Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, June 08, 2002

Senator speaks for fathers

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen


The Ottawa Citizen
Senator Anne Cools is becoming a U.S. star with her pro-father policies.

Senator Anne Cools is becoming something of a star in the United States with her pro-father politics.

The International Fatherhood Conference in Washington, D.C., on May 27 -- at which Ms. Cools was a keynote speaker -- drew 2,000 delegates. When she was introduced, according to Howard University political science professor Stephen Baskerville, who attended the event, she drew a standing ovation. When she finished, he said, the crowd was again on its feet roaring approval.

Asked about the different attitudes between the countries, Ms. Cools said Thursday: "In Canada we (pro-family and pro-divorce reform) have the support of the public, but the government won't act. It's the reverse in the U.S."

Some excerpts from her speech:

"Misguided social policies of the last many decades have been reckless with children's lives. Misguided policies have created fatherlessness. Misguided policies in social welfare law, in family law, in divorce law, in child welfare law ... Fathers face courts, laws, and systems that will not hear their voices ...

"The economic consequences of a father's absence are often accompanied by psychological consequences, which include higher-than-average levels of youth suicide, low intellectual and educational performance and higher than average rates of mental illness ... "

Quoting a 1996 Gallup poll, she said 79.1 per cent of Americans agreed that the most significant social problem facing the U.S. was, and is, fatherlessness.

Ms. Cools used three Canadian cases to highlight her call for changes, as Americans and Canadians face courts with similar attitudes. First was an Ontario case (Oldfield v. Oldfield, 1991) in which a former wife appealed for court approval to move with her children to France to marry her boyfriend. The judge ruled there was a loving and caring relationship between the children and their father, but he was in a tight corner. In the end, the judge said he was forced to make a ruling that defeated the best interests of the children by removing one parent and giving custody to "a mother who loves them dearly but who is shackled by her discontent."

The romance failed, the marriage didn't happen and the judge later increased the father's already substantial support payments to cover the cost of flying the children back and forth for visits.

The second case (heard in the B.C. Supreme Court in January 2000) involved the removal of a child from loving adoptive parents after the birth father challenged the adoption. He showed he had offered to raise the child, but the unmarried mother had refused. The mother later told the court she was coached by a social worker from an adoption agency. The court ruled the natural parent's right to parent had to be honoured.

The third story involves Darrin Bruce White, 34, a B.C. railroad engineer who committed suicide in March 2000, after being ordered by a court to pay support twice as much as his income.

"The number of suicides of fathers like this is high and climbing. This was a case of yet another father crushed by this grinding system of family law, family support payment regime ... as money they do not have is extracted and gouged out of them."

The conclusion Ms. Cools makes in her speech echoed a 1965 report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then U.S. assistant secretary of labour. The report has been revisited through the 1990s and is still quoted as a definitive work.

"Children without fathers will flounder and fail," Ms. Cools quoted from the study. "We should dust off this report and re-examine it."

In closing, she called for more support for men from women. "I urge all women here to take the lead in America in politics and in public affairs to uphold a new definition of womanhood, which includes the love of men and children. I urge you all to support fathering as a pressing public and social policy issue, a major political initiative, and to vindicate the entitlement of children to the love and support of both parents."

Ms. Cools says she came away from the conference with a new idea. "I met people from Atlanta who last year rescued 4,000 men. They were men about to be jailed for three months for contempt of court (for non-payment). They said, 'Don't send them to jail, give them to us and let us work with them and show them how to be proud to be fathers and meet their obligations.' "

Ms. Cools is now trying to determine if a similar program should be in place in Canada. First, she has to find out how many are being jailed.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca Read previous columns by Dave Brown at www.ottawacitizen.com

According to Mr. Baskerville, the purpose of the three-day conference was not to protest, but to encourage men to accept with pride their roles as fathers, and if necessary fight for them.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen