The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion that Bill , 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am pleased to rise today as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice to speak to an important aspect of Bill , which is poverty reduction.
Over two million Canadian children live in separated or divorced families. Of these, lone-parent families are the most financially vulnerable of all family types and are more likely to depend upon social assistance.
There are couple of other important statistics.
Right now, there is well over $1 billion in support payment arrears in this country. In the vast majority of such cases, 96% of all such cases, the arrears relate to money owed by men to women.
The data on the economic challenges of single parenthood are quite stark. In 2016, the median net worth of Canadian couples with children under 18 was over $300,000, while the median net worth of single-parent families was less than one-sixth of that, $57,200.
Separation and divorce can cause a financial crisis for some families. The benefits of sharing family expenses often disappear as a second home must be established. Some parents need to significantly change their work hours to accommodate their changed parenting schedule, which can affect their income and their employment opportunities. This is what I hear when I speak to families in my riding of . I hear far too often from single mothers who are struggling to access spousal and child support after a marital breakdown. Bill will directly benefit these residents of my community and the residents of so many other communities in a similar situation right across Canada. It will help lift those individuals, whether they are mothers or children, out of poverty. It will mean less time fighting out support payments in court, which is costly and time consuming, and creates a court backlog. It will mean more tools to allow single parents to identify and locate the assets of their former spouses, and more tools to enforce the actual payment of spousal and child support to single parents and their children.
Allow me to explain. I want to first turn to the payment of child support reducing the risk of poverty.
The sooner a fair and accurate amount of child support is established after parents separate and payments are made, the better the outcomes are for the child in question. The payment of child support is a key factor in reducing the risk of child poverty, especially for low-income, single-parent families.
Parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially after separation or divorce. Children have a legal right to that support. Federal, provincial and territorial child support laws require parents to disclose specific income information, including income tax returns, and set out penalties and consequences if a parent fails to disclose this information. This includes imputing income, which means that the parent’s income is assumed to be a certain amount for child support purposes, and the child support order is based on that income.
Most parents dutifully meet their legal obligations. However, some parents do not provide complete and accurate income information, despite the possible penalties and consequences. This is a significant issue that has serious consequences for children and families going through the family justice system, as well as for the system as a whole.
Family law practitioners and judges often say that income disclosure issues are one of the most contentious areas of family law. Failure to comply with disclosure obligations can put significant pressure on the family justice system. It may also discourage parents from reaching agreements through family dispute resolution processes, such as mediation. If income cannot be properly determined at the outset, it may also prevent families from benefiting from other family justice services such as administrative child support calculation or recalculation services.
I want to turn now to the costs associated with the non-disclosure of income.
The financial and emotional costs to parents seeking income disclosure are significant. They are legally entitled to financial information from the other parent. However, when financial disclosure is not made, they must ask a court to order that the information be provided. This creates significant costs for families and can lead to overburdening of the family justice system, including the courts. The other parent may still not disclose his or her income information, even after the court has ordered it. In these situations, the court may then impute the income of the other parent.
Although imputing income may work adequately in some situations, it is very difficult for the court to determine a fair amount of support that reflects a parent's true ability to pay in the absence of complete and up-to-date income information. Imputing income may result in child support amounts that are too high, which, in many situations, will not be paid or result in support payments that are too low and thereby prevent children from benefiting from the support of both parents.
Consistent with our government's commitment to poverty reduction and to meeting the needs of low- and middle-income families, Bill would bring much needed changes to middle-class Canadians. It would limit the negative consequences of income-related disputes for the family justice system and parents. Bill also proposes much needed changes to help reduce child poverty.
I will turn to one aspect of the law that would be amended here, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. Amendments to this act would ensure that a separating or divorcing parent's failure to meet their income disclosure obligations would not prevent the establishment of a fair and accurate amount of support. We would amend this particular law to allow the federal government to release an individual's income information, including information from tax returns, to a court for the purpose of establishing, varying, or enforcing a support provision.
The income information to be released would be listed in the regulations, and important safeguards would be included in the act. An application for information under this legislation would not be permitted if the court were of the view that a release of information would jeopardize the safety and security of any person. Where information is released to a court, it must be sealed and kept in a place to which the public has no access.
The release of this income information would help ensure that child support amounts reflect the parent's true capacity to pay. It would also reduce legal costs associated with ensuring income disclosure for a parent, as well as the associated use of court resources. Child support orders would be made more quickly, more accurately, with less conflict and less expense, helping the very women I mentioned at the outset, the 96% of recipients of spousal and child support in Canada who are women.
The legislative amendments we are proposing will also allow the disclosure of income information to child support recalculation services. Recent information on a parent's income is needed so that those provincial and territorial recalculation services, which provide an administrative service, can do their job. They are an important tool in ensuring access to justice for parents who pay or receive child support. These services help update child support amounts through a process that is fast, more effective, low cost and non adversarial.
These recalculation services recalculate the amounts indicated in child support orders and agreements based on a parent's current income. However, they cannot proceed with the recalculation on income allocated or when no income information has been provided. In such cases, parents have to go through the courts to amend the child support amount.
These amendments to the act will reduce costs, not only for parents but also for the justice system, by allowing administrative services to recalculate to obtain the income information they need. Agreements with the provinces and territories on the disclosure of information will be updated in order to guarantee the protection of income information disclosed to the services responsible for doing the recalculation.
Bill also proposes amendments to the garnishment provisions. This act provides for the payment of salaries and pension benefits payable to current and former federal employees to another person to help satisfy family support. Amendments to the legislation would help reduce child poverty by making the process more efficient so that families receive the support they are entitled to in a timely manner. For example, the amendments would prioritize garnishment for family support debts over all other debts, other than debts to the Crown, which allow for earlier garnishment where possible.
In conclusion, separation and divorce can be difficult emotionally and financially for families and children. That most Canadians dutifully meet their obligations when it comes to both the establishment and payment of child support is a testament to our society's values. However, when parties cannot agree on what their obligations should be, our family justice system should be there to help resolve those issues. Federal enforcement legislation is there to help when parties do not meet their support obligations. That is exactly what Bill would do. I am proud to support it, and I urge all members of the House to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill and the significant contribution it would make to improve the accessibility and efficiency of the family justice system.
As mentioned, federal family laws have not been updated substantially in over 20 years and changes are long overdue. Access to justice is a priority for our government and access to family justice is a key component of achieving that. Costs, delays, and complex procedures can make it difficult for Canadians to have access to justice. Along with the expansion of the unified family courts and sustained funding for family justice services, Bill is part of our government's commitment to improving access to justice for families going through separation and divorce. Under the pen of retired Supreme Court Justice Cromwell, the action committee on access to justice in civil and family matters stated that early management of legal issues and encouraging informal dispute resolution were key to improving access to justice.
Bill recognizes the need to improve access to justice and offers guidance, information and tools to help families going through separation and divorce, including people who represent themselves, as well as lawyers and courts involved in family law issues.
Bill encourages the use of family dispute resolution processes. These are defined as out-of-court processes used by parties to help them resolve their family law disputes. Negotiation, mediation and collaborative law are examples of such processes. These are often less expensive and faster than litigation and allow parents to actively participate in creating arrangements that are in the child's best interests.
Part of the role lawyers play is to ensure that parents who have family law issues have the relevant information on family dispute resolution. Bill would create a duty for lawyers to tell parents about family justice services that could help them resolve their disputes, and to encourage them to try family dispute resolution where appropriate.
In addition, if the case is before the court, the bill gives judges the option to refer parents to family dispute resolution where available. Bill also introduces duties for parents involved in a family law matter to try to resolve their issues through a family dispute resolution process where appropriate.
That said, family dispute resolution processes may not be appropriate in all circumstances, including where there is family violence. For this reason, Bill only encourages the use of these procedures where appropriate. Courts and lawyers must evaluate each of these situations on a case-by-case basis and take into account families' circumstances, including whether there is family violence, before encouraging the use of family dispute resolution. In addition, other service providers, such as certified mediators, play a critical role in screening for family violence and power imbalances in order to promote a fair and equitable process.
There are numerous ways that Bill would facilitate the resolution of family disputes and help parents reach out of court agreements focused on the best interests of their children. For example, it proposes changes to custody and access language, the definitions in the old version of the act, to use terminology that is more neutral and child focused and reflects the actual tasks of parenting, such as parenting time and other terms used in the act. It also includes a non-exhaustive list of criteria to help determine what is in the child's best interest, as well as criteria to assist parents dealing with relocation issues. This additional information will help parents make informed and child-focused decisions and better understand what the outcome might be if they were to go to court. This in turn is intended to help reduce litigation.
Our government is bringing forward some innovative thinking to help improve the family justice system. There are issues currently determined by courts that are administrative in nature and that could be handled outside of the court. Bill will expand the range of matters that child support services may address and will allow them to perform tasks currently that were in the sole purview of the court itself.
