moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill . The bill, which I tabled on May 22 of this year, would help support and protect families, especially children, from the negative outcomes and conflicts that are the sad reality of separation and divorce.
Our government has taken great strides to strengthen the Canadian family justice system. In budget 2017, we created ongoing funding for federal, provincial and territorial family justice activities through the Canadian family justice fund. In the same year, we also signed two international family law conventions. This year in budget 2018, we announced funding to expand unified family courts, fulfilling one of my mandate letter commitments. However, despite all this progress, we still need to do more.
Separation and divorce can be difficult for families, especially for children. We know that the impacts can be wide-reaching. Over two million children live in families with separated or divorced parents. There is no other area of law that touches as many Canadians.
Federal family laws should help families resolve their disputes quickly and effectively, but these laws have not been substantially updated in over 20 years and were in desperate need of modernization. Over the past two decades, families have changed and our justice system has changed. Our government understands that much should be done to improve federal family laws and the family justice system to better meet the needs of all Canadians.
Bill advances four critically important goals: promoting the best interests of the child, addressing family violence, reducing child poverty, and improving the efficiencies and accessibility of the family justice system. I will address all of these in turn.
I will begin with the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child test is the cornerstone of family law. It is the only basis upon which decisions about who may care for a child can be made under the Divorce Act. This test has been called a child's “positive right to the best possible arrangements in the circumstances”. It allows courts to consider how to best foster the child's overall development and protect the child from conflict and the disruptive effects of divorce at such a vulnerable point in the child's life.
Despite the importance of the best interests of the child test, the Divorce Act currently provides minimal guidance on how courts should apply this test. Bill would change this. It proposes an extensive, though not exhaustive, list of criteria for courts to consider when making decisions in the best interests of the child.
The criteria we have proposed include elements such as the child's needs, given the age and stage of the child's development, the child's relationships with important people in his or her life, especially parents but also others such as grandparents, and the child's culture and heritage, including indigenous heritage.
One criterion in particular, the requirement that courts consider the views and preferences of the child, giving due weight to the child's age and maturity, demonstrates Canada's ongoing commitment to its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This criterion encourages parents and courts to consider the voice of the child in determining parenting arrangements reflecting the importance of children expressing their views in matters that affect them.
The most significant change that Bill would bring to the best interests of the child test and the lens through which all other factors would be examined is the provision that would be called the “primary consideration”. This would be a requirement that courts consider the child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being. It would help ensure that the most critical elements of the child's well-being are always the centre of focus and of any best interests analysis.
Also, to further the best interests of the child, we are proposing to remove the terms “custody” and “access” from the Divorce Act. For years, these terms have been criticized for fuelling conflict between parents. Custodial parents have been long seen as the winners of custody disputes and access parents have long been seen as the losers. The terms are relics from property law, reflecting a time when children were legally considered to be their parents' property.
To help parents collaborate and focus on their child's best interests, we are introducing terms based on parents' responsibilities for their children. Instead of custody orders, courts would make parenting orders. Parenting orders would address parenting time and decision-making responsibility. Two provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, and many of our international partners, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have replaced property-based language with this sort of language focused on the child-parent relationship. In Canada, even where custody and access are still on the statute books, many judges, lawyers and other family justice professionals have already begun to abandon property-based language in their orders and agreements about children, favouring language focused on the parent-child relationships.
Another major change Bill proposes with the best interests of the child in mind is the creation of a relocation framework in the Divorce Act. Relocation or moving with children after separation and divorce is one of the most litigated areas in family law. The stakes are often very high, particularly when a proposed move would involve a significant geographic distance. The bill creates notice requirements for parents proposing to move, best interests criteria for courts to consider in relocation cases and rules for courts to apply depending on the parenting arrangement in place for the child. This would help courts and parents make informed, child-focused decisions.
