Toronto Star

Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Disappointing delay

The Toronto Star

Justice Minister Anne McLellan had an opportunity this week to prove that Ottawa can provide leadership, solve problems and make a real difference in people's lives.

She squandered it.

She told Canadians they would have to wait three years for changes in the outdated child custody provisions of the Divorce Act. McLellan said she needed time to gather more data, conduct more consultations, talk to the provinces and come up with a legislative proposal.

By the time all this is done, the government's mandate will have expired.

It is not as if McLellan was starting from scratch. A parliamentary committee spent a year picking its way through the legal and emotional minefield created by divorce.

It heard from angry fathers who claimed to have been shut out of their children's lives and from fearful mothers who claimed to be protecting their children. It heard from kids, grandparents, child development experts, lawyers and lobbyists.

Despite its own internal divisions, the committee came up with a thoughtful, balanced report. It recommended that the 30-year-old Divorce Act be changed to put the interests of children first.

Under its plan, the old terms child custody and child access - which elevate one parent to the role of primary caregiver and leave the other on the sidelines - would be replaced with a new concept, ``shared parenting. '' This would not necessarily mean a 50/50 arrangement, but it would put both parents on an equal legal footing.

The committee gave McLellan 48 specific, well-thought-out recommendations. After studying its report for five months, the justice minister delivered her response: She'd consider it and get back to Parliament in 2002.

This is a real-life issue that matters to millions of Canadian families. The message McLellan sent was that it's not a priority for her.

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