Many provinces and territories have child support services that recalculate support orders, for instance. Bill proposes several measures to make these services more efficient. This includes the recalculation of interim child support amounts in Divorce Act orders. In addition, the bill would allow child support services to recalculate child support amounts at the request of a parent, for example, if there were a job loss. Currently, the Divorce Act requires that recalculation be done only at fixed or regular dates.
The bill also includes a new approach allowing for the calculation of initial child support amounts by provincial or territorial child support services, where possible. This will allow administrative services, as opposed to courts, to calculate, based on relevant income information, child support amounts based on child support guidelines.
These proposed additions and improvements to the Divorce Act would make it easier, less costly and less adversarial to determine or recalculate child support amounts.
Changing Divorce Act orders when parties live in different jurisdictions can also be costly and cumbersome for families. Bill proposes to improve the process to change a support order for parties living in different provinces or territories.
Currently, two courts are involved, a court in the applicant's province that makes a provisional order and a court in the respondent's jurisdiction that confirms the order. The new process would involve only one court and would eliminate the need for the current first stage hearing, thereby saving time and money. Because this new system mirrors that in most provinces and territories, it would also ensure consistency whether interjurisdictional proceedings are conducted under the provincial legislation or under the Divorce Act.
The bill also includes provisions to improve processes in international child support cases. These changes are an essential step for Canada to become party to the 2007 Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, which was signed in May 2017.
The 2007 convention is an international agreement that provides a low-cost and efficient legal framework for cross-border establishment, modification, recognition and enforcement of family support obligations. It will be of particular interest to Canadian families and children, as it provides a means for a parent to obtain child support from a former spouse living in a different country.
Another way in which Bill would increase access to justice and improve the efficiency of the family justice system is by amending the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. This act is used to help parents enforce support. The bill proposes to amend it to permit, in certain limited circumstances, the release of income information when parents do not provide it.
Accurate income information is key to determining fair child support amounts. This change would help to accurately determine child support amounts and enforce support orders, as well as to reduce time spent in court to obtain this information. Proceedings to obtain this information currently take up a lot of court time and resources and this can be expensive for people who are trying to obtain support and is not a good use of family resources.
When this information is given to a court, it would be sealed and kept in a location to which the public has no access, and the court could make any order necessary to protect the confidentiality of the information.
While the bill encourages resolution of matters outside of the court system, there are some matters that require formal court resolution.
Budget 2018 announced funding to expand unified family courts, fulfilling one of the 's mandate letter commitments to Canadians. The family court in my riding of St. John's East has benefited from this.
Unified family courts provide one-stop shopping for the family justice system by combining jurisdiction over all family law matters into one court. They also provide access to a range of family justice services, such as family law information centres and mediation services to help families through a range of family law issues, including separation and divorce and other services.
Funding is essential for the delivery of family justice services which fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. In budget 2017 our government committed $16 million per year for family justice services on an ongoing basis. This funding will increase Canadians' access to family justice by supporting provincial and territorial programs and services, such as mediation, parent information, education and support enforcement.
We have to work together to improve the accessibility and the efficiency of the Canadian family justice system. Bill , along with the expansion of unified family courts and sustained funding for family justice services, will help support Canadian families going through separation and divorce and the over two million Canadian children who live in separated or divorced families. This is a great step forward and I trust that the changes we have proposed will bring positive changes to the family justice system.
In closing, I encourage all members of the House to support this legislation, as I do, so we can see it move to committee where it can be studied further.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill , the government's family law bill.
As other hon. members have alluded to in this debate, issues relating to family law, by and large, fall within the parameters of provincial jurisdiction. However, section 91, class 26 of the Constitution Act provides that it is within the jurisdiction of Parliament to make laws with respect to marriage and divorce.
In order to discuss Bill and what it seeks to do in terms of updating family law and divorce legislation in this country, it would be helpful at the outset to provide some context to how divorce law in this country has evolved. Indeed, the Divorce Act is a relatively new piece of legislation. It was passed in 1968, only 50 years ago.
Prior to the passage of the Divorce Act in 1968, this country had a patchwork of laws with respect to divorce. In some provinces, there were no divorce laws. As a result, it was necessary for couples to seek a private act of this Parliament in order to obtain a divorce. In other provinces, divorce was possible if it could be established that there had been some wrongdoing in the relationship.
Fast forward to 1968 when Parliament did pass legislation to provide uniform laws with respect to divorce. The Divorce Act of 1968 remained in place until it was updated in 1985, which is when Parliament made some very significant reforms to divorce and family law. Among the changes made in the 1985 Divorce Act was to provide a single ground upon which divorce could be obtained, namely, when there was a breakdown in the relationship. A breakdown in the relationship could be established based upon a number of different criteria, including one year of separation of the couple, or if it were established that there was adultery in the relationship or physical or mental abuse.
Since Parliament took steps in 1985 to update divorce law in Canada, over the last 30-plus years there has been very little change that has been made to update family law in this country. I have to say, I was born in 1984, one year before the Divorce Act was updated, so 1985 was a long, long time ago. Canadian society has evolved considerably in these last 33 or 34 years, including the structure of families and, unfortunately, the increased prevalence of divorces and marital breakdown. It is about time that Parliament moved forward to consider a comprehensive update to the Divorce Act.
In terms of the substance of this bill, let me say that we are open to looking at it carefully. On the surface, it would seem that this bill contains a number of positive measures. Among the key substantive aspects of this bill is the updating of terminology, encouraging families to settle disputes outside of the court, improving child support enforcement, and preserving the well-being of impacted children. All of these measures, on the surface, appear to be a step in the right direction.
In terms of the road to reform, it has been, as I mentioned, a long time coming. We saw a very thorough review undertaken by Justice Cromwell, back in 2013. One of the key recommendations from the Cromwell committee was the need to update terminology. Right now, under the Divorce Act, the terminology is quite adversarial, and that is not helpful as families deal with what is often the most difficult and challenging time couples can face when they are in a situation of marital breakdown.
Among the changes Bill would make would be to change the language to make it less adversarial, in accordance with the recommendations of the Cromwell committee. In what ways would the bill make the language in the Divorce Act less adversarial? For example, it would replace the term “custody” with the term “contact” and the term “access” with the term “parenting”.
Another aspect of the bill is that it would encourage parties to try to settle disputes through mediation or alternative dispute resolution. Far too much money is spent in our courts, and to the degree that families can settle their marital matters outside of court, outside of what is, by definition, an adversarial system, is a step in the right direction. Of course, as I alluded to, it would codify what is at this time a wide body of case law and have regard for the best interests of the child.
I spoke to an acquaintance of mine, who is a judge, and he told me that upon being appointed, one of the challenges was to get up to speed on different aspects of the law that he had never practised. For example, he had never practised criminal law before, so he certainly had to spend a lot of time getting up to speed. He said that aside from the academic side and getting up to speed on different aspects of the law, what he found to be the most difficult was trying to settle disputes when children were involved in terms of making orders respecting parenting, for example, because so often, he is making a decision that is going to profoundly affect the parents, the family and the child. I tell that anecdote to underline the gravity, the importance and the impact these changes would have.
As I say, we will study the bill at committee. I look forward to hearing from a wide array of witnesses and to exploring possible amendments.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill and the significant contribution it would make to addressing family violence.
The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada has identified family violence as an important public health issue, recognizing that the effects of family violence go well beyond physical injury and can have long-lasting impacts on mental health.
In 2014, 13% of individuals who were separated or divorced and who had been in contact with their former partners within the last five years reported being victims of spousal violence. While we have no solid statistics on the number of family law cases where family violence is a factor, estimates from court file reviews and surveys of lawyers and judges range anywhere from 8% to 25%, yet, the Divorce Act currently makes no mention of family violence or how it is relevant to parenting matters. Bill would take concrete steps to address this gap.
There are marked differences in the severity and the violence that men and women experience. In 2014, women were twice as likely as men to report being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or knife. In contrast, men were three and a half times more likely to report being kicked, bitten or hit.
We also cannot forget that children can be directly and indirectly affected by family violence and that the exposure to family violence often comes with direct abuse against the child. In 2014, 70% of adults who reported having witnessed parental violence as children also reported being victims of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse. Children who witnessed that violence were also more than twice as likely to experience the most severe forms of physical abuse compared to those who had not witnessed violence.
Children can be negatively and deeply harmed emotionally when they are exposed to family violence, whether it is from seeing the violence take place or bruises on a parent. Emotional and behavioural problems and even post-traumatic stress disorder can be a serious effect.
Despite all we know about family violence, myths about it remain. There are two myths that I would like to highlight today.
The first myth about family violence, particularly intimate partner violence, is that if a survivor has not reported to the police, then the violence did not happen or it was not serious. Statistics Canada tells us that only 19% of survivors report violence to police. Some do not report violence to police out of fear of not being believed and/or that calling the police may escalate the violence. Certain vulnerable communities also have mistrust for the police.
