappear, or maybe it's something they did that caused this to happen, because young children do feel that they are the centre of their universes and they think they may have kicked their young brother or they may have done something that wasn't acceptable and so they feel it's their behaviour that has caused this person to be removed from their lives.

¿  +-(0950)  

    Our goal is to support the family when they want to do the visiting, and we do that by working with Corrections to provide an area that is geared to children, with toys and appropriate other materials so that the children have something to do. Visits tend to be at least three hours, and sometimes six, so if there is nothing for children to do, they get really bored and run around and cause all kinds of social problems to everybody who is visiting.

    Also, as part of our work, we have identified some books that help parents tell children about what it's like to have somebody in prison. Most of the books are to try to clarify for children what is actually happening.

    There is a picture here of an inmate getting food from a cafeteria. There is obviously meat on the plate, and one little five-year-old who was at Bridge House looked at that and said, “Oh, I thought my daddy got bread and water.” So there are lots of misconceptions children have, and it's really important to clear those up.

    So, really, just to cut to the chase, we would like to see some wording added to this bill that would ensure that the best interests of the child are considered, taking into account all relevant circumstances.

    Karon, do you want to say a little bit about...

+-

    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett (Front Line Counsellor, Bridge House Inc.): I've been working at Bridge House. It's a shelter for women and children who visit inmates in the federal institutions in the Kingston area, and we're there to support them and their children.

    In some cases, in sex cases like Lisa's, I can't go against her. I agree with her that this was terrible, but there are sex crimes where husbands have become intoxicated or into drugs and have raped women. I'm not trying to justify their actions, but it didn't involve their children, and I do believe the children should have some say in whether they could still visit their fathers. The mothers sometimes get very upset because of the crime, or if the husband gets involved with another woman inside the institution, the woman gets very vindictive. The mother of the children says the kids can't go to see their dad any more. I don't think that's fair. So I think the children should have some say, depending on the crime.

    In Lisa's situation, I can't say anything. I think it's horrible what she and her children have gone through. But with other sex crimes that are still very bad, I think the children should have an opportunity to decide whether they want to see their father, or their mother, depending on who is incarcerated.

+-

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: I have some pamphlets about what we do, and I have to pass them around myself because they're not bilingues.

+-

    The Chair: I think it's sufficient that they're here. Members will know they're there and can pick them up.

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Oh, they can pick them up. Thank you.

    The Chair: I'll go now for seven minutes to Mr. Mills.

+-

    Mr. Bob Mills (Red Deer, Canadian Alliance): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the witnesses for coming. Obviously, Lisa and I talked over many months, visited that prison together on May 27, and motivated Bill C-400. After listening to both of the other ladies speak, I want to be sure to clarify the motivation behind this bill, so you understand it.

    The members of the committee have heard me speak a number of times now, and I'm quite willing to have it amended to narrow it, but I would never want to see a child anywhere in Canada have to go through what I saw on May 27. That cannot be psychologically wise or in the best interests of the children. I think you're agreeing with me in this case.

    I am talking about pedophiles. On the broad list that was there, I think members of the committee have heard from other witnesses that it was too broad, and I think it could be narrowed. I'm quite happy to put it in the hands of the committee to narrow and refine it, to make a bill that will work.

    Above all, the best interests of the child must be there. If the children were old enough, if the custodial parent agreed that the visit was best for the child, and if a psychologist recommended that, this bill wouldn't have come into effect.

    Two judges said they didn't have enough guidance to prevent two young children from visiting a pedophile--someone who had raped their stepsister. So I want to be sure you understand that's the motivation behind this. I'm not talking about children visiting prisons. I'm sure part of the rehabilitation of prisoners is to see their children. I have children and grandchildren and I know what they mean to me. The worst punishment would be to prevent me from having access to them. So that's not what we're trying to do. We're talking about where children are forced to visit pedophiles.

    The questions have been asked: Are there many like this? Does this happen very often? Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. Each time this case is discussed in public, more phone calls and letters come in saying they went through something similar to what Lisa went through. So to say it's just Lisa and her two girls is wrong. Other people are put through this as well.

    All of the calls I've received have been from females--mothers who have been forced to take children to visit pedophile parents, sometimes even when they have raped. One lady just told me about a case where the child was being forced to visit the person who had raped her. If judges can't understand the psychological effect on young children, then the onus is on the justice committee to fix that so it doesn't happen.

