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July 26, 2001
Re: The Minister is in Charge, July 20.Letter to the Editor from Senator Anne Cools and Roger Gallaway, MP
On July 16, we answered a letter to the editor written by Virginia McRae (July 10), an employee of the federal Department of Justice, and said that her letter was a political response. Peculiarly, Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice, responded with a haughty and hollow letter on July 20 that proved first, that her divorce consultations are not a public process, as is a parliamentary hearing, and second, that her department staff are active and political, not passive and administrative, as they should be. We had said that Justice staff should take a course in the proper constitutional relationship between the civil service, the minister and Parliament. Obviously we should have also suggested that the Minister herself should learn the proper relationship between ministers of the Crown and Parliament. That a minister has responded to Members of Parliament, also of her Liberal party caucus, in a newspaper's letters column on a pressing public policy matter is contrary to parliamentary government, the party caucus and Parliament itself. Ministers should answer members in the two Houses of Parliament.
It is also somewhat misleading for Minister McLellan to bandy about the term "family law" as interchangeable with the Divorce Act while asserting a shared jurisdiction with the provinces. Ms. McLellan is attempting to justify her delay in placing proven necessary amendments to the Divorce Act before Parliament. The Divorce Act is not a shared jurisdiction at all. It is exclusively federal. The fact is that precious little about these consultations has anything to do with the best interests of the children of divorce and has everything to do with politics, particularly the political views of some departmental staff. In 1999, the Minister responded to the Special Joint Committee's 1998 report For the Sake of the Children, whose pivotal recommendation was for shared parenting, the current term for joint custody. She postponed her legislative action on the recommendations for an additional three years to May, 2002. It is almost unheard of for a minister to make an individual ministerial commitment beyond the life of a Parliament. However, Minister McLellan postponed her commitment for legislative action to even beyond a general election, thereby ignoring the well-being of the children of divorce and leaving them without the proper legislative protection.
In 1991, Anne McLellan wrote: "An increasing number of commentators now suggest that joint custody may simply perpetuate the influence and domination of men over the lives of women." The children of Canada will soon know if five years of delays, masked as consultations and reviews, will result in a change in the posture of the Minister.
Senator Anne Cools and Roger Gallaway, MP, Ottawa.
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