Despite these fears, survivors may choose to start family law proceedings in order to protect their children, whether they reported violence to the police or not. In some cases, starting a family law proceeding can increase the risk of violence. Leading family violence researcher Linda Neilson notes, “Family law cases involving domestic violence are not necessarily less serious or less dangerous than criminal cases. Indeed some are more dangerous.”
The other myth is that intimate partner violence ends after separation. In fact, separation can actually increase the risk of family violence, and it often persists long after the relationship has ended.
In 2014, 41% of those who experienced family violence by an ex-spouse reported that it occurred after the break-up. In just under half of those cases, about 48%, the violence took place at least six months after the separation. Very worrying is the fact that in almost half of those cases where violence occurred after the separation, it increased in severity.
Bill includes a number of measures to strengthen the family justice system's response to the unfortunate case of family violence.
First, we must realize that when a family is in crisis, it is possible that various aspects of the justice system may be involved, such as the criminal, civil protection or child protection proceedings, in addition to divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, however, the divorce courts are often not aware of other proceedings or orders that may have been made. This lack of information about other proceedings can lead to conflicting orders, such as where a criminal order prohibits contact between a parent and other family members, but a family order provides that same parent with access to a child.
This is why Bill would amend the Divorce Act so that courts would have evidence of other pending proceedings or orders in effect. This would help improve the administration of justice.
Where parenting is specifically at issue, courts are required to consider only the best interests of the child. New criteria listed in Bill would require consolidation of any civil or criminal proceedings or order relevant to the well-being of a child, even if no longer in effect. This is to help ensure that the court has all relevant information when deciding on the best interests of the child. It is critical that family violence be taken into account when deciding on parenting arrangements for children.
As we learn more about family violence, in particular intimate partner violence, we have come to understand that not all family violence is the same. Depending on the nature of the violence, it can have very different implications on the parenting of the child and the ability of former spouses to co-parent successfully.
At least four different types of violence have been identified, but given my short time today I will only mention two. The first is separation-instigated violence. It generally involves a small number of incidents around the separation, although these can range from very minor to more serious. While no violence is ever acceptable, this type of violence may, over the long term, be less likely to negatively affect the ability of the parents to work together or care for the child.
In contrast, the second type is coercive and controlling family violence. As the name suggests, this violence involves a pattern of control based on intimidation, emotional abuse and physical violence. Coercive and controlling violence is most often perpetrated by men against women. It generally occurs over a prolonged period, has the highest risk of lethality and is most associated with compromised parenting skills. The perpetrator often attempts to control his former partner long after separation. As a result, in these situations, joint decision-making can be challenging and contact between the parents during the exchange of the child can create opportunities for further abuse.
To address the range of family violence, Bill includes an evidence-based definition of family violence. It identifies that family violence can include a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. It provides examples of specific behaviours that constitute family violence, such as physical and sexual abuse and psychological violence and harassment, including stalking.
Finally, Bill specifically highlights family violence as relevant to the best interests of the child when making parenting arrangements. The proposed amendments will direct consideration of any impact of the family violence, but in particular how it might affect the ability of the parents to co-operate with one another, or how it might affect the ability of an abusive parent to care for the child. The bill also provides a list of specific criteria for the court to consider that will determine the severity of the violence, the impact that it has had or may have, and whether and how this should inform the parenting arrangement.
These criteria would help put focus on the particular dynamics of family violence in each individual case. Importantly, both the definition of family violence and the best interests criteria recognize that even when children are not directly subjected to violence, they can be harmed by it. Through Bill , we are taking concrete action to promote children's best interests in situations where they are most vulnerable.
Mr. Speaker, I will first thank the hon. member for for focusing on the question of violence and how this bill would allow us to address that. I, on the other hand, will be taking a more general overview of this legislation, which I am incredibly proud of.
As we know, the first substantial update to Canadian family law in 20 years is occurring. Bill represents a landmark in strengthening and enshrining the best interests of the child and would make federal family law more responsive to the modern-day needs of Canadian families. Family law, as has been noted by all of the speakers today, is both complex and broad and as a result, there are significant gaps and inefficiencies, which existing laws have not adequately addressed. Bill C-78 seeks to remedy these gaps through a wide-ranging series of common-sense adjustments.
Today I will focus on six key elements of Bill : strengthening the best interests of the child provisions, enshrining primary consideration into family law, important changes to terminology, modernizing the Divorce Act, creating contact orders and setting new relocation guidelines.
Allow me to start with the best interests of the child test. The best interests of the child test has been a fundamental part of family law in Canada and in many other countries for decades. Under the Divorce Act, courts must consider only a child's best interests when making decisions about who may care for or make decisions about a child. The Divorce Act, however, gives surprisingly little guidance regarding this test.
In 1998, the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access called for the Divorce Act to include a list of criteria considered to be in the best interests of the child. Many others have added to this call, including academics, child advocates and the Canadian Bar Association. With Bill , our government is answering their calls and taking important steps to address existing gaps and inefficiencies in the family law system.
The proposed criteria for the best interests of the child would emphasize critical elements of a child's life. They include a child's stage of development, ties to loved ones, cultural identity, and personal views and preferences. However, the list is not closed or exhaustive. If a particular factor in a child's life is especially relevant—for example, if the child has medical needs or participates in competitive sporting events—courts could consider these factors where appropriate and relevant.
Adding definitional certainty to the best interests of the child test in the Divorce Act promotes children's interests. It also promotes another one of the bill's key goals: improving access to justice. In some Canadian jurisdictions, over three-quarters of family law litigants are self-represented. Also, a list of best interests of the child criteria in the Divorce Act would help parents better understand their legal responsibilities. It would assist them to better frame their negotiations on arrangements for their children and more often come to agreements outside the court system. Alternatively, if parents cannot agree on their own, this clarity would help self-represented litigants to better frame their arguments in legal proceedings.
Allow me now to move to the second point, which is primary consideration. The reference to “primary consideration” is crucial to the values embodied in Bill . Emphasizing primary consideration would ensure that courts prioritize a child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being. Courts would weigh all other criteria in regard to this primary consideration. Doing so would ensure that the best interests of the child remain paramount in protecting families from the negative outcomes often related to separation and divorce.
I will move to the third point, updates to terminology. Bill would make important and, frankly, long-overdue changes in family law terminology. “Custody” and “access” are now archaic legal terms.
The term “custody” traces its origins to property law, which for hundreds of years has essentially treated children as possessions. The term “access”, meanwhile, refers to a right to use or pass over property. This is not how we should describe responsibilities for children in 2018. In addition, litigation over “custody” and “access” has created additional labels whereby custodial parents are viewed as winners of parenting disputes and access parents the losers. Bill would move away from such confrontational language, as Alberta, B.C. and several international jurisdictions have done.
Going to the issue of modernizing the Divorce Act, Bill would replace orders for custody and access in the Divorce Act with parenting orders. A parenting order addresses parenting time and decision-making responsibility for each parent. Specifically, “parenting time” refers to the time a child spends in a parent's care. This includes all time when a parent is responsible for a child, even when the child is at school. Each parent would have as much parenting time as is consistent with the best interests of the child.
On the other hand, “decision-making responsibility” refers to making important decisions on issues such as health, education, language, religion and significant extracurricular activities. Bill would allow the courts to allocate this responsibility to one or both parents, or, alternatively, to divide elements between the parents.
Furthering the goal of improving access to justice, the bill includes a parenting plan provision, referring to agreements between parents that sets out a road map for the care of the child moving forward. The bill encourages courts to incorporate a parenting plan that is in the child's best interest. This provision recognizes that parents are generally best placed to make decisions about their child.
Moving to the fifth element, Bill also proposes a contact order, in keeping with the best practices already established by several provincial courts. Contact orders carve out time in a child's schedule with a person other than a parent, such as a grandparent. I would like to clarify that a contact order would not usually be necessary in order for grandparents and other loved ones to spend time with a child. It would only be necessary where, because of conflict, parents do not agree to let grandparents or other loved ones spend time with the child. In such cases, Bill would allow courts to make contact orders. These orders could help preserve a child's relationship with his or her loved ones, where appropriate. As with parenting orders, courts would make a contact order if it is in the best interest of the child.
Finally, the issue of relocation has challenged parents, lawyers, and courts for many years. Relocation involves moving a child after separation and divorce. It is one of the most litigated family law issues in existence. In a 2016 survey of lawyers and judges, for example, over 98% of respondents indicated that disputes are harder to settle when relocation is involved. Bill creates relocation guidelines to address this conflict. Parents would now be required to give notice if they want to relocate either themselves or their children. An assessment would be conducted using best interest criteria when considering such a request. These would include factors such as the reasons for relocation, the impacts of relocation on the child, and how reasonable the relocation request is.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill . I do not come at this from a legal perspective—I am not a lawyer—and I do not come at it from the perspective of actually having experienced this directly. I was raised in a home with six children, a very happy, very busy home, and then when my parents were much older in life and I was a grown woman myself, they faced a difficult time when they came very close to divorcing. I have to say that even then, as an adult and with my own children, it was extremely unnerving and disturbing to me, which just raises the realization of how important it is that we have systems in place to assist children. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to actually be dealing with those circumstances as a young child in my home. Fortunately, things worked out well.