Canada has recently taken steps to advance the interests of Canadian children in international family law disputes. On May 23, 2017, Canada signed two international family law conventions. One of these conventions, the 1996 convention on the protection of children, would make it easier for Canadian parenting orders to be recognized and enforced in other countries that are also party to the convention. This would provide better assurance to families that travel or relocate to another convention country that their Canadian court order would be respected. Bill also includes amendments that are necessary for Canada to become a party to the convention. The other convention is the 2007 child support convention, which would help with poverty reduction, as I will discuss a little further on.
The next aspect of Bill that I would like to address is family violence, an issue of great importance to our government and to all Canadians. Most provincial and territorial family laws address family violence in separating couples, but federal family laws are conspicuously silent. It is long past time to address this silence.
Although separation may be a means of escaping an abusive relationship, evidence shows that spouses are at an increased risk of violence at the time of separation. We are also learning about the lasting effects of trauma such as family violence on children's developing brains. The impact can be debilitating and lifelong. More can and must be done to prevent this from happening. Bill includes three amendments to address family violence in the Divorce Act and one in the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.
First, we have proposed an evidence-based definition of family violence in the Divorce Act that highlights common indicators of abusive behaviour. Coercive and controlling behaviour which is known to be particularly dangerous is highlighted.
Second, we have proposed a distinct set of best interests of the child criteria to help courts make appropriate parenting orders when there has been family violence. These include considerations such as the nature, seriousness and frequency of violence.
Third, we have a provision that would require courts to consider whether there are any child protection or criminal orders or any other proceedings that could influence an order under the Divorce Act. This provision would help prevent conflicts between courts, such as a family law order that gives a parent time with a child in a manner that conflicts with a criminal restraining order.
Finally, we have proposed an amendment to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act that would restrict the sharing of personal information in situations of family violence where a family member's safety may be at risk.
Together, these measures would help courts better address family violence at a time when family members are particularly vulnerable, and help prevent family violence as families adjust to their new post-separation arrangements.
Next, I will explain how Bill would address poverty reduction, and child poverty specifically. Many families who go through separation and divorce experience a dramatic increase in expenses. The transition from a single family home with separate expenses to two homes with duplicate expenses can be a great burden. Shifting child care responsibilities can affect a parent's ability to find and maintain employment. These changes make many families vulnerable to poverty. Therefore, it is critically important that families receive the child and spousal support owed to them and that these amounts be fairly and properly calculated, reflecting accurate financial information.
Bill includes several measures that would help reduce poverty and help families recover from the financial crisis many experience as part of separation. First, we have proposed changes to the Divorce Act that would make it easier for families to determine and change child support without going to court, saving them money and, potentially, complication and stress. We have also proposed measures that would introduce a new application-based procedure to establish or vary a support order when parties reside in different jurisdictions.
Earlier, I mentioned the 1996 child protection convention. Canada also signed the 2007 child support convention. The 2007 convention will help families by providing a low-cost and efficient way to obtain or change support orders across international borders. As with the 1996 convention, amendments to federal laws are proposed as an essential step for Canada to becoming a party to the 2007 convention.
We are also proposing a number of changes to federal laws that would facilitate the enforcement of child and spousal support. For example, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act would be amended to allow for the search and release of a party's income information to courts and provincial services, including provincial enforcement services, for the purposes of establishing, varying or enforcing support. This amendment is intended to allow child support orders to be made more quickly, accurately and with less trouble and expense. Costs would be reduced for families and courts.
There are billions of dollars of unpaid child support payments in Canada. With this bill, we would be giving provinces, territories and individuals more tools to ensure that those obligations are being paid. In addition, the vast majority, some 96%, of cases registered in maintenance enforcement programs involve male payers paying female recipients. The problem of unpaid support contributes to the feminization of poverty, which the measures in this bill would help address.
Finally, another proposal in this bill is to prioritize child and spousal support debts above all other debts except Crown debts under the federal Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. Again, this would help make sure that families receive the money they are owed.
