Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Three years too long to wait for new Divorce Act: Senator

By Chris Cobb
The Ottawa Citizen

A Liberal senator will try an unusual tactic today in an effort to push her government into fast-trackting changes to Canada's 30-year-old Divorce Act which would give divorcing parents an equal say raising their children.

Senator Anne Cools, a leading campaigner for the rights of fathers and grandparents, is angry that federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan plans to take three years to implement changes recommended by a special parliamentary committee into custody and access. Ms. Cools will urge senators to approve a motion that would "recommend" speeding up the process. The move is basically a pressure tactic Ms. Cools says would put Ms. McLellan in a tough spot.

"The law is flawed," said Ms. Cools. "The minister's response may be well-meaning, but it is insufficient given what we know about the problems out there. I'm not proposing we issue an order to the minister, but rather suggest to her that she moves quickly."

Ms. McLellan announced several weeks ago that her government needs three years' more study and consultation before going ahead with more than 40 changes recommended by the Senate- Commons committee.

The cornerstone of the committee's recommendation is a new legal concept called shared parenting and then elimination of the terms custody and access. Under the recommendations, both mothers and fathers would have the legal right to be part of the upbringing of their children. Sole custody would be awarded only in extreme cases where abuse was proven.

The committee also urged stiff penalties for parents who deny the other parent legal access to their children.

Groups pushing for the divorce law overhaul say Ms. McLellan's three-year study period is an attempt to bury the committee's recommendations.