That being said, in regard to Bill , I appreciate the four key objectives that are listed: to promote the best interests of the child; to address family violence; to help reduce child poverty; and to streamline various definitions and processes but, more important, to require legal professionals to encourage clients to use alternative ways to resolve disputes.
The Conservative Party has always had this perspective that we believe that in the event of a marital breakdown, the Divorce Act should grant joint custody and/or shared parenting, unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the child. Both parents and all grandparents should be allowed to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and grandchildren, unless it is demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the child. In every case where it is possible, the influence of both parents, and grandparents as well and siblings, is so key to making sure that the family unit is able to survive as best as it can through these difficult circumstances. We understand very well how traumatic divorces are on families.
We are overall pleased with the intentions of Bill , especially the promotion of child welfare and the measures to combat family violence. We have always stood up for and believed in the safety and well-being of children and of families.
However, where this goes off the tracks for me is in the fact that the counterintuitive implementation of Bill is here as well. I know that Canadians' heads are spinning quite often when trying to determine, if this is a whole-of-government approach to things, how it is on the one hand we can be saying we are so concerned about children and then on the other hand be bringing in Bill C-75, which would reduce sentences for very serious crimes, including abduction of a child under the age of 14, participating in activities of a criminal organization, forced marriages, marriage under the age of 16, and concealing the body of a child. These are very serious crimes and impact children, yet the government seems prepared to bring in something that seems so contrary to me.
I want to quote something from the Lawyer's Daily, written by David Frenkel:
The impetus in the fights between parents does not begin when spouses read the terms “custody” and “access” in the Divorce Act. Therefore, unless there are additional provisions added to the proposed amendments, the family conflicts will likely continue even with the replacement of the terms “custody and access” with “parenting” as introduced by Bill C-78.
I appreciate what is being attempted there with the terminology being changed, but at the same time that is a good point, that simply changing the terminology will not in the end make a huge difference. Mr. Frenkel continues:
[A] “parenting order” will replace the traditionally named “custody and access” order.
That needs to be done, but actually it has already been taking place. He says:
The significant change in wording likely arose to answer the concerns from the courts over the years that awarding one parent the status of “custody” and the other “access” created unnecessary winners and losers.... [A]s early as 1975 Justice Robert Furlong...wrote as follows: “The time is long past when the Courts disposed of the custody of a child as a reward to a well-behaved parent or as a punishment to one who misbehaved. The custody of their children is not a prize to be contended for by parents as an award for their good behaviour.”
In 1986, the Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld a decision to refrain from using the words “custody” and “access” because the trial judge thought “those are destructive to a child”.
He also states that perhaps the more important focus of this discussion should be the issue of “control”, as that, unfortunately, quite often is what the fights are about in these circumstances.
Litigants, in time, will become sophisticated in understanding the effect of a future “parenting order” and couples that previously fought incessantly over the term custody will now fight over who will have “decision-making responsibility.”
In other words, although that is part of it, how can we come to a point where the extreme difficulties in making these decisions are not fought out in such a confrontational way?
He goes on to say:
Therapy and assessment orders for litigants will not solve all the problems in custody battles, but they may expose the underlying factors contributing to unreasonable positions taken by them. Therefore, in addition to a change in language to the Divorce Act, it may be necessary for a court to have the jurisdiction to order trained professionals to determine and opine whether a parent's desire for custody or a ”parenting” order is based on healthy motives or not. And if such information cannot be readily available when needed, then simply repealing the terms “custody” and “access” may not achieve the intended consequences we all have been waiting for with Bill C-78's introduction.
In other words, efforts need to be made to ensure that the individuals who are involved in these circumstances have the necessary tools at their disposal to assist them in the process more effectively. There is no question that this is probably one of the most trying and difficult circumstances to be in for a couple who at one point married because of their desire to see their life as a long-term commitment and to have children. Yes, sometimes there are very violent circumstances. Other times there is an inability to communicate. However, there needs to be a process in place to assist them.
Further to that, I read an article by Robert Harvie, a family lawyer, mediator and arbitrator with Huckvale LLP, an advisory board member for the national self-represented litigants project, and a past Law Society of Alberta bencher. Harvie comes at this from a very well-rounded perspective. He states:
The unveiling of Bill C-78 received almost uniform praise from the media and legal profession as the “first major amendment of the Divorce Act in 20 years.”
Indeed, it is.
My opinion is less effusive. Perhaps it's the cynicism of a lawyer who has been working in family law for 32 years. Having sat as a bencher with the Law Society of Alberta, and in fact, chaired their Access to Justice Committee for two years, I have seen much promise and very little delivery in improving access to justice. As a result, I opened up the 190 pages of Bill C-78 with less optimism than many of my colleagues.
He says it is “similar to the excitement over the maiden voyage of the Titanic”, which piqued my interest. With respect to the Titanic, he talked about all of its amazing additions to improve its amenities and necessities, such as squash racquets courts, baths, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, electric passenger lifts, all these of different services, including more deck chairs, to make the trip better. However, the reality was that they did not have what they truly needed.
He indicates that, at its core, Bill is devoid of change to the overall resolution process, that lawyers charge too much money, that law societies appear focused on reducing complaints rather than caring for them, that litigation is antiquated and cumbersome, and that we need to fund and support more alternative forms of resolution.
I have a good friend who settled many divorce and custody cases for his law firm out of court and without expensive litigation. However, he lost his job. Why? It was because he did not have enough billables and was not productive enough for the firm. In other words, he did not make enough money for the firm. He was encouraged to work for legal aid, because that was where he belonged.
Our legal system needs to change so that firms invest in litigating these cases through mediation and arbitration. Yes, we can tell people that they should go and do this, that they should make this choice, but they usually first find themselves at a law firm. I would like to see this concern addressed within the legal profession in Canada, where we make this a priority and prepare our lawyers, who are clearly willing to take on this type of roll to serve Canada, and especially to serve children.
Mr. Speaker, in rising to speak to Bill , I would like to start with a personal story, one that will probably surprise many in the House and even many back home in my community.
I spent a number of years as a very young man as a single father. I raised by son, Quinn, who is now 22 years old. I was working two jobs while going to school full time and trying to raise him. It was a difficult time for me financially for sure, but we got through and did well. My son often tells me that some of the best memories of his life were from that time, even though I could not afford to put a lot on the table. It was Kraft Dinners, hot dogs and Hamburger Helper at best. We did without a lot of things. We lived in basement suite apartments for a few years while I went to school. However, I was able to raise him, and I think I raised him into a fine young man, one I am very proud of.
At that time, I did have some experience with family law, albeit not related specifically to the Divorce Act, which now speaks to some of the concerns this proposed legislation tries address today. It is for that reason, and from some stories I have heard from others whom I have spoken to during and since that time and during my time as a member of Parliament, that I do find the objectives and goals of the proposed legislation laudable.
Certainly, in some of the things it addresses, the bill tries to ensure that the best interests of the child are always promoted. It reinforces and emphasizes the importance of keeping a child's best interests as the absolute top priority in family law when making decisions about parenting in these cases. That is a critical principle. I also think it is important that more be done to require legal professionals to encourage clients to use alternative ways of resolving disputes, which is always something we should seek to achieve. The proposed legislation certainly has those things among its objectives. Although I do not often have occasion to do this, I do laud the government for its efforts in trying to achieve those goals.
However, I am still not certain that the proposed legislation would achieve the goals it sets out. There are some questions that I and others on this side of the House have that need to be addressed. Therefore, I want the bill to go to committee so we have an opportunity to address those concerns, issues and questions. I am hopeful they can be addressed.
I will point to a few articles about the bill. My colleague who spoke before read from one of them, but there are a few others I have noted that somewhat pan the bill. I will read very brief passages from them.
First is an article entitled “How the new Bill C-78 affects custody and access rulings”. It says that “On its face, this bill is an expression by the federal government that progress was needed in the way that separated families were treated under the law”. I would certainly agree with that. It goes on to say that “However, much of what is being proposed has been already implemented in out-of-court settlements, as well as in decisions made by judges.”
The second article is entitled “What’s in a name? Divorce Act amendment not enough to reduce parental conflict”. I will not read any passages from it, because I think the title speaks for itself.
The third is the article my colleague read from, but I want to read from some different parts of it. It is entitled “Bill C-78 amendments to the Divorce Act: ‘Rearranging the deck chairs’”.
I would like to read a little from that article. First, the author, someone who has vast experience in family law in my province of Alberta, says:
I would go further and suggest most of Bill C-78 is an expression of “good intention” without sufficient substance to accomplish real change.