I will now move on to the bill's final theme, which is to improve the efficiency of, and families' access to, the Canadian family justice system. We know that changes to the family justice system are long overdue. Retired Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell has noted the many calls for fundamental change to, or a paradigm shift in, the family justice system. Parents struggle to pay for lawyers and often have no choice but to represent themselves in family law disputes, which may be highly contentious and emotionally charged. It is not easy to be one's own advocate in these circumstances, yet research tells us that between 50% and 80% of Canadians in family law disputes represent themselves in court.
Self-represented family law litigants risk making choices without understanding their rights and obligations, and can find the process incredibly stressful. They also add to the strain of overburdened courts. Judges and court staff take significantly more time with self-represented litigants to help them navigate their complex legal challenges. The bill includes several measures to facilitate family law processes for families and to divert people away from the courts, saving time and resources for cases that require a judge's consideration.
One of these measures is to encourage family dispute resolution processes, which can include mediation, negotiation, collaborative law and other forms of out-of-court dispute resolution. These processes are generally less expensive, can help families come to agreements faster, and often allow parents to play a more active role in crafting appropriate arrangements for their families.
After the bill's proposed changes, lawyers would have a duty to tell parents about family justice services that could be of assistance to them and to encourage them to try a family dispute resolution where appropriate. Courts would have the option of referring parents to a family dispute resolution where available.
Other measures to increase access to family justice include expanding the range of measures that the administrative services that determine child support may address. Provinces and territories have administrative child support services that recalculate support orders based on a parent's current income. The bill would expand the role of these out-of-court services, including allowing for the recalculation of interim support orders. Families could use these services rather than having to retain lawyers to go to court to change their child support orders, again saving them money and reducing court time.
I would like to conclude by again stressing how important it is for our government to improve federal family laws. As I said, our family laws are outdated. They no longer reflect the reality of middle-class Canadian families. Many of the processes set out in federal family laws are slow, cumbersome and heavily dependent on the courts. Bill will help Canadians find faster, more cost-effective and lasting solutions to family law disputes, with the best interest of the child at the heart of all of it.
I am confident that the changes we have proposed would bring positive change to the Canadian family justice system and to Canadian families and children. I look forward to working with all of my parliamentary colleagues to help promote the best possible outcomes for families experiencing separation and divorce. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting this incredibly important piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak to Bill , which, as has been said by the minister, is an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another act.
As has been said, it has been 30 years since we have seen substantive amendments to the Divorce Act. In that time, the courts and the family law bar have been moving forward with modernizing divorce proceedings in Canada with updated language and terminology aimed at making the process less adversarial. It is good to see that the government is moving forward with legislation to bring the statute in line with the direction the family law sector has been moving in for several years now. While support for these amendments is by no means universal, they are generally being well received by the family law bar, at least in terms of the research that I have gone through in the response to Bill .
Since its tabling in May, there has been a fairly steady stream of commentary, mostly in the legal press, regarding the bill and most of it has been positive. The bill's focus on updating the language surrounding controversial terms such as custody and access and replacing that with language that places the emphasis on parenting responsibilities, parenting time, parental decision-making, etc., is a positive one, in my view.
The language of the current statute is clearly adversarial and establishes a winner and loser scenario in which one parent wins custody of the child over the other. In the already emotional situation of divorce, this adds to the tension and is clearly not in the best interests of the child. With this change in language, my hope is that, should the bill make it to committee, the ramifications beyond the courts and involved parties with the new terminology will be looked at closely.
While many judges and family law practitioners have been using this less adversarial language for years now, other parties that have less direct involvement in divorce and custody proceedings are still rooted in the 30-year-old terminology this bill seeks to replace. I am thinking of Children's Aid societies, schools, law enforcement and others who may be called to intervene in disputes. They are operating under the existing language of custody and access. How will they react to this new language? Will their own enabling legislation or internal rule sets require changes as a result? How will they adapt? My hope is that the justice committee takes a long and detailed look at these potential rough spots.
The road to this set of reforms has been a while in coming. In 2013, the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, which is known as the Cromwell committee, published its final report calling for meaningful change in the family justice system. Specifically, the committee report called for particular emphasis on increasing the use of consensual dispute resolution methods. It also recommended the language of custody and access be replaced by the language of parental responsibility and contact.