    Do you agree with what I have said? I don't mean prisoners being visited by children. I hope I've clarified that. I would just like to know what your opinion of that is.

¿  +-(0955)  

+-

    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: I misunderstood, I guess. I was thinking of other sex offenders who weren't pedophiles who were being kept from their children. I'm sorry. I agree with you 100%.

+-

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: You were quite right to think that, because the bill, as it is written, doesn't say anything about pedophilia.

+-

    Mr. Bob Mills: That's why the committee process is to hear witnesses. That's why I went to constitutional lawyers and got them to give their opinions on any constitutional claims.

    The one thing the Constitution says is if you can justify taking away someone's rights, you can do it. That basically summarizes it. There have been suggestions--and I'd like your opinion and Lisa's opinion on this--that if the offender had to prove it was in the best interests of the child, it would put the onus on the offender to focus the judge on the best interests of the child.

    What would you think of that sort of wrinkle?

+-

    The Chair: Mrs. Waddell-Townsend.

+-

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: I think it's difficult for the father, although some fathers can manage the system from inside the jail. But a lot of them don't have access to proving it's in the best interests of the child.

    That's one of the reasons why we're uncomfortable seeing it left with the spouse to make the decision. We're trying to suggest it's broader. The judge himself might have made the wrong decision. I know in custody hearings there usually are psychological assessments, and lawyers talk about it too. There's a broader sort of approach. That's what we would like to see, not just limiting it. But as I understand the bill, it's the spouse who has custody who has the last say.

À  +-(1000)  

+-

    Mr. Bob Mills: It could be something that could be amended.

+-

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: It's a very complex issue. The way it's written now, it seems a very black and white kind of situation. We need a little bit of grey in there.

+-

    Mr. Bob Mills: Lisa, what do you think?

+-

    Ms. Lisa Dillman: In my situation, just knowing how manipulative my ex-husband is, I'm sure he could put on a very good report as to why his seeing the children would be in their best interests.

    I can only speak from my own personal experience. I know how he also portrayed himself to my older daughter as a caring, loving father and a wonderful person, attending the soccer events and the sporting events. We just didn't know about the double life he was leading at the same time.

    That would be a concern: whether or not they would be able to convince the courts it would be in the best interest of the children when in fact it wouldn't be in their best interest. In my case, I've had custody--sole custody--of the girls since they were such a young age, I feel I know what is best for them.

+-

    Mr. Bob Mills: Thank you.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you very much. You'll have lots of opportunity to respond to these things.

    Mr. Lanctôt, you may have seven minutes.

    Mr. Robert Lanctôt (Châteauguay, BQ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    We've already heard other witnesses talk about your case. I'm saying “your case” because the Bill seems to have been written especially for you. This is regrettable since it's an exceptional case. I'm not saying it's unfortunate or not. I think it's very unfortunate for you and your children but this is an exceptional case. We're trying here to make a law. People around this table know very well what I am talking about.

    The Bill's object is to amend the Divorce Act. Some children are born to married couples and some are born from common-law relationships. We would be going backwards if we tried to make a distinction between children of married couples, who are subject to the Divorce Act, and those of common-law partners. We would have two classes of children. This doesn't exist anymore.

    Children are equal in every respect. We don't have now legitimate and illegitimate children. All children are equal. We have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to the Convention, all children have the same rights. You're creating a monster. I don't know the specifics of your case. I'm a lawyer and an expert in family and marriage law. Presently, everything is in the law. This was confirmed by a constitutional law expert as well as representatives of the Canadian Bar Association that we met last week. When you talk about a child's best interest, you have to consider not only the international Convention Canada has signed but also the Divorce Act, which says that you have to protect the child's interest. It's all here. You have the same opportunity to order evaluations and have experts, like psychologists and social workers, testify in court.

    I'm not saying the ruling in your case was a good one. I can't even say it was a bad ruling. It appears to be bad but no one was there except you, your lawyer, your spouse and your children. It all happened in a closed hearing. The only thing we could get is the ruling or the judge's reasons. I have not yet received the reasons. I wanted to see them.

    We still have the problem here. No matter how we want to amend the act, it will create the problem. There are probably circumstances when the child should see his father or his mother, depending on which one is in jail. It would be difficult to amend this Bill in order to make it work. The law allows you to immediately sign affidavits and to apply for an interlocutory judgment. In Quebec, you can get a judgment in a matter of hours saying you have custody and giving the father rights of child access.