That is quite a typical statement that could be made about many of the initiatives of the government. Often it tends to focus on symbolism, talking points and these kinds of things, rather than on really accomplishing anything that would achieve the kinds of objectives it often speaks about. I am not going to say that this is necessarily the case. The author of this article is certainly positing that, though.
The author goes on to say:
Also noted is that Bill C-78 is 190 pages long. The current Divorce Act is only 41 pages long. As self-represented litigants now comprise 80 per cent of the parties before many courts, one might reasonably ask how they will navigate through legislation that is over four times longer than the previous version—which was already difficult for a nonlawyer to digest.
Bill C-78 is a huge new ship, with some very nice looking aesthetic additions—but, with too few lifeboats.
And the iceberg is still coming.
Those are comments of the author of that article.
Obviously there may be some things we need to look at that may need to be addressed with this piece of legislation. However, as I have already stated, I believe that the objectives that are trying to be achieved here are laudable. I certainly hope that this bill will actually be found to address those or can be amended or changed in ways that would make sure that it would do just that. It is something that does need to be done. It is important.
I certainly discovered, during my time both as a member of Parliament and, as I mentioned, in my experience with family law, with my son, which ultimately worked out positively, that there were far too many parents, mainly fathers, and grandparents whose children and grandchildren were being deprived of time with them. That needs to be fixed.
That is part of the reason I am so proud to be part of the Conservative Party of Canada, which has the following policy regarding shared parenting. I will read the policy into the record:
The Conservative Party believes that in the event of a marital breakdown, the Divorce Act should grant joint custody and/or shared parenting, unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the child. Both parents and all grandparents should be allowed to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and grandchildren, unless it is demonstrated not to be in the best interest of the child.
That is a very important principle and one that I fully support and believe in. It is one we should be seeking to achieve here.
I will just tell a brief personal story. I was a child of divorce as well. My parents divorced when I was about 12 years old. I have two brothers. After my parents divorced, I spent some time living with each of my parents, and actually both of my brothers did the same, at different times.
My parents, as in most divorces, I suppose, certainly did not get along very well. To this day, I would say that they probably do not get along very well. The key point, however, is that they were able to put aside those differences when it came to their children and tried to do what was right to make sure that their children were able to maintain a strong, positive relationship with both parents. Even though, at times, my brothers and I did not live in the same house, and, in fact, lived in cities that were an hour apart, they made sure that we had the opportunity to continue to have a very strong relationship as siblings. I would say today that I have maintained that with my brothers and with both my parents. That was important, but it is not a common enough story.
That is why these changes are so important and why it is important that this bill is done in the right way and is not just about symbolism, that it is actually going to accomplish the objectives.
I certainly hope that after examination in committee, and after any amendments that might be required, it will be possible, through this piece of legislation, for more children and more families to achieve that goal of ensuring that the relationship remains with both parents and with all the children of the relationship.
If that is, in fact, the case following the completion of that examination, I would certainly be happy to support this piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I have been divorced for 27 years and am the proud single mother of two daughters who are now 30 and 29. I know how outdated the Divorce Act is. No changes have been made to it in many years.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill , which seeks to modernize divorce laws. The Conservative Party is and always will be the party that wants to improve every aspect of our justice system and do what we can to put those who might suffer first, adults and children alike, in an effort to improve their situation.
Bill C-78, which seeks to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act—this one deals with child support—and to make consequential amendments to another act, is very important.
As a member from Quebec, I know that the number of cases of separation and divorce has continued to climb in my province over the past 40 years, and it is essential that our laws be appropriately reformed in order not to make it more difficult for parents, who already must deal with significant disputes that are usually very emotional.
The reforms included in Bill would replace the terminology related to custody and access with terminology related to parenting, establish a non-exhaustive list of criteria with respect to the best interests of the child, create duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes, introduce measures to assist the courts in addressing family violence, establish a framework for the relocation of a child, and simplify certain processes, including those related to family support obligations.
When looking to improve a bill, it is essential that we have objectives. In this case, we must first and foremost promote the best interests of the child. We must reinforce and focus on the crucial principle of maintaining the best interests of the child as the absolute priority of family law when it comes to parental decisions. Unfortunately, all too often children are used as pawns in separations, causing them to suffer even more, often scarring them for life.
This bill must also help address family violence by requiring the courts to consider parental violence, the seriousness and impact of the violence on the child, and future parenting arrangements. At present these situations are treated separately in cases of separation before the court, which means that the issues are dealt with separately instead of at the same time.
This bill must provide more tools to help restore child support and enforce child support agreements in order to the help reduce child poverty. Currently, when the paying parent does not pay, the parents must once again clog up the justice system and its related services. Parents must return to court to address the violation. In the end, the children do not benefit from the money and courtrooms are overloaded. That is wrong.
If we want this bill to be successful, we must make Canada's family justice system more accessible and efficient. We must simplify the various definitions and processes, offer more flexibility to provincial child support recalculation services, alleviate the courts' workloads by allowing provincial administrative child support services to carry out some tasks for which the courts are currently responsible, and require that legal professionals encourage their clients to use means other than the courts to resolve disputes.
The Conservative Party is working and will always work in the interests of victims and their families, and we believe that, in cases of divorce, the Divorce Act should allow for shared custody or shared parenting responsibilities unless it is clearly demonstrated that this is not in the best interests of the child. Both parents and all grandparents should maintain close, meaningful relationships with their children and grandchildren—unless it is shown that this is not in the bests interests of the child, of course.
All of this will have financial implications. To expand unified family courts, the government is planning to spend $77.2 million over four years beginning in 2019-20, plus another $20 million per year to create 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Federal family laws have not been updated significantly in 20 years. According to the 2016 census, there were over 2 million children whose parents were separated or divorced, which is a huge number. Between 1991 and 2011, 5 million Canadians separated or divorced, which is also a huge number. Of those 5 million people, 38% had a child with their ex-spouse at the time they separated or divorced. Some 1.16 million children of separated or divorced parents lived in single-parent households, and 1.2 million children lived with a step-parent.
Single-parent families, especially those headed by women, which was my case for a very long time, are more likely to be poor than two-parent families. That is so true. Studies have shown that child support is a key factor in lifting families out of poverty following separation or divorce.
It is hard for single mothers or single fathers—let us not forget about them—to feed their children properly if they are earning $12, $13, $14, or $15 an hour and not getting support payments. We know that young children need a lot of protein. As they grow they eat a lot. Apparently boys eat more than girls do. I have daughters only so I cannot speak to that, but we do have to take that into consideration. We have to focus on single-parent families, but we must put the child first in a bill such as this. The child's well-being is essential. We see more and more people ending up poor following a separation or divorce.
In budget 2018, the Liberals announced that they would work on expanding the unified family court program. They need to keep that promise and avoid playing politics with such sad, heart-wrenching, and pivotal cases that have an impact on a child or children, whether we are talking about separation or divorce.
That is why I support the intention and objectives of the bill to protect the best interests of the child and fight against family violence.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for sharing her time with me today to speak to this very important topic. I will be taking a different perspective.
I have no legal training or background. I have been happily married for 29 years now to my beautiful wife, Liane. However, having worked in the emergency services as a firefighter in my previous life, I have certainly witnessed a high propensity of divorce situations within the emergency services, and there are a lot of reasons why that happens. However, I saw first-hand the effects of divorce on many of my colleagues and friends, not only in the fire services, but the police services and all emergency services as well.
Bill is a very timely bill in the sense that it would bring into line and modernize, in fact, codify a lot of case law that has gone on, the many divorce cases that have been dealt with over the course of the last several decades. Therefore, there is a lot of which to be supportive.
Let us look at divorce in our country and see the extent of it. The 2016 census shows that over two million children were living in separated or divorced families. Five million Canadians separated or divorced between 1991 and 2011. Of those, 38% had a child together at the time of their separation or divorce. This affects over one-third of the Canadian population, children of those who are part of a divorce situation. In addition, 1.16 million children of separated or divorced parents were living in a lone parent family. Another 1.02 million children were living in step families.
I will also be taking another perspective. I have had meetings with several of my constituents on the implications and impact of Bill , and of course I am here to represent my constituents. Later on, because I received several letters, I will be reading one letter in particular into the record. The hope is that when the bill does go to committee, there will be reflection on what people across the country would like to see as changes to this legislation.
There is a lot to support in Bill . It is rather robust legislation, 190 pages. When we contrast that to the Divorce Act, at 41 pages, there is a lot to consider and reflect on within the bill. There are some things to support and some things that need to be changed when we get to committee.
The reduction in delays of the justice system would save costs. Another thing I have witnessed over my years in the emergency services is the devastating impact divorce can have on families. There is a cost not just to fathers but to mothers as well, and that impacts the family.
What does Bill attempt to do? The bill was tabled on May 22. The proposed bill amends the Divorce Act to, among other things, replace terminology related to custody and access with terminology related to parenting. This is a simple modification, but it reflects modern times. It establishes non-exhaustive list criteria with respect to the best interest of the child. All of us in the House, and quite frankly across the country, are interested in the best interest of the child. It creates duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes. As I said before, the cost associated with divorce is debilitating for many. Some parents simply cannot recover from those costs.