In preparing for this debate, I reviewed some of the case law that is of significant importance to the bill. In particular, I would like to quote a 2015 case from the Court of Appeal of Ontario, known as M v. F, 2015 ONCA, at page 277. This is with respect to the old terminology of custody and access and its tendency to produce a culture of winners and losers.
From paragraphs 38 to 40 of the decision, the appellate justice wrote:
 The Ontario legislation does not require the trial judge to make an order for custody. Section 28(1) (a) of the CLRA is permissive, not mandatory: The court … by order may grant the custody of or access to the child to one or more persons.
 For over twenty years, multi-disciplinary professionals have been urging the courts to move away from the highly charged terminology of “custody” and “access.” These words denote that there are winners and losers when it comes to children. They promote an adversarial approach to parenting and do little to benefit the child. The danger of this “winner/loser syndrome” in child custody battles has long been recognized.
 It was therefore open to the trial judge to adopt the “parenting plan” proposed by the assessor without awarding “custody.” It was also in keeping with the well-recognized view that the word “custody” denotes “winner” so consequently the other parent is the “loser” and this syndrome is not in the best interests of the child.
Therefore, we see in this instance that the words “custody” and “access” have been causing trouble for a long time, and the bill's proposed move away from them should be viewed positively. How that plays out on the ground remains to be seen, of course. Divorce is, by definition, an emotional experience and with children in the mix, reason sometimes escapes the participants.
Another emphasis of the bill is to encourage those involved in divorce proceedings to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms rather than resort to litigation. Again, I view this as a positive step. Litigation over children is very expensive and potentially very destructive. It is certainly almost never in the best interest of the child. Moving away from litigation and moving towards alternative dispute resolutions such as the use of parenting coordinators, family justice counsellors, mediators or arbitrators will go some distance in protecting children from the fallout of adult litigation.
When choosing to go the litigation route, parents can often lose sight of the fact that their children stand to be adversely affected by the litigation process. Indeed, they can even become weapons used by one or both parties to the litigation, to the great detriment of the child or children. Efforts to protect children against adult litigation are commendable and it is a positive aspect of this proposed legislation.
Another aspect of the bill seeks to establish a framework for the relocation of a child. The bill would establish a shifting burden of proof when one parent wishes to relocate. If the parties have substantially equal parenting time assigned by the court, the relocating party bears the burden of establishing that the relocation is in the best interest of the child. If the child spends the vast majority of their time with one party, the other party must establish that the relocation is not in the best interest of the child. The court retains flexibility to make adjustments to existing orders when determining these arrangements, again, in the best interest of the child.
I mentioned earlier in my comments this afternoon that while the overall reception of the bill has been positive, the reaction has not been universally so. Some critics have argued that the bill's lack of a rebuttable presumption for equal shared parenting as the default position for any divorce negotiation is less than ideal. They point to social science research that suggests that the default position of equal shared parenting leads to better outcomes for children. Of course, equal shared parenting is not always ideal, which is why they suggest that a default position should be rebuttable. The lack of this default position in the bill is a detriment for these critics.
Others have noted that replacing the terms “custody” and “access” with parenting-based terms would not substantially reduce the conflict that can be central in divorce proceedings. Some predict that the fights between parents over custody would, in future, turn into fights over who has “decision-making responsibility”, another term in the legislation. They claim that it is inherent in the process. There is clearly some work here for the members of the justice committee, should the bill pass second reading.
I trust my colleagues will seek out the views not only of the family bar but of all those who have an interest in supporting the decision of the courts in divorce matters, as well as experts in research and academia who make this their field of study. This would require a broad range of witnesses who will no doubt have suggestions for improvements to the bill. I would encourage the government side not to reject those suggestions out of hand but to consider them in light of this legislation's more positive, less adversarial approach to divorce proceedings in Canada. There may well be room for improvement here.
