For the sake of the children—Parliament’s decision thwarted (cont’d)

In her maiden speech on Dec. 4, 1984, Senator Anne C. Cools stated: “I intend to work towards ensuring that the new legislation will include, or at least that an attempt will be made, to have it include the new concept of shared parenting, joint custody, so that one spouse is not isolated from parenting at the wish and whim of the other. I hope the new legislation will reduce the deleterious effects on children of these marital disputes.”

Since then over her many years as a Senator, the Hon. Anne C, Cools has continued to speak
for children of divorce and their families in her Senate debates. In fact in 1996 and 1997 on
Bill C-41 amending the Divorce Act to implement the federal child support guidelines, she states: “ I asserted that the children of divorce deserve the financial. emotional, and psychological support of both parents. I have asserted repeatedly that children of divorce deserve the love and support of both their parents, both mother and father, and that it is the duty of Parliament to vindicate the need of the children of divorce for both their parents.”

And again: “ Honourable Senators, my point of view is well supported by the public. This was ably demonstrated by the very recent Southam News-Compas poll conducted in October and reported in The Ottawa Citizen’s front page article, November 23, 1998, headlined, ”Public backs father’s rights: Astonishing majority wants change to laws on access to children, Compas Poll Shows.

“That same poll told us that, of the respondents, 70 per cent of Canadians believe the children of divorce receive too little attention and 62 per cent said that fathers receive too little attention.
Eighty per cent of those surveyed felt it was very important for children of divorced parents to maintain an ongoing relationship with the non-custodial parent. When one looked at younger Canadians, those 30 years and under, that number rose to 86 per cent. That poll very clearly told us that there is a growing commitment among younger Canadians to parenting and family life.

“These poll results show very clearly the Canadian public opinion is in tune with the finest of this Committee’s recommendations, which are the recommendations for shared parenting.

“Honourable Senators, I have travelled the width and breadth of this country on these issues. I have spoken to thousands of Canadians in person and to millions in media interviews. They, the public, have spoken to me; their support is enormous and, I would add, very humbling. The public mind of this land and the public heart have spoken. In fact, the public will of this land has overtaken the committee’s report. The report of the committee has been overtaken by the developments in the public mind and the public realm. The public of this land wants the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, to act speedily, without delay, to bring a new Divorce Act to reflect contemporary Canadian values of fairness, balance, and equality for children, parents,

and families in divorce. Canadians want our government to adopt aggressive policies and values on family and family life. Change is necessary.”

Senator Cools went on to say: “That the Senate affirms that on May 10, 1999, six months after the Committee’s Report to both Houses of Parliament, more than two years after the passage of Bill C-41 in February 1997, the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, gave her ministerial response to the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations in her paper entitled Government of Canada’s Response to the Report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access: Strategy for Reform; having fully accepted the Committee’s major recommendations, and having accepted that the divorce law regime currently in force is wanting and needing correction, she then proposed a THREE YEAR DELAY to MAY 1, 2002, for her legislative action to correct the obviously wanting divorce law regime.

“MAY 1, 2002 is beyond this government’s term of office, and beyond this Minister’s watch.”

Reflections from an MP:
If we are going to be able to work in the direction of creating a feeling of roots and self-worth, then the grandparents have a very, very important place in that. Children have to have a feeling of ownership, that they are part of something. Children have to be able to develop a feeling of self-worth.

Jim Abbot (Former MP)

 

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For the sake of the children—Parliament’s decision thwarted!

Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Norman Vincent Peale

 

When the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access released their Report,
For the Sake of the Children, recognizing the need for and making 48 recommendations
to change the Divorce Act, thousands of excited grandparents, parents, and children across Canada waited with anticipation for the new legislation.

The first of 48 recommendations:
1. This Committee recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to include a Preamble alluding to the relevant Principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989. Canada signed on 28 May 1990. After the requisite 30 nations had ratified the Convention, it came into force on 2 September 1990. Canada ratified it in December 1991 and submitted its initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in June 1994. This Convention, which is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, sets minimum legal and moral standards for the protection of children’s human rights, including civil rights and freedoms, rights related to the provision of optimal conditions for growth and development (health care, education, economic security, recreation), and the right to protection from abuse, exploitation, neglect and unnecessary harm. The Convention expressly recognizes the special role of the family in the nurture of the child.

The key provisions of the Convention relating to the subject matter of this study include article 3, which states that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration; article 9, which includes the right of the child to contact with both parents if separated from one of them; and article 12, which provides that children have the right to express their views freely in matters affecting them.

2. This Committee recognizes that parents’ relationships with their children do not end upon separation or divorce and therefore recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to add a Preamble containing the principle that divorced parents and their children are entitled to a close and continuous relationship with one another.

Comment: Isn’t it interesting, that after one year of open meetings with Canadians on Custody and Access, the conclusion decided upon by the Special Committee paraphrased the words of Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan, 1984.

“A child should have maximum access to both parents. Whatever the parent’s reasons for divorce, the child has an interest in maintaining a normal relationship with each parent … any animosity the parents may feel for each other should not be allowed to interfere with this interest… the court should consider the best interests of the child, particularly the child’s interest in having maximum access to both parents.”

The recommendations spoke of many issues and subsequent changes. Perhaps the most important was shared parenting becoming the cornerstone for the proposed new Divorce Act. When both parents are equally involved in all decisions, the children will be well.

As well, including grandparents and the extended family members allows for minimum change and more encouragement for the children. The terms custody and access will no longer be used. The court will have the power to appoint help for the children, and children will be more involved in family decisions. The federal government will work more closely with provinces and territories within the courts and justice system. The recommended changes are positive and will allow Canadian families to move forward.

The Canadian public was ready for the announcement for change. The journalists and newspapers were waiting for the announcement, and the Members of the House of Commons and the Senate were waiting for the announcement.

The Parliament of Canada had made their decision; the Special Committee had accepted that the current divorce law regime needed correction; the Canadian public agreed with the Committee’s findings. And the Minister of Justice?