Toronto Sun

Monday, May 10

For kids' sake

The Toronto Sun

It may be a motherhood - or to be less sexist about it, parenthood - issue, but it seems politicians are falling all over themselves these days to champion the interests of children.

The feds and the provinces are working on something called the "children's agenda," which sounds nice but looks a lot like just another lobbying effort looking for money in the 2000 federal budget.

Last week, the feds launched a new $365,000 program to crack down on child sex abuse, including teen prostitution.

And today, Justice Minister Anne McLellan is expected to release her response to the extensive and, at times, controversial review of Canada's divorce laws, which culminated last December in a report called For the Sake of the Children.

That report offered sensible changes to ease the acrimony that occurs in too many divorces where kids are involved. Even though only 10%-20% of divorcing couples end up having their custody arrangements dictated by a court, the bitterness in those cases is still needlessly harmful to the children.

The review committee's key recommendation to ease such tension was that the courts shift focus to "shared parenting," recognizing that, without evidence to the contrary (such as proven abuse), both parents have equal right to be involved in their kids' lives.

As columnist Marianne Meed Ward notes today, the recommendations aren't perfect, but they go a long way to correcting the biases in family courts (including the assumption, oft-cited by fathers' groups, that a mother is the better parent, based solely on gender).

Other changes would penalize parents who refuse to give their ex access to the children, allow moms and dads equal access to kids' medical and school records, and require notice if one parent moves.

We hope McLellan has the fortitude to initiate some of these changes now. Sadly, there are reports she intends to delay the reforms for three years, so she can consult with the provinces and hash out a specific, legal meaning for "shared parenting."

It all kind of reminds us of the last time McLellan pledged to fix a law dealing with children - the Young Offenders Act.

That review took far longer than necessary (although it included welcome consultation with the provinces) and resulted in a law that, while tougher than its predecessor, remains woefully weak.

Try harder this time, minister. You know, for the kids.

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