In closing, I for one am generally positive about the direction the bill seeks to take and look forward to the deliberations at the committee stage. I am sure they will be enlightening for all members.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Divorce Act.
Let me begin by saying that we will support this bill, which makes substantial changes to the existing Divorce Act. The NDP supports the objectives set forth in this family justice bill, especially when it comes to promoting the best interests of the child and taking family violence into account in making parenting arrangements.
It has been 20 years since this law was last amended, and even though this bill was unexpected, I have to say that changes to the Divorce Act are long overdue. My colleagues and I have examined this 190-page bill carefully, and we are pleased to see that the child's best interests really are paramount.
I was also very pleased to hear the say that this bill will apply on a case-by-case basis because every divorce is different, every situation is different, and every couple has their own story.
We believe we must continue to study this bill, consulting experts and witnesses, in order to make improvements, because there is always room for improvement, and we have some suggestions for the government. We believe that by continuing to study this bill and consulting experts, we will get an accurate perspective on this bill.
We spoke with senior law professors, lawyers, divorced parents, and other experts, and we kept hearing the same thing. We will have to see how this law is enforced by judges. Manitoba lawyer Lawrence Pinsky shared this perspective. In a CBC interview, he said that it was too early to measure the bill's overall impact. Mr. Pinsky also said that it will all depend on how judges interpret the bill, and we agree with this.
About the parenting plan provisions in the bill, according to a senior professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, negotiating a parenting plan is certainly a good idea, provided that a plan is not systematically imposed. She said that this provision should not prevent an individual from obtaining a court order in difficult-to-negotiate cases or cases involving violence, when negotiation is not possible.
She said that the addition of criteria to better define the interests of the child essentially codifies the criteria to be considered in jurisprudence. However, we must keep the interests of the child front and centre, in every case, to make sure that the list does not become a simple checklist without any further consideration. We must always remember that this list is not and cannot be exhaustive.
We also believe that the best interest of the child should be considered at all times. In that sense, we would like to see a provision on representation for the child. We suggest that it be made a right under the law that the child be represented by their own lawyer and that services and resources be made available to the child if needed. When I talk about resources I mean psychological support because, as we all know, a divorce causes turmoil in family life and we believe that the child at the centre of the dispute should be represented so that their best interests are also brought forward.
When this bill was introduced in the last session, the government said that the court should also take children's points of view and preferences into account when it hands down its ruling. The children need to be given the means to express their points of view, preferences, fears, and feelings. We sincerely hope to put the child at the centre of this entire process and ensure that the child's voice is also heard, taken into account, and respected.
In the same vein, former Senator Landon Pearson said:
When their parents separate, children's lives are changed forever. The responsibility of parents and family members as well as the professionals who engage with them, is to make that change as smooth as possible. Children have the right to be looked after, and to be protected from violence and undue emotional stress. They also have the right to maintain relationships that are important to them and to have their own voices heard. Only when these and all the other rights that are guaranteed to them by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are respected, will children be able to accept and adjust well to the new circumstances in which they find themselves.
Those wise words highlight how important it is to protect children and, above all, allow them to express their emotions and share their opinions. We therefore think it is also important to ensure that children have fair representation when needed. Members will recall that Landon Carter Pearson was appointed to the Senate in 1994 and retired in 2005. We have been talking about this for a very long time. Senator Pearson served as vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Human Rights.
Families' access to fair and equitable representation is sometimes unduly limited, and court solutions for family support in the context of shared custody are rarely fair, proportional or economic.
Consider the example of someone fleeing a situation of abuse, control or domestic violence. Those individuals often simply run away from the conflict by avoiding contact with the other parent. As a result of these kinds of situations and changing needs, many children never receive—and some parents never pay—the support payments they are entitled to.
The provisions set out in Bill are a step in the right direction, but the bill might not adequately ensure that support payments are made in shared custody situations.
In that regard, lawyer Jenny Woodruff indicated that it would have been a good idea for Bill C-78 to ensure that parents are paid appropriate child support, but that the bill does not address that issue.