There are things to like about the legislation. It would modernize the Divorce Act, but, more important, as we get it to committee, we will get to hear from stakeholders.
As I said earlier, I want to read into the record a letter that I received from Mr. Andrew Corbett, a constituent of mine. He is part of a Simcoe County support group called “Fathers Equal Parenting”. This is a letter that was subsequent to a meeting we had in my constituency office in Barrie—Innisfil and it provides a different perspective, a different context.
Today we are debating Bill , which the government has proposed, but it is also important, I believe, and I think you will agree with me, Mr. Speaker, to find those contrasting views, those things that can help parents across the country. The letter states:
As one of your constituents I am writing to express my concerns about Child Custody legislation and the recent Bill C-78. Bill C-78 fails to give sufficient credence to the views of the vast majority of Canadians who support a Rebuttable Presumption for Equal Shared Parenting when it comes to Child Custody law.
Although there may be some plausible, positive measures in the new government initiative, Bill C-78, there are a number of serious deficits in this proposed reform of child custody legislation. Notwithstanding, I believe that there are tenable solutions to significantly improve Bill C-78.
Andrew further wrote:
Canadians overwhelmingly support Equal Shared Parenting. In recent polls, nearly 80% support Equal Shared Parenting, country-wide. Moreover, many countries have adopted shared parenting, or have endorsed shared parenting, and are proposing legislative changes. Furthermore, social science research and literature has strongly came in favour of shared parenting, concluding that children in these relationships have superior academic, emotional, social and economic futures with drastically lower incidence of substance abuse, crime, and incarceration.
In view of the changes in social norms and family structures in the intervening 33 years since the current Divorce Act was passed, our child custody legal system requires fundamental structural changes. While the government initiative with bill C-78 should be commended for its housekeeping changes, we really need to make lives better for children and their parents, with reform of a more fundamental nature. I ask you to advocate a number of amendments to Bill C-78. I ask that you advocate for legislative change that incorporates accepted social science research findings and the consistently expressed views of the Canadian public. A rebuttable presumption in favour of Equal Shared Parenting is the appropriate course of action in light of the research and the consistent polling data over many years (ie. about 80% in favour). Interests groups, including Bar Associations and other interest groups, will surely oppose. In summary, the following points need to be incorporated into Bill C-78.
Canada needs a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting. This principle should be the starting point for “best interests of the child” deliberations.
Adopt continuity of family relationships as the definitional basis for the “best interests of the child” standard.
Amend proposed relocation clauses to place the onus on the relocating parent for changes in parenting responsibilities and arrangements.
Include arbitration as an explicit component of dispute resolution options.
Include provision for a “Parental Coordinator” to mediate and, if necessary, to break deadlock situations in day-to-day implementation of the Parenting Order.
Andrew goes on to say:
On paper the proposed Bill C-78 seems to support some admirable measures but I ask that you advocate for a less adversarial family justice system with implementation of the following:
Further implementation of the Unified Family Court;
Support for alternative and non-adversarial dispute resolution (e.g. expansion of such programs as “393 Mediate” where free, low cost mediation is provided in courts.);
Increased legal Aid Funding (wider access to justice in the family system is essential);
In conclusion, a Rebuttable Presumption in favour of Equal Shared Parenting will set the stage for equality and serve to reduce conflict stemming from unwarranted senses of entitlement; reduce excess legal expense, thus allocating family finances for the needs of the family and children; and promote the “best interest” of Canadian children to enjoy a decent relationship with both parents. Many like-minded Canadians support these changes. Now please propose these changes.
He thanks me for reading the letter. I will submit this into the record.
I have asked Mr. Corbett to come to committee once this bill passes through the House of Commons so that he can testify and submit his own view on where Bill needs to be approved. Many people believe that Bill C-78 is a good piece of legislation, but there are some amendments that could provide a better, solid piece of legislation that is in the best interests of Canadian children and their families.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to enter into the debate on Bill , 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. Quite a title for the bill. For the purposes of this discussion, I will simply refer to the bill as Bill C-78.
In essence, what are we talking about? We are talking about a situation where there is a family breakdown. That is what it is and under no circumstances can we imagine that could ever be a positive thing for anyone, for any of the parties involved. However, sometimes making that hard decision, going down that difficult path may very well be the best thing. Sometimes in those circumstances it may well be the best thing and in the best interests of the child as well.
That said, when people have a disagreement, when they have a breakdown, often people's emotions understandably are very high. Marriage generally happens with people declaring their love for each other. Imagine for a moment when that breaks down, what that means. The anger, the hurt, all of those emotions come flooding back and the sadness that goes with it. It is very difficult in the best of circumstances, but sometimes that is a process that adults have to embark on.
There are members in the House who talked about their own personal experiences. Sadly, for me and for many people, I am one of those statistics as well. I, too, am a single mom with two children. It is not an easy path, but sometimes it is the path that we have to take. With that said, I applaud this piece of legislation. I welcome this piece of legislation. Why? Because it attempts to make the process a little easier, a little better, and most important of all, with the best interests of the child at heart.
That is not to say that Bill would do all of it and will fix everything and that there are not issues with it. I assume when it gets to committee stage there will be opportunities for witnesses to come before the committee and offer their thoughts. Then amendments, if required, would be tabled and hopefully those changes could be made in a non-partisan way with the best interests of the child at heart.
I would like to focus on a couple of aspects of the bill that are important and worthy of support. I come from the community of Vancouver East, where generally speaking, we are not affluent people. People in my community tend to be lower-income, middle-income and when they have to get a divorce, a lot of the time, particularly women, often do not have the necessary resources to fight that fight, to get to court to have custody battles dealt with. The bill attempts to bring forward a more amicable way, a less onerous way in achieving the same results that one would want to see and that is to ensure that the caring of the child, the spending of time with the child, would be divided between both parents. That is of paramount importance.
The bill proposes that whoever wants to initiate this process would be required to get a certification agreement with the other individual that they have attempted and exhausted all the other avenues in resolution of that dispute before it goes to court. That is to say, if people can get resolution, then they do not have to go to court. That is not only in the best interests of the child, it is also in the best interests of the two adults involved in that situation.
Dispute resolution at all times is a good thing, whether it be in other circumstances or in different arenas. Rather than going to court, fighting a battle, being angry and pessimistic about the litigious procedure, dispute resolution is a way to try and resolve things in a more amicable way. That would be in the best interests of everyone involved.
Of course, from the government side, from the taxpayer side, this would be important as well, because it would actually reduce the costs to the courts and the court system. That, too, is a positive outcome. From that perspective, that element of the bill, which is to move toward an alternative dispute resolution process, is absolutely worthy of support.
Of significant importance as well is the situation where domestic violence is involved. In those instances, the bill would require the court to take that issue into consideration, especially with respect to the interest of the child, which is to say that when it comes to the custody of the child, there might be situations where it is in the best interest of the child to be under the guardianship of one parent. It might be a requirement, but that is for the courts to decide. However, making it explicit that it needs to be dealt with in the best interest of the child is an important component as well.
So often we see these situations where there is a marriage breakdown and the children get caught in the crossfire. I have met family lawyers who have told me that the most heartbreaking and difficult part of their job is to have to see the sadness and tragedy because of the tension and animosity that exist. They say that often it is the child who ends up getting hurt, and the adults may not even be thinking about the fact that they are hurting their children. Sometimes they are so caught up in the situation that they are blinded by it and cannot see it, which is a tragedy.
Therefore, the bill would allow for a provision for the courts to ensure that actions taken would be in the best interests of the child, which is absolutely worthy of support.
The bill would also give a tool to the parties to ensure that child maintenance is calculated and provided accurately. I would assume that in the event of the breakdown of a marriage where children are involved, one would want to ensure that the children are supported and have the best opportunities to succeed, and that their needs are met.
It does not always happen that way, and I would say for sad reasons really. There are cases where the child support and maintenance are not there, even when one partner could afford to do so. I do not know why people do that, but sometimes that is what happens. However, the bill would provide the tools to ensure accurate calculations of maintenance contributions for the child and in the best interests of the child, which is also a positive outcome.
In British Columbia, where I come from, for a very long time, people on income assistance as single parents, usually single moms, would have a really difficult time getting maintenance payments. Trying to get that would just be so awful for them. The income assistance system requires them to report the possible access to maintenance.
For a long time in British Columbia we actually had a situation where it was incumbent on the parent, usually a single mom, to pursue that maintenance payment. Then, when she got it, that maintenance payment was actually clawed back from the income assistance payment. It was as though that money received from the ex-spouse or ex-partner would be contributed towards the support of the children, but in reality at the end of the day it was not because that money was clawed back by the government. I am glad to say that law has now been changed, and that is a positive thing.
