Viewpoint—Grandparents’ rights

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
C.S. Lewis

The story behind the CGRA

The Canadian Grandparents Rights Association, or CGRA, came into being, as most changes do, to address a need or necessity for change. In the early 1980s, Nancy Wooldridge, who founded Bookthe CGRA, won a court battle that strengthened her position (as the biological grandmother) to give her continued access to her granddaughter.

The public response
showed the need for leadership

The resulting overwhelming number of phone calls and mail from American and Canadian grandparents in distress, after this was publicized, spurred Nancy to start the Canadian Grandparents Rights Association. Of course, each family situation varied in particulars, but the common factor was that grandparents were unable to see or have access to their grandchildren.

The CGRA was established in 1986 and incorporated as a BC Society and a Canada Corporation in 1992. The purpose of the association is to promote, support and assist grandparents and their families in maintaining or re-establishing family ties and family stability, where the family has been disrupted, especially those ties between grandchildren and grandparents.

In the early years, regular support groups, all volunteers, were formed in Canada and throughout BC. Meetings were held as often as needed. Many in attendance simply wanted to talk and be listened to, which is generally the situation in support groups. Many had already tried our justice system and found existing family laws lacking. They did not legislate grandparent support. Many legal staff working within the system seemed to regard grandparents as an irritant, rather than a natural and necessary source of support for their grandchildren when divorce or separation occurred within a family.

Influence child arrangements

Over the years, the CGRA made numerous attempts to influence both provincial and federal legislation, with some success. The aim is to ensure family relationships are maintained, in spite of divorce or separation, and the love, security, care and experience shared between grandchild and grandparent are protected. The divorce rate in Canada is high. Most couples sensibly sit down and make workable arrangements for their children’s futures. It is likely these children can maintain a close relationship with both parents and grandparents.

Importance of family connections

In some circumstances, such as divorce, separation, or a death in the family, many of our children and our elders are denied the right to visit or have access. Where there are children concerned, we must be ever vigilant. To sever a family connection, especially a warm, loving one between grandchild and grandparent is defined as a form of emotional child abuse that can have lifelong consequences for the children—and for the adults denied relationships with children and grandchildren.

Such denial of family interactions and friendship divides family members, removes the feasibility of ongoing family relationships, and may start the children on the path to experiencing parental alienation. For the grandparents who lose contact, it has been defined as elder emotional abuse.

Grandparents and the views of CGRA

When Nancy started CGRA in 1986, one director, lawyer Gerard Culhane, who was raising his grandchildren, became the CGRA’s legal voice. He contributed his years of experience and knowledge. If CGRA members made application for court appearances, his advice was invaluable. The following paragraphs, written by Gerard Culhane, describe the early years of the young CGRA.

“Since 1984 the CGRA has sought in various ways to assist grandparents to maintain ties with their grandchildren. The members are grandparents who come to the Association because of difficulties they met. The resulting organization is therefore like a support group for people having a particular problem who try to assist themselves and others with a similar problem. We attempt to mediate between grandparents and their opponents in such matters. We go to court and sit beside grandparents who find themselves involved there.

“We assist each other with babysitting, or with supervision on access visits, or with the use of our homes for access occasions. We write to government departments on behalf of members or tell them how to go about dealing with elements of the bureaucracy, and provide an opportunity in meetings for grandparents to exchange experiences with each other. We have written letters to the government, made statements to bodies like this (Special Joint Committee 1998), and even circulated petitions seeking more formalized legal recognition of the role of grandparents in family continuity.

“We do not view ourselves in this regard as a special interest group, or stakeholders, or of a group holding any particular agenda.”

Reflections from MP’s:

“My grandparents are gone now. My grandfather passed away in 1963. But the influence he had on my life was as strong as the influence of my own father and mother. As I spent time with him, in the summers particularly, when school was out, and lived with him, I was exposed to his code of conduct, his code of performance, the way he lived his life. A great deal of it rubbed off on me – at least the good parts of it did, I hope; the negative parts I created myself.”
 Julian Reed (MP 1993-2004)  HANSARD