It is important to ensure that the amounts paid are appropriate. Since the government claims that one of the purposes of Bill C-78 is to reduce child poverty, this shortcoming should be remedied in the interests of the child's well-being and in order to ensure that parents who are in a situation like the one I just described can obtain the child support payments their children are entitled to.
We are pleased that one of the changes this bill makes is to give the government the ability to share with and transmit to provincial entities more tax information on parents who refuse to disclose their income.
Right now, the Canada Revenue Agency can only transmit to the courts basic information such as the parent's name, address and employer. This measure will make it possible to fully assess the situation of a parent who may be trying to avoid paying child support. It is important to remember that, although the Divorce Act is a federal law that falls under the jurisdiction of our Parliament, the provinces are the ones responsible for administering and enforcing child support orders. We must therefore give the provinces our full support so that they can ensure that parents are making child support payments.
I would also like to mention that this bill seeks to better regulate the relocation of parents and children following a divorce, by requiring one parent to inform the other if he or she wants to move and by giving the courts criteria to help them determine whether the relocation is in the best interests of the child and should be allowed.
It is definitely a good idea, but we need to proceed with caution when making such a decision. I will come back to that because this was pointed out by an organization in my riding. I believe it is important to recognize the work of Céline Coulombe from La Clé sur la porte, a shelter for women and children who are victims of violence. Ms. Coulombe has extensive expertise in working with women facing domestic violence. She stated that this bill does establish important guidelines and contributes its share of necessary measures, but we must be cautious and discerning when dealing with such delicate matters as harassment and domestic violence.
Quite often, when these situations arise, the victim tries to flee from the abuser by going to another city, or even another province. We must ensure that, in these cases, the courts will exercise diligence and discretion in order to definitely protect the child and the victim.
I wanted to point that out because in the bill, it says:
A person who has parenting time or decision-making responsibility in respect of a child of the marriage and who intends to change their place of residence or that of the child shall notify any other person who has parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact under a contact order in respect of that child of their intention.
The bill also says:
In considering the impact of any family violence...the court shall take the following into account:
(a) the nature, seriousness and frequency of the family violence and when it occurred;
That is fairly subjective. I realize that this bill leaves everything up to the courts, but we must take great care to ensure the safety of the child and the parent fleeing a dangerous situation.
We must be very vigilant.
I am proud of the organizations in my riding that do amazing work every day with people going through divorce and women who are victims of domestic violence. Le Petit pont is a community organization in Saint-Hyacinthe and Longueuil that helps create and maintain parent-child bonds in a neutral, family-friendly, harmonious space for families undergoing separation or conflict. The organization's priority is the child's best interests, including his or her physical and psychological safety.
Le Petit pont operates outside of the parents' home to ensure neutrality and fair, professional treatment for everyone involved. Services include supervision of parents and children during visitation as well as information and support for families. The organization strives to create a home-like environment. Its facilities are suitable for people of all ages and enable people to get into a daily routine and reduce the stress associated with supervision.
We consulted Le Petit pont about Bill , and I just want to acknowledge the amazing work done by Martin Tessier, the executive director, who gave us the benefit of his wisdom. First, he told us his organization believes the interests of the child are paramount. He said that, as we discussed, it would be a good idea for marriage documents to include provisions setting out what would happen in the event of a separation, to clarify any issues that are important to the spouses. These important decisions need to be made while the couple is getting along, rather than waiting until after the relationship breaks down or becomes hostile. For example, provisions could be inserted covering elements like custody, visitation, access rights, pensions, division of property, relocation and the children's education.
Lastly, he said that like married couples, common-law partners should draw up a cohabitation agreement, a will, and a financial plan that covers what will happen if they separate. Mr. Tessier said that the most important thing is to raise public awareness of the many aspects people often overlook, like legislation, agreements and statistics. These are all very fair comments. I want to thank Mr. Tessier for his insightful recommendations and suggestions.
