National Post

Saturday, November 21, 1998

Liberal MPs lash back at divorce law 'attack':
Minister's Op-Ed article

Robert Fife
National Post

Two leading Liberal members on a parliamentary committee studying child custody have accused Hedy Fry, the status of women's minister, of trying to discredit their efforts to reform Canada's divorce laws.

Anne Cools, a Liberal senator, and Roger Gallaway, the committee co-chair and MP from Sarnia, lambasted the minister yesterday for publishing an article in The Globe and Mail that was critical of the committee's work.

"Secretary Fry's op-edit piece is a bald ministerial attack on a parliamentary committee," fumed Ms. Cools, a former feminist who now fights laws that discriminate against men.

In the article, Ms. Fry took dead aim at recommendations of the committee that have been leaked to the media. She opposed changes to the Divorce Act that would impose "blanket ruling such as forced joint custody and mandatory mediation;" or the levelling of charges against custodial parents who make false charges of sexual abuse to deny former spouses access to their children.

Mr. Gallaway was particularly incensed that the Status of Women's secretariat had allowed its Web site to be linked to The Women's Justice Network, a site that urges feminists to write letters to Anne McLellan, the justice minister, to complain of alleged mistreatment by the committee, even if they never attended hearings.

"These solicited letters will not contain any suggestion to improve the system of custody and access. Neither are they directed to improving the lot of children of divorce. Instead, these letters will purport to be eyewitness accounts, which quite simply are totally false, of events, which never happened," he said.

Mr. Gallaway urged Ms. Fry, a medical doctor and outspoken feminist, to unplug the Web site and to condemn this "potentially false letter and fax campaign."

But Ms. Fry told the National Post that she would not shut down the site, and noted that the department has a disclaimer that states the views are those of The Women Justice Network. 

"They are saying that I should be anti-democratic," said Ms. Fry. "It is important that we do not muzzle people . . . that we allow people to speak freely. It's a democratic society that we all live in. How will we ever understand different opinions if we don't allow for them to occur?"

As for the op-ed article, Ms. Fry said she was expressing her belief that "it is better to err on the side of safety" and let children live with their mothers when these women accuse former spouses of being abusive.

The all-party committee was set up in April to propose reforms to guarantee full access rights to all divorced parents and even grandparents. It was established after Parliament passed amendments to the 1968 Divorce Act to deny tax deductions on child support payments by non-custodial parents, while imposing tough penalties on deadbeat dads.

Many divorced men complained that the government had responded to the legitimate concerns of women about inadequate support payments, while it had ignored their concerns about being shut out of their children's lives.

The committee heard horror stories from divorced fathers, who said the Divorce Act was being used as weapon to punish them. Many fathers also spoke of facing financial ruin to fight false allegations made by former spouses in custody battles. 

The commitee's report is to be tabled in Parliament in early December.

Relevant Sites

Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access
Contains minutes of all meetings.

Child and family services of Central Manitoba

Fathers Are Capable Too advocacy page.

Children's Aid Society

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