    This Bill only applies to someone who has custody or rights of child access in case of divorce. It can't change anything else. Everything else would stay the same. Why should we make this kind of distinction in an act? We're saying very specifically that only children of divorced parents would benefit from this. On the contrary, it may be harmful to some children. I don't know.

    There are ways you can get what you want. I don't know what steps you've already taken. I heard you didn't appeal the judgment. So you didn't use the legal avenues open to you to show the merits of your application for withdrawal of access rights. You said that your former spouse is capable of producing a very good report. I didn't say that, it was you. If he can convince a judge that it's in the children's best interests... These are his kids. I'm not defending him but there are laws. Up until now, they've been used adequately but there may be mistakes. Was there a miscarriage of justice? Did the judge make a mistake?

    Your MP from Red Deer did a good job on your behalf. This has nothing to do with your MP. He tabled a Bill to improve the situation. Everyone around this table wants to improve things for the benefit of children. But your case is special, and it's not a good idea to make laws based on special cases because you can harm others. Your situation is most unfortunate and this is obvious to you. You know it and your lawyer, the judge, your children, your former spouse and his lawyer also know it. But around this table, no one knows the facts. Everything happened in a closed hearing. You have to be very careful when amending legislation because you can harm other children.

    I would like to hear your views on this.

+-

À  +-(1005)  

+-

    The Chair: Ms. Dillman.

+-

    Ms. Lisa Dillman: I didn't get a translation.

+-

    The Chair: Go ahead. We'll start over.

    Could someone make sure the translation system is working? I think you were probably just on the wrong channel.

[Translation]

+-

    Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Mr. Chairman, it's obvious I can't repeat exactly what I said.

[English]

+-

    The Chair: This will be our first 14-minute round.

[Translation]

+-

    Mr. Robert Lanctôt: I'll try to summarize.

[English]

+-

    The Chair: Mr. Lanctôt, I was listening, so don't stray.

[Translation]

+-

    Mr. Robert Lanctôt: I would start over by saying that this Bill is flawed. You have to understand that the Bill, as tabled, would amend the Divorce Act. This means that it distinguishes between children of married couples who are now divorced and other children. The Bill does not cover all cases, such as children of common-law partners who are now separated. The Bill does not apply to these children nor to children of parents who are still married, who are not divorced or who live together in a common-law relationship.

    The case which is the basis for this Bill is very serious indeed. It is a very special case. As a matter of fact, every case is special. We don't really know the specifics of the case since everything happened in a closed hearing. The only thing this committee may be able to get is the judge's reasons.

    The problem is we're trying to create what I would call a monster. The international Convention on the rights of the child, which Canada has signed, and our legislation focus on the interest of the child. Here you are trying to make a distinction between Canadian and Québec children by saying there are legitimate and illegitimate children. Such a distinction does not exist anymore.

    It's not a good idea to amend an act in order to deal with an exceptional case, presumably like yours. Was there a miscarriage of justice in your case or some other kind of mistake due to applications you may have made? The MP for Red Deer told us that you did not even appeal the judgment. You did not use all legal avenues open to you. You know it's possible to make a good case based on psychological evaluations and social worker statements. I don't know if you did so or not.

    The only thing I can say is that present legislation affords an adequate protection. It's in the best interests of children. We even heard constitutional experts on this matter and I really agree with them. If we try to amend the act, we will run into problems with section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because we would be discriminating against children of common-law partners, as compared to those of married couples . And what's even worse is that the Bill only applies to people who are presently subject to the Divorce Act.

    As you know, you can get an interlocutory judgment. It is possible to obtain very quick changes for you and for all children in a matter of hours through an interlocutory judgment that would preserve the status quo... In your case, you already have custody. I can't review your situation and the judgment since I don't know all the facts. But it is very dangerous to amend the law the way this Bill tries to do it. Even with an amendment that would specifically target pedophiles, everyone is entitled to a hearing. And during this hearing, both parties will present arguments based on the child's interest. This is not something new, it's all in the legislation. It's also in the international Convention on the rights of the child, of which Canada is a signatory. I would now like to hear your views on what I just said.

À  +-(1010)  

[English]

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    The Chair: Ms. Dillman.

