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Monday, May 17, 1999Shared custody should come in year: Liberal MP
Urges men to act: But McLellan sticking to her three-year timetable
Anne Marie Owens
REGINA - Anne McLellan, Justice Minister, yesterday mounted a robust defence of her decision to delay reforming Canada's divorce laws until 2002 even as the member of her own party charged with investigating the issue publicly stated legislation could be enacted within a year.
Roger Gallaway, the Liberal MP from Sarnia, Ont., who chaired a special joint Senate-Commons committee on reform of the Divorce Act, said yesterday there is no reason why shared custody cannot become a legislated part of the divorce system within eight months to a year.
After hearing from 500 witnesses during two years of emotional and adversarial hearings, the committee endorsed the notion of "shared parenting" that sees mothers and fathers as having equal rights of custody and access after divorce.
Mr. Gallaway made his remarks at a conference of the National Shared Parenting Association, where he was hailed a hero by the group of about 60 men, many of whom have lost access to their children through the divorce courts.
He encouraged delegates to write letters to the prime minister and the justice minister and to lobby their MPs if they want to ensure this issue remains on the government's agenda.
"I hope that out of this gathering will be born and will grow a national appeal," Mr Gallaway said.
He said he also hoped the movement would issue the "call to an end to the national disgrace that we call custody and access."
Hearing those stories led him to form some conclusions: that the idea of so-called "deadbeat dads" is a myth, that staying in a women's shelter is not proof of violence, that the prevailing notion that women should be the primary caregivers was "intellectually dishonest," and that feminist groups such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women represent "a really miniscule, insignificant number of people in this country."
Ms. McLellan, for her part, maintained that the three-year delay was necessary because of the intricacies of trying to integrate federal law with provincial rules on divorce and separation.
She said on CTV's Sunday Edition that it could create "chaos in this country" if the federal government changed the concepts of custody and access in the Divorce Act without similarly changing those concepts in areas where it shares jurisdiction with provinces and territories.
She said the government accepts the basic principle of the joint committee report and acknowledged that the laws have to move away from the adversarial language of custody and access.
"Whether ultimately it's the phrase 'shared parenting' or some other, what's important is what's embodied in that expression," she said. "That even though a husband and wife may go their separate ways, they continue to have parental responsibilities, and we want people to start thinking about their ongoing responsibilities as parents."
Ms. McLellan's decision to launch another round of consultations on the joint committee report's findings last week caused uproar among shared parenting groups and raised allegations that the decision was born primarily out of the need not to offend the "feminist lobby" before the next federal election.
Mr. Gallaway, who has never been divorced and had no experience of divorce until he began the committee hearings, said he was overwhelmed by the endless flow of tragic stories about human suffering and loss at the hands of "a lop-sided and one-sided system."
He called the victims of divorce "the walking wounded of our society -- people who are capriciously denied decades with their children and grandchildren."
He said he was surprised by the minister's mention of a three-year deadline, and would have preferred the goverment recognize the importance of the issue and simply pledge to move as quickly as possible.
He said that he believes there is widespread support in the House "for moving this along on a fast track."
(Each link opens a new window)
Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access
Contains minutes of all meetings.
The Children's Voice
Advocates the dismantling of the adversarial system in Canadian family law.
Fathers Are Capable Too advocacy page.
Selected Statistics on Canadian Families and Family Law
November 1997 study compiled by the Department of Justice.
Joel Miller's Family Law Centre
A large Canadian-based site with comprehensive links to family law guidelines and legislation.
Status of Women Canada
Federal government agency mandated to promote gender equality.
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