Saint John Times

Monday May 17,1999

Group lobbies for speedy divorce reform

By CHRIS COBB - Southam News

REGINA - Angry advocates for change of Canada's divorce laws vowed yesterday to launch a massive nation-wide push to get the federal government to fast-track reforms that would give divorcing parents an equal say in the raising of their children.

The delegates at a National Shared Parenting Association convention were spurred on by Liberal backbench MP Roger Gallaway, who was co-chairman of a special parliamentary committee on custody and access. He urged them to form a national movement against his own government in order to eliminate "the national disgrace that is custody and access."

In a report to federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan, Mr. Gallaway's committee recommended that custody and access be replaced by a new concept called shared parenting that would prevent one parent from locking another out of a child's life.

Ms. McLellan announced last week that she had accepted the recommendations but another three years will be needed to study them.

"We won't wait three years," said association executive director Danny Guspie. "Our children are being brutalized by the family court system.

"It is the biggest social problem facing our country and if these politicians care, they will work put an end to it."

Mr. Gallaway said the government could change the law in eight months if it wanted to and slammed radical feminists who he said were responsible for perpetuating myths around custody and access.

"It's clear that the system in unjust," said Mr. Gallaway.

"Parliament is allowing this travesty, this disgrace to exist. It is in the best interests of the children to have a relationship with both parents. Parents know it instinctively, social scientists have studied and proved it and Parliament has ignored it."

The 250 delegates at the convention agreed to launch a campaign of political lobbying, letter-writing and petitions to press for speedy changes to divorce laws.

Mr. Guspie, whose movement has adopted the slogan Two Parents by 2000, told delegates not only to start their own petitions but to push their provincial and federal politicians to get behind the committee's recommendations.

Key among the roughly 40 recommendations is that custody and access be removed from the law and replaced by a new legal concept called shared parenting that would give divorcing mothers and fathers equal legal right to be involved in the raising of their children - though not necessarily through a 50-50 time split.

Mr. Guspie and his group want to persuade Ms. McLellan and her provincial colleagues to meet in Toronto during the summer.

In one year, the association has grown to 2,500 members nationwide.

It estimates that 15 million people in Canada have been affected by divorce as children, parents or grandparents.

"We've come a long way in a year.

"If we'd been talking about these issues a year ago, nobody would have wanted to listen," Mr. Guspie said.

Critics accuse Ms. McLellan of buckling to pressure from feminist groups who receive federal funds to lobby government. Feminist groups, Mr. Gallaway said, have no constituency in Canada.

"Groups such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women represent an insignificant, minuscule group of people in this country," he said.

"They represent nobody but themselves - the people who sit on their own executives. Funding NAC is like Industry Canada funding the fuel oil for lighting our homes They both belong in the past."

The divorce process in Canada is unfair and destructive, Mr. Gallaway maintained.

"Divorce is emotional, unsettling and unpleasant," he said.

"But it should not be a time of war, a time to be shut off from your children or a time to be driven into bankruptcy by the court system.

"The process can become more civilized and efficient so both parents can be left standing and in reach of their children."