It is of paramount importance that in the process, we ensure that the maintenance component is achieved in a fair way, and that those dollars go to support the child or children. This bill aims to do that. It gives the tools to achieve that outcome. That is a laudable goal and something I would absolutely support.
There are some gaps within the bill. Those are the areas that concern me. It has already been brought forward by other members in their debate that this bill would not apply to people who are in a common-law situation, particularly in Quebec.
I wonder how we could ensure that this bill and the intention of this bill, which is to act in the best interests of the child or children in the event of a divorce or marital breakdown, would apply to all children in Canada, including in Quebec.
That is worth looking into. I understand and fully accept that Quebec has a different system than the rest of the provinces and territories. That being said, there is a gap. That gap is worth looking into, to see if there is a way to address that.
The government says the bill provides for reducing child poverty. On the face of it, reducing the cost of these kinds of court proceedings is in the best interests of everyone. When we ensure that accurate and fair maintenance is determined in the case of a marriage breakdown or divorce, that supports families, particularly low-income families who sometimes have a tough time ensuring that fair maintenance is provided. I suppose that contributes to it.
I hope, though, that this is not the only thing we will rely on to reduce child poverty. I am a new MP, a first-time MP in this chamber, but I can look back at the history. Back in the day when Ed Broadbent was an MP, many years ago, he actually proposed a motion in this House. It was unanimously passed, by every single member of this House. It said we needed to end child poverty.
However, to this day, we still do not have a national strategy to get there. Why is that? We have one piece here. I am sure government members will get up and say the government is doing this and that, and it is all fantastic and wonderful. However, it is not really. Those are all little patchwork pieces coming into play. Bill will contribute to that, but it is also just a patchwork piece.
What if we actually brought forward a national strategy to end child poverty, a comprehensive approach that would look at all the different approaches to achieving that goal? Would that not be in the best interests of a child? We would actually be able to realize the words and the intention of this very chamber, when Ed Broadbent brought forward his motion that received unanimous consent so many years ago.
That would be a positive way forward. I hope we can achieve that. It would be a significant piece toward ending child poverty.
The other thing that would be a significant piece toward ending child poverty would be the provision of affordable housing. Many people have a tough time accessing affordable housing. Where I come from in Vancouver it is almost impossible to get access to safe, secure, affordable housing.
The government will say it has put forward a national affordable housing strategy, which was introduced two years ago. The problem with that is that 90% of that money will not flow until after the next election. It is not as if people who are homeless today can say they will sleep under an alcove and feel really good about it until two years from now when the money flows.
Also, when the money actually does flow, having come from the non-profit sector I know it often takes, at minimum, three to four years to get a project built. That means it is another five, six or seven years before someone actually gets access to housing.
Access to housing would be a significant component to the fight against poverty. Would it not be great if in budget 2019 the government said it would flow the money right now, because the crisis is before us right now?
All of that would contribute to this equation.
I have met some women in my community of Vancouver East who are faced with domestic dispute violence but do not feel they have the option to walk away from the relationship, because they cannot access housing and have no other means of supporting themselves. This is heartbreaking.
Therefore, while the bill aims to provide some support for that, we have to look deeper than that. We need to make sure that women and families also have the option of walking away from a relationship by ensuring they have some resources and support with respect to securing housing. That is an absolutely vital component to the equation.
I have met women who have told me they could not secure affordable housing and had to go back to an abusive relationship. That cannot be the way forward, and it is definitely not in the best interests of a child. Therefore, I would like for us to look at this issue in a more comprehensive way.
I absolutely support this bill. I expect that at committee there will be further discussion about it, and that witnesses will provide testimony and comments with respect to it. If there are amendments that come forward, I hope that all parties will work together to bring forward these amendments in the best interests of the child.
Beyond that, I hope the government will bring forward other components to make a difference in the lives of children, especially those who are struggling today. They should always be in the eyes of parliamentarians when we take action in their best interests.
Mr. Speaker, I could not be more thrilled to rise today on behalf of the 93,000 citizens of Beauport—Limoilou, to whom I send warm, sincere greetings. This is my first time speaking since we came back from the summer break.
Today, I will be speaking to my constituents in Beauport—Limoilou about Bill . Marriage has always been extremely important to me. From a tender age, I yearned to be married someday. I have always believed that the bond between a married couple is something infinitely precious. Marriage is also a cherished tradition, and as a Conservative, I like keeping up traditions.
I say this without prejudice, but unfortunately, I grew up in the social context of Quebec, which no longer values the institution of marriage as it should. I am referring to official marriage, either civil or religious. Marriage, as an institution, is no longer held in respect. Most of my constituents are in civil unions, which is perfectly fine. Nevertheless, marriage is still dear to my heart. As a Conservative, I wanted to perpetuate the tradition of marriage. I have been with my wife, Pascale Laneuville, for 14 years. After living together for seven years, I wanted her to experience a proper marriage proposal. I was happy to do it, and I am delighted to still be married today. I hope my marriage will last until I die, hopefully in the House. I want to be an MP for 40 years. That is my most fervent wish.
That said, I would like to talk a bit about the summer I had in my riding of Beauport—Limoilou. Over the three-month summer break, I met with many of my constituents, who are watching us right now on CPAC. I said “summer break” because Parliament was on a break, but we were not on a break from work. Journalists often like to confuse Canadians about this. I was in my office the whole time, except for my two-week vacation to the Le Genévrier campground in Baie-Saint-Paul. That is a little promo. It is a beautiful campground in the Charlevoix region, in my colleague's riding.
I celebrated July 1 at Maison Girardin, in Beauport. One thousand people joined me to celebrate Confederation. I hosted my third annual summer party at Domaine Maizerets park. More than 3,500 residents came to my meeting to tell me about their concerns, and I let them know what I can do for them as their MP. There was complimentary corn and hot dogs, generously donated by Provigo on 1st Avenue in Limoilou. I want to thank the owner, Mr. Bourboin, was is very generous to the people of Beauport—Limoilou.
I continued to go door to door in my riding two evenings a week, as I do every month. I noticed that my constituents want to learn more about our leader, the member for . People are quite impressed by the Conservative Party's openness to Quebec as a distinct society. I was pleased to discover this when chatting with my constituents.
I also organized two meetings with Beauport's network of business people. These business luncheons are attended by more than 60 Beauport entrepreneurs every two or three weeks. The next one is scheduled on Wednesday, October 10, at 7 a.m., at the Ambassador Hotel. There will be an economic round table with Mr. Barrucco, executive director of the Association des économistes québécois, who will answer all questions from small and medium-sized business owners from Beauport—Limoilou.
I attended almost every event held in my riding this summer. I also held my second “Alupa à l'écoute” public consultation. The third will happen in November. I will then be introducing a bill to address an ever-present concern of my constituents. Naturally, there is also the day-to-day work at my office, with citizens' files and all the rest.
Finally, two weeks ago, together with the mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, and André Drolet, who was then the Liberal candidate for Jean-Lesage, I participated, with great fanfare, in the sod turning for the Medicago production facility. This is going to create more than 400 well-paid, quality jobs in vaccine research. It will also contribute to the revitalization of the Estimauville sector, which is very much needed because since the 1970s and 1980s, it is a sector of Quebec City that has been neglected.
Now back to the subject at hand, Bill . Let me start by saying that the Conservatives plan to support this bill at second reading on some conditions. We are eager to hear from the witnesses at committee and to see how the Liberals react to our concerns and our vision for this bill because, as I will explain in a moment, some of the things in this bill make very little sense to us.
I would like to explain the gist of this bill to the people of Beauport—Limoilou. The main goal is to act in children's best interest. My constituents should know that the Divorce Act has not been amended in 20 years, or two decades. In that time, we have seen generation X, generation Y, and the millennials. They have had a major impact on Quebec elections. As the years go by, things change, social mores change, and culture evolves. Two decades, 20 years, is a long time.
I might go so far as to compliment the Liberal government on its decision to review this legislation and amend it to better reflect everything children go through when their parents divorce and take into account the situations they find themselves in. The Liberals are absolutely right about the importance of putting children first during the divorce process, just as patients should be at the centre of conversations about health care. The Conservatives agree 100% that this should be the focus of the bill. Yes, children should be central to discussions during the divorce process to keep their suffering to a minimum regardless of what goes on between their parents.
As a brief aside, I would like to tell a joke that I always tell my friends and even my family. My parents are divorced, and so are my wife's parents. Quite frankly, it was pretty common for their generation. As I often say jokingly, divorce is not an option for me and my wife, even if we wanted one, because my daughter and son already have four grandfathers and four grandmothers. The situation is already so ridiculous that I would not want to add another four grandfathers and four grandmothers. As members can see, divorce is not an option for me. However, for individuals who need to divorce for unavoidable reasons, it is important that the legislation reflect the mores, customs and conventions of the present day.
In addition, the bill brought another thought to mind, and I think members will see its relevance. The United States-Mexico-Canada agreement was reached this week, so I drew a parallel. Since we are talking about marriage, agreements and concerns, we could look at the USMCA as an economic marriage, of sorts, between two countries. In this economic marriage, which has been arranged for sound and objective reasons based on a win-win logic, the aim is to protect the children, which, in this case, are the Canadian economy and our sovereignty.
