Calgary Sun

Monday, May 17, 1999

STOP KIDDING AROUND

The Calgary Sun

Kids come first with the Ottawa Liberals.

Well, except for politics, that is.

It's two years since a joint Commons-Senate committee on child custody and access was struck.

It travelled the country and heard from more than 500 people -- parents, children, grandparents, relatives.

It's five months since Justice Minister Anne McLellan received their 48 specific recommendations.

And it's going to be another three years before she does anything to change Canada's Divorce Act.

She needs the time, she says, to gather public input and consult with the provinces and territories.

Oh, spare us. In far too many divorces, the split is bitter, dissolving into nasty fights over custody, access and finances. Children become pawns, their fragile psyches a battleground of divided loyalties.

Non-custodial dads and moms watch their children grow up in snapshots. Grandparents are denied the chance to share their wisdom with a new generation.

The committee suggested putting the best interests of the child first, shifting the emphasis away from parental rights and "ownership" of children.

It wants the terms "custody" and "access" replaced, advocating the sensible idea of shared parenting.

It wants a new framework for dealing with feuding parents, child neglect and false allegations of abuse.

So what's the problem?

Well, the professional feminists don't like the challenge to the status quo, which almost by default sees mothers as custodial parents.

They say what the act needs is tougher enforcement of support agreements and more action on violence against women.

McLellan obviously doesn't relish a squabble with the feminist lobby until after the next federal election.

Unfortunately, the children won't wait to grow up.

By the time Ottawa acts, the 10-year-old caught in an ugly custody fight will be an embittered teen. Grandparents will have grown old without seeing grandchildren grow up. Moms and dads will still be fighting.

But remember, kids come first in Ottawa.

Copyright© 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.