+-

    Ms. Lisa Dillman: I apologize for the mix-up the first time.

    If I understand you correctly, what you're asking is, if it's a Divorce Act, why should the act be amended. And if so, if a family is living together common-law or aren't married, and if there are children within that family unit who have been sexually abused or assaulted, the law should be the same whether you're married or living common-law or whatever. The child is still a product of that family. That child has to be protected.

    I have been through the courts so many times in so many avenues, and every single time I've had the door slammed in my face, even with regard to the freezing of assets. When all of this happened, I had no money. I couldn't even pay my legal bills. I couldn't buy groceries. If it hadn't been for my family, I'm not sure how we would have gotten along.

    Yet he was able to get consent from the court to access his retirement funds to pay his legal bills. He lost his medical licence. He couldn't pay support for his children because he was no longer working. In a way, it was to my benefit because I had to find employment and I had to work. That's why the courts finally consented to allow me to relocate to Alberta.

    If it's abuse against a child, I don't understand what difference it would make if it was in a marriage, per se, or in a common-law relationship. That child still needs to be protected.

    I'm still in the process of going through the courts. Because the judge in Saskatchewan made his decision based solely on the evidence we were able to provide, we couldn't go back and appeal without any new, substantial evidence to show the courts. But now we do, because the girls have been seeing a child psychiatrist for just over a year. So now we can go back to court with that information. Whether or not we will be successful, I don't know. It's an ongoing battle.

À  +-(1015)  

[Translation]

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    Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Thank you.

[English]

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    The Chair: Thank you very much.

    I'm going to go to Mr. Macklin for seven minutes.

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin (Northumberland, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and I thank all of the witnesses for appearing today.

    I think each and every one of us is very sympathetic to this case. I think Mr. Lanctôt brings us, to some extent, to one of the legal issues that goes through this case and does cause all of us some concern because of the way in which we're operating. It's not simply within our powers to do all of the things that, as you just suggested, might and should be done to make sure everyone potentially in this situation would have some protection. We're primarily dealing with, in this case, the Divorce Act.

    When I say we're sympathetic, I want to get a sense from you, if I can, of.... You said the courts, to you, were “unsympathetic”. I'd like to get an understanding as to how you felt that way. Did you feel you didn't get a full and proper hearing? What was the basis upon which you felt they weren't sympathetic?

+-

    Ms. Lisa Dillman: I felt in the beginning that because he was a doctor and he had a special status in the community—and he's innocent until he's proven guilty in a court of law—he was looked upon, perhaps, maybe a little differently from... He was given access to my girls every single weekend. I never had one weekend for two years with my little girls. He had from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. This was with the accusations against him. He hadn't been charged yet, but just with those accusations, I couldn't believe the access he was awarded in the very beginning.

    I spoke about the times when my son was away in boarding school and how he would come home the odd weekend. They'd leave at 9 o'clock in the morning and they wouldn't come back until 5 p.m. They were tired. You would feed them supper. You would put them to bed. They would go again on Sunday. He left Sunday afternoon. He hardly saw them for a year. I went back to the courts and I asked the court's permission. I explained the situation and I asked if I could please just have one weekend a month. They denied me that as well.

    I've had to struggle. It has also been a very emotional struggle for me because I knew the truth, even though he had not been convicted in the eyes of the courts and the justice system. I knew what he had done. The fact that I had to see this man's face three times a week was very painful for me.

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: How long was that period before the ultimate determination?

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    Ms. Lisa Dillman: My daughter disclosed to me on April 25, 1997, and he was sentenced November 25, 1999.

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: So it was approximately two years.

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    Ms. Lisa Dillman: Yes.

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: During that time, did you notice any difference in your children, since they had spent a lot of time with him for the better part of two years?

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    Ms. Lisa Dillman: No, I did not, other than the fact that they didn't really want to go. Saturday mornings would come and they'd have to get up early and I'd have to get them fed and dressed to go. They would often cry and be very irritable and wouldn't want to go. But there was a court order in place; I had to send them. Yes, it was a very difficult time.

À  +-(1020)  

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: But there were no incidents.

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    The Chair: Excuse me. I want to make sure the witness is absolutely aware of where her interests lie in her appearance today. If there are proceedings currently under way, you are, as a witness in a parliamentary committee exercise, covered by the same privilege extended to us, so nothing you could say could be held against you outside of here. However, clearly you should be aware of the fact that things you may say that are specific to your particular case are public. Others who may have different interests would therefore be informed of a whole bunch of things.

