National Post

Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Parents' group wants minister to resign

Shared parenting organization goes after Fry

By Donna Laframboise
National Post

Danny Guspie of the National Shared Parenting Association says Hedy Fry "is painting all men with the same brush, that they are violent toward women and children."

Representatives of the National Shared Parenting Association, a group advocating the active involvement of both parents in children's lives following divorce, will hold a press conference Friday to unveil a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission against federal Secretary of State for the Status of Women Hedy Fry. They will also demand Ms. Fry relinquish her cabinet post until the complaint is investigated.

The association, which includes member organizations from six provinces, is outraged by a newspaper editorial Ms. Fry wrote earlier this month in which she argued that a joint parliamentary committee studying child custody and access matters should not recommend joint custody following marital breakdown.

"We feel that Ms. Fry is painting all men with the same brush, that they are violent toward women and children," says Danny Guspie, the association's executive director.

"The minister has no business whatsoever espousing such views in public."

In the article, Ms. Fry suggested that the Senate-Commons committee would jeopardize children's safety if it recommends that "joint custody and mandatory mediation" become normal practice during divorce proceedings.

Pointing out that only a small minority of parents are abusive and only a small number of marital breakdowns are highly conflicted, Heidi Nabert, president of the parenting association, says Ms. Fry is advocating "that legislation be in place to keep everyone in check because 5% of us are bad apples."

Melynda Jarratt, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick chapter of the National Shared Parenting Association, says Ms. Fry's article stereotypes "non-custodial parents as being abusive. It's extremely distressing to hear [loved ones] characterized that way by the head of the Status of Women."

Ms. Jarratt says non-custodial parents of both genders are routinely discriminated against in our society. They are denied input into everything from medical decisions to access to their children's report cards, she says, by authorities who view them as second class parents once they become divorced.

"We intend to pursue a complaint of discrimination on the basis of marital status in the hopes that Ms. Fry will see the light," says Ms. Jarratt. "Women who are also non-custodial parents are fed up with being excluded. We want her to stop talking about non-custodial parents like this. It's painful to hear these kinds of characterizations of people based on outdated, anachronistic stereotypes."

Last week two of the joint committee members, co-chair Roger Gallaway, an MP from Sarnia, and Liberal Senator Anne Cools, lashed back at what they view as Ms. Fry's attempt to undermine the committee's final report, due Dec. 11.

Sen. Cools argued that it is improper for a minister to express opinions other than those held by the government as a whole. "Is the secretary speaking for cabinet, or is she not?" asked Sen. Cools. "Are her utterances government policy or are they not?"

Ms. Fry has refused to back down. Last week, she told the National Post that "it is better to err on the side of safety" and let children live with their mothers in cases in which women accuse their spouses of abuse.

In Mr. Guspie's view, Ms. Fry has stepped out of line in a manner similar to former solicitor- general Andy Scott. In both cases, he says, ministers expressed inappropriate public opinions. "I think it's exactly the same principle.

"It behooves time prime minister to set cabinet policy. And it behooves the prime minister to ultimately take responsibility for his ministers."

National Post

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