The USMCA is an important agreement between two countries that have decided to open their borders and create a relationship and ties in order to move forward together toward shared growth and an economy that works for both sides. However, we see two big problems with this marriage. First of all, it simply does not cut it economically speaking, because the and member for Papineau failed to ensure its fairness.
For example, the softwood lumber dispute has not been resolved. This is the third or fourth softwood lumber crisis. I visited Rimouski in the Gaspé region. Actually, I know the people who live there would not be happy to hear me say that Rimouski is in the Gaspé, so I will say that I visited Rimouski, which is in the Lower St. Lawrence region, where there are a number of lumber mills. Obviously, they are tired of dealing with one softwood lumber crisis after another. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the government to strengthen Canada's relationship with the United States and resolve the softwood lumber dispute.
Let us think too of all of the other regions of Quebec that will be negatively impacted by the imminent breach in supply management on dairy products. Once again, Canada is giving without getting anything in return. I realized that this marriage is not at all fair. When we officially entered into a relationship with the United States in 1989—
Mr. Speaker, I can understand my colleague's concern. I did have a point I was getting at. I want to talk about clauses 54 and 101 of Bill and how they contradict Bill .
However, I was talking about something that is very important to me. I will use a different analogy. Let us leave NAFTA behind for a different analogy.
We have a who introduced Bill , telling Canadians that after 20 years, he is proposing important amendments, some fundamental and others more technical, that will strengthen the legislation and the institution of marriage in Canada.
Notwithstanding the fact that we Conservative members plan to support this bill, following the committee studies, we feel it is hard to trust the Prime Minister when he says he wants to strengthen marriage, considering his behaviour as the head of government.
For example, when Mr. Trudeau was elected in 2015, we might say that it was a marriage between him and the people of Canada. However, after everything that the has done in the past three years, a marriage would not have lasted a year since he broke three major promises. I would even say that these are promises that break up the very core of his marriage with Canada. I will get to the clauses in this bill that have me concerned, but I want to draw a parallel. How can we trust the when it comes to this divorce bill, when he himself does not keep his promises to Canadians?
He made three fundamental promises. The first was to run deficits of only $10 billion for the first three years and then cut back on that. He broke that promise. The deficits have been $30 billion every year.
The second fundamental broken promise of his marriage with the people of Canada was to achieve a balanced budget by 2020-21. Now we are talking about 2045, my goodness. Is there anything more important than finances in a marriage? Yes, there is love. I get it.
However, budgets are essential in a home. Finances are essential for a couple to remain together. I can attest to that. Love has its limits in a home. Bills have to get paid and children have to eat. Budgets need to be balanced, something that Canadian families do all the time. Our is unable to keep that promise.
The other promise has to do with our voting system, how we are going to run our home, our political system. Just before they got married, the Prime Minister promised Canadians that he would reform the voting system. That was a key promise and he broke it. In fact it was one of the first promises he broke and it is a serious broken promise in his marriage with Canadians in my opinion. It is a broken promise to every young person who trusted him.
Personally, I completely disagree with reforming the voting system because I believe that the first past the post system is the best guarantee for a parliamentary democracy. That said, it was a key promise that he made to youth and the leftists of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, who view proportional representation as being better for them, their future and their concerns. However, he broke his promise. The marriage has been on the verge of breaking up for a long time now. I predict that it will only last one more year.
I have one last point to make in my analogy and then I will discuss the bill. I want to talk about his infrastructure promise. The Prime Minister said that he would invest $183 billion in infrastructure over the next 14 years. It was the largest program in the history of Canada because, according to the Liberals, their programs are always the largest in the history of Canada. I would remind members that ours was incredible as well, with $80 billion invested between 2008 and 2015.
I will ask my colleagues a question they are sure to know the answer to. How many billions of the $183 billion have been spent after four years? The answer is $7 billion, if I am not mistaken. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer mentioned it in one of his reports.
Therefore, how can we have confidence in the , the member for , who is introducing a bill to strengthen the institution of marriage and the protection of children in extremely contentious divorces when he himself, in his solemn marriage with the Canadian people, has broken the major promises of his 2015 election platform?
The bond of trust has been broken and divorce between the Liberals and the people of Canada is imminent. It is set to happen on October 19, 2019.
Bill seeks to address some rather astonishing statistics. According to the 2016 census, more than two million children were living in a separated or divorced family. Five million Canadians separated or divorced between 1991 and 2011. Of that number, 38% had a child at the time of their separation or divorce. I imagine that is why the focus of Bill is protection of the child.
However, we have some concerns. Clause 101 introduces the idea that Her Majesty ranks in priority over the party that instituted the garnishment proceedings if the debtor is indebted or has any moneys to pay. That has us concerned. We will certainly call witnesses to our parliamentary committee to find out what they think and to see if we can amend this.
We also believe that clause 54 is flawed. It extends Her Majesty's binding period from five to 12 years. That is another aspect of the bill that could be problematic in our view.
I do not like to end on a negative note, but I absolutely have to mention a major contradiction pertaining to Bill . Today, the Liberals enthusiastically shared with us, through this bill, their desire to make the protection of children, rather than parents, a priority in cases of divorce. However, when we look closely at Bill , which, with its 300 pages, is a mammoth bill if ever there was one, we see that it seeks to rescind all of the great measures to strengthen crime legislation that our dear prime minister, Mr. Harper, implemented during his 10 years in office, a fantastic decade in Canada.
We are distressed to see that this bill lessens sentences for crimes committed against children. The Liberals are not content with just saying that they are good and the Conservatives are bad. They, who profess to believe in universal love, want to lessen the sentences for criminals who committed terrible, deplorable crimes against children. Then they tell us that the purpose of their bill is to help children.
We see these contradictions and we are concerned. I do not think that my constituents would let their spouses break promises as important as the ones the has broken since 2015. They would not want to stay in a relationship like that.
Canadians need to realize that their divorce from the Liberal government is imminent.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to Bill . I am not approaching this as a lawyer, as many of the others have done today. I am approaching this as a woman who has been divorced as well as a woman who has worked in a constituency office, dealing with people who have come from divorce and with different government departments.
I am going to begin with some of my experiences as a constituency assistant and how the Canada child benefit divvies out the money. The Canada Revenue Agency, under the leadership of the Conservative government, did an excellent job when it came to shared custody and shared parenting. That has become a nuance for many new families. If I was asked 20 years ago, when I look at that, shared parenting was not really an option. Now many families are looking at this. When the Canada Revenue Agency gave people the opportunity to divide their benefits, it became very beneficial for many of those families.
The only question I will have for the government with respect to this, what does 40% mean? A lot of times when we look at those numbers, it can be very difficult. We have to recognize that when someone has custody of his or her child, is that child in school? Is that parent picking the child up from school? Is the child sleeping in that parent's home? So many factors have to be looked at. I want to ensure that when we talk about the 40% for parenting, that it is looked at with a microscope.
As a person who has had a divorce, I understands what it is like to raise children who have come from that situation. It has been very difficult. If we talk about child support, I am pleased to see in the bill that child support does not have to go in front of a judge or to a court and that it can be done at an administrative level. For many families, this is a huge barrier, whether it is having to pay the legal fees or having to go through the entire process. Making it easier for families is very important.
We have to understand that there are barriers to that as well. My colleagues have raised question on how we addressed some of those, such as when people are being paid under the table. Many parents, both fathers and mothers, across the country do not pay their child support. They and are trying to rip off their children. At the end of the day, the children are the ones who are most affected. Anything we can do to ensure we always put the best interests of our children forward is very important.
Let us talk about the psychology and the emotional issues that occur around a divorce. I fully support what is in the bill on child welfare. Children have to come first during a divorce. When I look at myself, I think of divorce as 20-20 hindsight. If I could have done things differently, I would have. However, at that time, the emotions, the anger, wanting revenge, all of those horrible things people feel during separation and divorce occur. We have to recognize that it is such an emotional issue. I apologize to all of the lawyers in the room, but sometimes it gets worse when people go to lawyers and they put themselves $20,000 behind the eight ball because of it.
Brian Galbraith, a lawyer in Barrie, wrote this on his website:
Depression can often follow separation and divorce. According to the National Population Health Survey, the two-year period after a divorce has high rate of serious psychological problems for the couple. This is not a surprising effect given the anxieties about children and the drastic life and income changes people experience during this time.
In an issue of Psychology Today, it states:
Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before....The dependent child's short term reaction to divorce can be an anxious one.
The government talks about child welfare, mediation and about the opportunities to have a lawyer assist children. If we to look at this, we have to ensure we have those resources for them.
When I went through my divorce 18 years ago, the opportunities for low-income women, as I was at that time, were not available. An appointment for my son to sit down and talk about it was not available to him. It took eight months.