National Post

Saturday, June 22, 2002

In the name of the father

National Post

We are all familiar with the complaints of husbands and fathers that the country's divorce and child custody laws, and the interpretation of those laws by courts, are biased in favour or women. The Ontario Court of Appeal has now unabashedly confirmed this bias. Any doubt that feminists command the field of family law, should be swept aside by the ruling that mothers have the "ultimate ability" to determine the surname of a child.

The difficulty arises when the mother certifies the child's birth but fails to acknowledge the father on the birth registry. There are cases where the father is unknown. But what is remarkable about Ontario's Vital Statistics Act is that the mother is given the option to withhold acknowledgement of the father even when he is known. So a father may be unacknowledged on his child's birth registry, even while he is acknowledged for purposes of child support or custody. As the judgment states: "It is possible for a person to acknowledge something to be true in one context, but to decline to do so in another context." Which is another way of saying the truth is whatever a woman wishes it to be, depending on her mood.

The court's ruling is remarkable, not only for upholding a discriminatory law, but for doing so in defence of what is most cases is likely to be pettiness and spite. Not all fathers are good fathers, just as there are bad mothers too, but both have the moral right of acknowledgment on the their child's birth registry, and both should have the legal right to participate in naming their sons and daughters.

It would have been easy for the court to have repaired the inequity. Existing rules for the naming of children in cases where the mother acknowledges the father on the birth registry have a fair mechanism for resolving disputes about the surname. The Vital Statistics Act states that if both parents certify the child's birth but do not agree on a surname, the child will be given a hyphenated surname, with each parent's name appearing in alphabetical order. The feminists do not like that, of course, for it acknowledges something else: That fathers have a role to play greater than that of sperm donor, revenue source and occasional babysitting help.

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