    Monsieur Lanctôt has a point of order.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Robert Lanctôt: I will explain to you why I'm rising on a point of order.

    It's true that she would be protected but the case is still before the courts. She just said that there's an appeal going on. On family matters, hearings are held in camera. So it's not just the fact that what she says can't be used against her due to parliamentary privilege. What's being said can harm the other party.

    I just realized that this hearing is public. I just noticed that many people are sitting in the back writing. I don't know if they're from the media but I feel very uncomfortable. I thought we were sitting in camera but we're not. This is very dangerous for the witness and even for the other party. We should be sitting in camera.

    [Editor's Note: Proceedings continue in camera]

Á  +-(1135)  

[English]

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     [Editor's Note: Public proceedings resume]

    The Chair: I call back to order the 99th meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. So everybody understands, we are no longer in camera. We're returning to our two witnesses, Joyce Waddell-Townsend, the chair of Children Visiting Prisons, in Kingston, and Karon Van Koughnett, a front-line counsellor from Bridge House Inc., who is also from Kingston.

    As the way we're coming back is a little unusual, could you take a couple of minutes to state your position, so that we can get a little bit of the flavour back? I think there are some questions. Then we'll see what happens.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Well, I think we've stated our position. There are probably all kinds of situations where it might be valuable for children to visit a parent, even though he has been accused of a sexual crime--albeit perhaps not against them. Even when they're older, they might profit from talking to that parent. The way this bill seems to be pointed is very limiting, in terms of how one can deal with a variety of situations. It seems to take a one-track approach. I think that's basically our position. To that extent, we would like to see it modified.

    Mr. Lanctôt had some really good points.

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    The Chair: Karon, did you want to add anything to that?

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    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: No. Joyce summed it all up.

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    The Chair: I don't feel any need to follow a great deal of order here. So I'll go to Mr. Cadman first.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman (Surrey North, Canadian Alliance): There is no order, Mr. Chairman.

    Thank you, Chair, and thank you, witnesses.

    I just have a very brief and general question about children visiting prisons. We've heard some testimony to the effect that some of these offenders--especially people who have been involved with children in sex offences--can be very manipulative. In cases where children are allowed to see their parents, or their fathers, is there anything in place, from your perspective, to oversee and make sure that no manipulation of a child is attempted by an offender? In other words, what kind of supervision is there? We don't want to speak against every child being able to see their parent, but the manipulative part of the issue is a concern. From your experience, is some supervision in place for these kinds of visits, where somebody could sense that something was going on, or say, “Wait a minute, this is not right”?

Á  +-(1140)  

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    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: Inside the institution there are always two or three guards overlooking the whole visiting room. So it's very unlikely for anything to happen there.

    I don't imagine they would be able to get private family visits. I would hope not, because they wouldn't be supervised. There would just be the mom, the children, and the father there.

    But I know that in the visiting room they are supervised. Some institutions have programs set up for psychologists to get in with the family to discuss all of their problems and feelings.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman: I'm just concerned that these subtle manipulations can occur. Would it then be up to the parent, for instance, who is visiting to pick that up and bring it to somebody's attention, so the onus would be on the parent?

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    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: Yes, but they're pretty well supervised by the guard. They watch everybody really closely.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: If the children go in with the other parent, this other parent is there to monitor what's going on. But if this other parent wasn't prepared to go in, which happens quite often--because they don't want to see an ex-spouse whom they're very angry with--someone else will go in. The children cannot visit on their own under the age of 18. They have to have an escort, who has to sit with them at the table.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman: So that person would be privy to the conversation?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Yes.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman: Thank you.

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    The Chair: Peter MacKay.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Thank you both for being here and for your patience today.

    You mentioned access and the ability to have a psychologist participate in the process. That is perhaps one of the major concerns, not so much the physical threat that might exist but the trauma for a young child, let alone the effect of just being in an institution. I know there are extraordinary efforts made to make it user-friendly, for lack of a better term.

    Do you acknowledge that the psychological impact, particularly for an overly sensitive child, is sometimes immeasurable? It's sometimes very difficult to gauge, the effect of just being in that surrounding, let alone the perceived or real threat the child might be feeling during that meeting.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: For me, it's the responsibility of the custodial parent to help them talk about the fact that they're going into this space and to explain that while it may look threatening, it really isn't. The guards are just people who are doing a job, and hopefully the guards are doing it politely and sympathetically.

    The child needs to be prepared for the visit, for what's going to happen, that they're going to have to go through a place where they're going to be checked, just as if they were going on an airplane. There are ways of bringing down the level of stress, and hopefully that's what happens. You've probably helped mothers do that when they're going to visit in the prisons.

+-

    Mr. Peter MacKay: This is just a practical question about certain designations within prisons, for example, individuals who may have a dangerous offender label or those who are in segregation. Is that taken into account as well? Does that make a difference in terms of access to this physical surrounding, this room, that is provided for this purpose?

+-

    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: When they're in segregation, there's usually glass between them and a visitor, so there is no physical contact. There are still guards there to supervise, and there are little microphones hooked up for them to listen to the conversation. They can hear everything.

Á  +-(1145)  

+-

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Also, in the Kingston Penitentiary there is a large visiting area for the general population, and then there is a smaller visiting area for the segregated populated.

    Segregation often means being segregated from the general population. People who have committed these particular kinds of crimes are at risk from what some inmates in the general population might do to them. Prisoners, who may themselves be murderers, have a scale of bad things people do. Assaulting young children very much puts someone at the bottom of the scale. They're at risk, so they're separated for their own safety sometimes.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: Sure. I'm glad you mentioned that, because when you look at the text of this bill, the drafters' intent is that for certain specific, designated offences, all of which deal with conviction for certain forms of sexual aggression...that is exactly the intent here--because of that transgression, because of the conviction rendered for that type of offence. The intent is to either make it mandatory that those visits do not occur or at least mandatory that the judge enunciate a decision in such a way that it acknowledges the offence and takes it into consideration as to whether access is in the best interests of the child.

    First, do you see that as a legitimate designation because of that risk, because of that record?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: First of all, I don't understand from the bill that it's the judge who makes that decision. I thought the bill left it to the custodial parent. If the custodial parent didn't want the child to visit, the child wouldn't because the custodial parent had the last say.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: They would still have to go before the judge and make their case.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: That doesn't seem clear to me. Perhaps they do, but I didn't appreciate that they did.

    There is also another line that looks as if it might be for any crime, not just sexual crime.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: In which the child is a victim, yes.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Any crime in which the child is a victim. I didn't realize that at first.

    The other part of your question.... Were you here earlier when Karon was talking about the fact that a sexual offence might take place when, say, a guy is drunk and assaults someone in a bar or something like that? As far as the child is concerned, that's outside of his or her realm of experience and doesn't really affect the relationship between the father and the child. It certainly might affect the relationship between the mother and the father, and the mother might not want the child to visit, but I can't see that it puts the child at risk. Were you here when Karon mentioned that?

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: No, but we've had discussions about that situation arising.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: But I think this bill is particularly for pedophiles. Is that right?

    Mr. Peter MacKay: That's the intent, yes.

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    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: But it doesn't say that.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: That's purely the intent.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Whether or not the child was the victim, sexual interference, etc., all those things could be with another adult. It doesn't say it's against a child.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: Yes, it's broad. You're right, it's very broad in its definition, but the intent, I think, clearly, with the listed offences, is as you've said. It is aimed at those with a propensity toward pedophilia.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: I don't understand; I don't see that. I'm not a lawyer.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: No, it doesn't make it clear.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: No, and I'd like to see that.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: If it had that designation--

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: If you want it for pedophilia, if you're saying that's what it's focused on, it should be clear.

Á  +-(1150)  

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: If it had that designation, would it give you greater comfort?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: I would still feel that there might be some situations where the child... After all, these are people up to 18, and we're not talking about the victim himself or herself. We're talking about other pedophilia victims. Perhaps the child could be old enough to understand what has happened and still want to have a relationship with the parent, and that might be good. It is so complex that I wouldn't say yes or no, but I would like to think that those things were possible.

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    Mr. Peter MacKay: It's particular in every case, essentially. You're saying every case should be examined on the merits of each case.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: That's right, yes.

    Mr. Peter MacKay: Thank you.

+-

    The Chair: John or Paul.