In my riding, we are lucky enough to be able to count on the professionalism of La Clé sur la porte, a shelter organization that has been taking in women from across Quebec for 37 years, with locations in Saint-Hyacinthe, Acton Vale and Beloeil. It is a women's shelter and support centre for victims of domestic violence and their children. Since 1981, it has welcomed over 4,000 women and as many children. I think it is imperative that we consult organizations like these when studying the bill before us today, because they have special expertise and an invaluable perspective.
The primary focus of La Clé sur la porte is the safety of the women and children. As soon as clients come through the doors of the shelter, they receive a warm welcome in a trusting, respectful and supportive environment. The clients are safe there. The caseworkers listen to them, support them, and help them in their decisions. Post-shelter assistance is also available from the organization to ensure that the women return to their normal lives under the best conditions.
Members of the organization also work on prevention and awareness raising. They visit high schools, where they give workshops on abusive relationships. They also give talks on domestic violence to social, community and educational organizations and institutions or other interested groups.
I had a discussion with Céline Coulombe, the coordinator at La Clé sur la porte. She voiced some concerns over the bill that I wish to share with the House. The first has to do with family mediation. The bill before us includes some elements to encourage parents to use other avenues than the courts, including family dispute resolution and mediation. Obviously, this alternative is a good idea for reducing court backlogs, but this method can be risky for victims in cases of domestic violence.
Ms. Coulombe told me that advocacy groups had fought for, and eventually won, the right for victims to opt out. This right should not be disputed. Once again, we must be cautious.
La Clé sur la porte and Ms. Coulombe expressed concerns about a second aspect, which is the requirement that a parent give notice of relocation to the other parent, even in the case of criminal proceedings, when the abuser is subject to a no-contact order. The abuser absolutely must not know where the victim is living. We all know that even if the courts issue a no-contact order, victims must often still take additional steps to keep themselves and their children safe.
Because the courts do not communicate, criminal judgments are often not taken into account when access to the children is being decided.
Unfortunately, my riding has seen some cases recently where women have been killed, or at risk of being killed, when they dropped their child off with their former husband. One such situation is one too many. We must be cautious and make sure that women and children are protected.
Lastly, the coordinator for La Clé sur la porte emphasized that the legislation focuses on the traumatic impact that divorce can have on children, and rightly so, but we also need to bear in mind that living in fear in a home fraught with violence is far more traumatic for a child. In addition, violence unfortunately does not usually end on the day of the separation or the day a court decision is handed down. Forcing victims to take part in dispute resolution or mediation sessions can put them in danger.
I am very familiar with La Clé sur la porte, as I used to work there. Back then, I was a recently divorced single parent. Fortunately, I never experienced violence.
I worked nights, and every night I was at La Clé sur la porte, I met women who suffered from insomnia. Those women would come and talk to me and share what they had been through. What I found most moving when I listened to their stories was the realization that it could happen to any one of us. Many of them had not seen it coming and had wound up in that situation through no fault of their own.
As we work to clarify the divorce legislation, it is important to remember that it applies to people who are at a vulnerable point in their lives. We need to make sure that we put in place all the necessary measures to keep them safe and to give their children access to the resources they are entitled to.
In divorce cases, each parent often has his or her own lawyer. However, many witnesses asked us to think about implementing measures that would support the provinces and ensure that, in some situations, the child gets a lawyer. The child's lawyer would be there simply to examine the situation and make sure that the child's interests are being protected under the agreement that is reached.
This would be applied in the provinces, so we would have to ensure that they have the necessary resources to continue to support organizations such as Le Petit pont and La Clé sur la porte.
I am reaching out to the government on this. As the critic for families, children and social development, I have the best interests of children at heart. I want to ensure that the courts have the tools they need. I want to ensure that appropriate child support payments are made. I want to ensure that victims of any form of domestic violence and their children are protected. I want to ensure that the children at the centre of these disputes have the opportunity to be heard, if they so choose, and that they get the support they need.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to share with the House our recommendations and concerns regarding this bill.