Ottawa Citizen
Thursday 26 July 2001

Liberals publicly attack 'haughty' justice minister

Chris Cobb
The Ottawa Citizen

Two members of the federal Liberal caucus are publicly attacking their own justice minister, accusing her of being "haughty and hollow" and of not understanding how cabinet ministers should behave in a parliamentary democracy.

In a remarkable outburst of political rebellion, Senator Anne Cools and veteran backbench MP Roger Gallaway accuse Anne McLellan of deliberately masking her intentions so recommendations from a parliamentary committee on custody and access can be shelved.

Their angry attack appears in a letter to the National Post.

It is the latest salvo in a battle that began nearly two weeks ago when they, and others, accused the justice minister of allowing bureaucrats to usurp the authority of Parliament by holding secret consultations into both the Divorce Act and Access to Information Act.

Ms. Cools and Mr. Gallaway suggest that Ms. McLellan revealed her bias on the custody and access issue in a 1991 paper she wrote for the Alberta Advisory Council on Women's Issues while she was still a law professor. In the paper, Women and the Process of Constitutional Reform, Ms. 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 ..."

Ms. McLellan's spokeswoman, Farah Mohamed, said yesterday that Ms. McLellan was simply referring to the views of other people in the passage. She denied that the minister is biased on the custody and access issue, adding that Ms. McLellan has stated publicly that, in her view, children and youth benefit from a relationship with both parents. Ms. McLellan has also rejected the accusation that her department is examining either the divorce or access laws in secret.

Ms. Cools and Mr. Gallaway have been jousting with the justice minister and her staff in the letters pages of various newspapers, including the Citizen, National Post and Edmonton Journal.

In a letter sent to the Post yesterday, Ms. Cools and Mr. Gallaway began by attacking Ms. McLellan for a letter she wrote to the newspaper earlier this month.

"The minister's letter is haughty and hollow," they say. "Its collection of empty, contrived sentences prove ... that her department staff are active and political and not passive and administrative as they should be. We had suggested that Justice staff should take a course in the proper constitutional relationship between the civil service, the minister and Parliament. Obviously we should have elaborated and said that the minister herself should learn of the proper relationship between ministers of the Crown and Parliament, the people's representative assembly."

Ms. Cools and Mr. Gallaway were members of the joint Commons-Senate committee that held hearings across the country and produced a report called For the Sake of the Children, which they presented to Parliament in 1998.

Key to the committee's recommendations was a new concept called shared parenting, which would give both parents automatic legal right to be involved in the upbringing of their children after a separation or divorce.

Ms. McLellan responded to the report six months later, saying the recommendations needed a further three years study because family law involves the provinces and territories.

The Justice Department initiated a series of consultations between various federal, provincial and territorial groups that ended in June. Journalists were excluded from the consultations because any one of the attendees was allowed to veto media coverage. No verbatim public records of the consultations were kept.

Mr. Gallaway has said the June consultations were an affront to Parliament.

In the letter, Ms. Cools and Mr. Gallaway accuse Ms. McLellan of allowing the bureaucrat-driven consultations so she could justify the three-year delay.

"The Divorce Act is not a shared jurisdiction at all," they say. "It is exclusively federal ... She postponed her legislative action on the recommendations for an additional three years, until May 2002. It is almost unheard of for a minister to make an individual ministerial commitment beyond the life of a government or a Parliament."

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.