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    Mr. John McKay (Scarborough East, Lib.): Perhaps you could put the Dillman case out of your mind for a moment and ask yourself the question, based upon the experience that the two of you have had in prisons, whether you have made an observation that the law is deficient in access provisions with respect to either pedophiles or visits of children to pedophiles.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: I'm sorry, I don't know of any cases. I haven't had any experience with that.

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    Mr. John McKay: How many years have you been working in the field?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Twenty years.

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    Mr. John McKay: How long has it been for you, Karon?

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    Ms. Karon Van Koughnett: It has been 12 years.

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    Mr. John McKay: Collectively, that is 32 years' worth of experience. Presumably, you have come in contact with all kinds of prisoners, including pedophiles.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Presumably, but we never ask an inmate what he's in for.

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    Mr. John McKay: No, but it's certainly a general population, and many of those people would have had children. Many of them would have visits. But over that 32 years of collective experience, you've not made any observation that there was somehow a legal deficiency in terms of how these offenders, these prisoners, interact with their children.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: No, that has never been our role. Our role has been to facilitate visiting, because most of the research we have read says inmates who are likely to succeed when they come out of prison are those who have had more visits, have the support of the family, or have a relationship that has been ongoing. There's not a great deal of research at all into what prevents recidivism, but that is the major thinking in the field. So our focus has been to facilitate the relationship, and that's of course when the spouse, married or not, chooses to bring the children for a visit.

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    Mr. John McKay: Thank you.

    Maybe I'll turn the rest of my time over to Paul.

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    The Chair: Save me some there, Paul.

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: All right.

    I just want to clarify. With all due respect, I don't think Mr. MacKay--that is, Peter MacKay--had a copy of the bill in front of him, but I think your interpretation is right. The way it's worded now, the custodial parent has the final say, and it's deemed to be within any order being made.

    It's a very interesting area. I don't think very many of us have a lot of experience with what you've obviously been dealing with. It was very interesting to hear Mr. John McKay ask you that question about your experience and whether you see a deficiency.

    In this process, where we are trying to look for flaws--and it doesn't necessarily have to be with that specific Divorce Act; we do have other areas of interest, including the Solicitor General's area of issues relating to prisons and the way they operate--from your experience, you don't see anything but positives from this process of visitation that you have ongoing, and you don't see that there any loopholes that we need to close or ought to consider through any form of legislation, which could be as broad as dealing in some form of prison reform.

    Mr. John McKay: Now you have her going.

Á  +-(1155)  

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Do you want to go down that road?

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: Well, on this issue of visitation...

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: You know, not particularly on this issue, but one of the things we would like to see very much is some parenting programs in the prison. The parenting programs that are funded now are basically part of an anti-violence program, so we're dealing with the people who would be at most risk as parents. But we feel that as ordinary parents there are lots of issues in bringing up children that can be ameliorated. You can get a lot of help with your child rearing from just a low-key parenting course that focuses on discipline and on developing self-esteem, a whole range of things, how to deal with different kinds of behaviours. We feel that inmates could profit. Fathers who are interested could profit from that kind of thing. But we've met a lot of resistance. Partly I think it's financial; partly it's a lack of understanding. We're still pushing. We're still working on it, but that's an area where we would like to see more made available.

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    Mr. Paul Harold Macklin: Thank you.

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    The Chair: Thank you very much. I have a couple of questions.

    It occurs to me that we can at least all agree... Well, maybe I shouldn't say we all agree, but it seems to me where we are on this is that the legislation to this point relies on a justice to make a decision.

    Without any of us knowing the details of the particular case that has prompted this piece of legislation, at least those presenting it would suggest that the best interests of the children in this case did not cause the decision that some would observe as the best interests of the children to in fact have happened. Therefore, the request is being made of Parliament to change the law so that this mistake, if it were a mistake--and I want to say this without prejudice, because none of us have seen the details of the case specifically, but we're being asked to pass legislation that would prevent a judge from making such a mistake in the future.

    When we speak of evidence and research, and your own advocacy on the part of inmates, to some extent, in terms of what is good for inmates in reducing recidivism and so on, we understand that the law, whether you like the law or not, is designed not to speak to the interest of the inmate but rather to speak to the interest of the child. That's what the Divorce Act is intended to do. It's first and foremost in the interest of the children.

    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: And that's what our work is, for the children.

