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Federal Lobby - Reforms to the Divorce Act
As many of you
are aware, reforms to the Divorce Act have entered a
new phase with the changes in the Liberal government. Paul Martin
is now Prime Minister. Irwin Cotler has replaced Martin Cauchon as
Justice Minister. Bill C-22, An Act to Amend the Divorce Act,
has died on the order paper. A spring federal election is likely.
In our work on
custody and access legislative reform, NAWL
and many other womens organizations across the country have
communicated regularly with former Minister of Justice Martin Cauchon
to ensure that the concerns of women and children are heard. We are
now beginning to establish a relationship with Justice Minister Cotler,
who has an extensive background in human rights law.
To this end, we
have prepared a letter introducing ourselves and our position on custody
and access law for Minister Cotler. We encourage womens organizations
across the country to adapt and use this letter to let the Justice
Minister know that women remain concerned about the need for reform
to the Divorce Act.
If you have any
questions, please contact Pamela Cross, NAWLs Family Law Reform
Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org
January 16, 2004
and Access and the Reform of the Divorce Act
We would like
to congratulate you on your recent appointment as Minister of Justice.
This is an exciting position to hold at a time when the federal government
is involved in a number of very important and interesting justice-related
We are writing
with respect to one of those issues the Divorce Act. As you
are well aware, Bill C-22, An Act to Amend the Divorce Act, was introduced
to the House of Commons in December 2002 by your predecessor, Martin
Cauchon. It passed through first and second readings and was scheduled
for committee hearings when Parliament was prorogued by then Prime
Minister Jean Chretien in November 2003.
The National Association
of Women and the Law (NAWL) has been actively involved in the process
to improve the Divorce Act for many years. We urge you to promote
reforms that will ensure both respect for the best interests of the
child and womens equality.
As you know, the
Divorce Act has been the subject of considerable and intense scrutiny
by the federal government, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family
Law Committee, womens equality-seeking groups and many other
Canadians. There have been years of hearings, consultations, research
and reports leading to Bill C-22.
Reform is urgently
needed in this area. Indeed, the application of the current maximum
contact principle and the de facto joint custody presumption
that is being adopted by many judges across Canada and in Quebec do
not benefit many children. In some cases, they jeopardize the childrens
well being by forcing them to be in contact with abusive fathers.
They also place battered women in a very vulnerable position, since
they must maintain ongoing, frequent and extensive collaboration and
coordination with their abuser, the childrens father. This often
results in abusive men using the law and the courts to further harass
and oppress their wives.
rights advocates some of who are in the Liberal caucus
have been lobbying for shared parenting as the presumptive model after
divorce. This was also indirectly recommended by the Special Joint
Committee on Child Custody and Access, in its 1998 report entitled
For the Sake of the Children. As you may recall, this
report was highly controversial; it was the result of a flawed consultation
process in which womens advocates were unfairly attacked and
criticized, and its recommendations were not supported by any serious
research. In fact, it prompted then Minister of Justice Anne McLellan
to recommend more research and consultation on the question.
with shared parenting models in other jurisdictions and the extensive
research and consultation that have been done by the Department of
Justice over the last five years have demonstrated that it is not
appropriate to have a presumption in favour of one particular model
of parenting after divorce that would automatically be applied to
all families. In particular, we refer you to the very thoughtful recommendations
put forward in the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committees
Report on Custody and Access and Child Support entitled Putting
Children First, which was released in November 2002.
NAWL has also
consulted extensively with women across the country on this issue.
A strong common theme emerged: women want a Divorce Act that promotes
the best interests of children, that supports the equality rights
of women, that acknowledges the realities of parenting responsibilities
in Canadian families and that protects women and children from violence
and abuse. Women have also made it clear that law reform will be futile
if legal aid and advocacy services are not adequate, as is the case
in many regions at the moment.
You have a proven
commitment to an egalitarian, democratic society that respects and
upholds the human rights of women and men of all communities and social
conditions, as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Much work has been done, both within government and in society at
large, to advance womens human rights in all spheres. It is
imperative that we keep moving forward and not slip back into the
traditional patriarchal values espoused by some members
of your caucus.
We would be delighted
to meet with you at any time to discuss these and other concerns.
Yours very truly,
des Affaires juridiques
nationale de la femme et du droit
Legislation and Law Reform
Association of Women and the Law
West, suite 303
241-7570 # 25