    The Chair: Is there any aspect of the limitations that this law is intending to get at... Listening to your testimony, I think I can safely say that certainly this is too broad. If you narrowed it, would it ever get narrow enough that it would satisfy your sensibilities, being the people who probably know more about the on-the-ground of anybody in the room right now? Is there any place that this legislation would be able to provide comfort to Mr. Mills in his efforts to bring this bill forward and at the same time not make, as I think you said earlier, a grey area too black and white?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: We've said all along what we dislike. The best interests of the child are in the Divorce Act--the custody issues. In this bill we have moved beyond that, and the best interests of the child are not included.

    To go back to the specific case of the two young children whose parent had been granted custody, you can argue about whether it was too much or too little, or what was happening there, but there's no evidence those children were harmed by those two years of visitation. They had established a relationship with their father, which was cut off abruptly as soon as he was convicted. They wouldn't understand that. Why would that have happened, all being well? So I think that was uncomfortable for everybody concerned.

    I wouldn't necessarily like to see it focused just on pedophilia.

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    The Chair: Is there a list? If this is too broad, could it ever be narrow enough to take away some of the grey area you referred to, so we could say, in this case, we're not going to let a judge exercise discretion on the basis of the case; we are going to say, in this case, the judge doesn't have that discretion? I'm just curious whether you would ever see that being the case. Would you always want the judge to exercise that discretion?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Yes.

  +-(1200)  

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    The Chair: You would, okay.

    There's been a lot of reference to the best interests of children, and at some level everybody's assuming they know what those are. We may want to explore that with professionals in child psychology and so on.

    Would you be able to direct us toward any literature, or people who have experience in these kinds of issues who we might call as witnesses to assist us at that level in their professional capacity?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Last night I happened to hear Dr. Peter Jaffe, who's from London, Ontario. He's a psychiatrist and the director of an institution for justice and the family, or families involved with the justice system. I don't have his card with me, but he's made a special study of this kind of situation, and he certainly might be somebody to ask.

    The study I talked about was done by Holt and Miller in 1952. It's a really old study about the number of visits related to recidivism. It's a very tricky sort of business to get at the statistics, but I can see what I can find. I have stuff at home.

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    The Chair: I invite you to inform the committee, because we will be looking for people to bring expert testimony on those kinds of issues as well.

    Mr. Cadman.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman: Mrs. Waddell-Townsend, you mentioned there'd been two years of contact with no indication, from your information, that any problems had occurred, and suddenly that contact was cut off. You said that was unfortunate because the children would question why, and I can understand that.

    In your opinion, should the children be told why that contact was cut off?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Well, daddy has done something really bad, so he has to go away for awhile. I mean, they were only three and four, or something like that.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman: No, I understand that, but because of that--

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: And gradually, yes, the children would have to know about it. The fact that the children were upset before they went and upset when they came back doesn't indicate that anything wrong was going on. That's a natural thing that children who go to visit in prisons have. It's an excitement. There's something happening that's special, so they get kind of keyed up. Then when they come back, they have to wind down again. And if there is a feeling in the house, the family, about this being a bad thing, then of course the children pick up on those feelings, and that would enhance their concerns about going.

    But cutting it off abruptly, without giving an explanation, leaves the children wondering what has happened.

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    Mr. Chuck Cadman: Is it your suggestion that how much the children are actually told would be age specific?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: Exactly. I've used an example of the birds and the bees. What you tell your three-year-old is not the same as what you should be telling your 12-year-old. You want them to be able to understand at their level of understanding. We've all had that experience.

    Mr. Chuck Cadman: Thank you.

  -(1205)  

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    Mr. John McKay: I have five kids.

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    The Chair: Peter, have you anything else?

    Thank you both very much for appearing and for your patience with the process. It was a little unusual, but everyone seems to have made it through.

    I reinvite you to give us any suggestions you might have. I believe, Mrs. Waddell-Townsend, you have a background in early childhood education?

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: That's right.

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    The Chair: So maybe you could refer us to people you think would be able to inform us on those questions, very specifically the best interest of the children, because that's what this is intended to deal with.

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    Mrs. Joyce Waddell-Townsend: While I'm still here, I'd like to thank all of you. My faith in the system has been reinforced. I really am impressed with the concern you're taking over an issue that is very complicated.

-

    The Chair: Well, if we had room for 30 million Canadians, we could probably turn this thing around.

    Thank you very much.

    The meeting is adjourned.