The Western Standard
The Shotgun Blog
Friday, March 20, 2009
In last weekend's speech to the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that his brand of conservatism is founded on freedom, faith, and family. I'll leave it to others to discuss the merits of his advocacy of the first two. Here I'd like to comment on the Conservative government's record of promoting families. In short, it has no record to speak of.
The biggest threat to families in Canada does not come from gay marriage, or abortion, or any of the other traditional social-conservative hobby-horses. It comes from divorce, or more generally, separation, which affects almost half of the children in Canada at some point in their lives. Specifically, the threat comes from how our courts routinely mishandle custody disputes upon separation.
Courts of law have become the most destructive influence on families for one simple reason: judges have a fulsome disrespect for the value of fatherhood. That's why, in the vast majority of cases that come before them, they automatically relegate fathers to the status of visitors in their children's lives. They typically grant children access to their fathers every other weekend, and staunchly refuse to enforce even that trifling amount of contact when mothers abrogate it. If mothers wish to relocate with the children to an inconvenient distance, judges eagerly oblige.
What does Prime Minister Harper propose to do about this atrocious state of affairs? Absolutely nothing! For eleven years, the Parliamentary report "For the Sake of the Child," which advocates a legal presumption of equal shared parenting after separation, has sat in the gorgeous Parliamentary Library collecting dust. Anyone who had hoped a Conservative government might pick it up and use it to promote a family-friendly agenda has been sadly disappointed.
But now we have a genuine alternative. In his book The Rights Revolution, Michael Ignatieff had this to say about restoring sanity to our family-dispute system:
...this crisis is too complex to be blithely blamed on “deadbeat dads” alone. In hearings before a parliamentary committee in Canada in 1998, groups of fathers bitterly complained that they were bearing the brunt of public blame for what has happened to the family. In fact, they claimed that they were discriminated against. Courts were favouring mothers over fathers in custody disputes, and the divorce process was being abused by lawyers despoiling working men of their assets. These groups demanded that the “custody and access” regime created by the Divorce Act of 1985 be replaced with a “shared parenting” regime in which both parents were given equal rights to bring up their children. These are sensible and overdue suggestions, and the fact that they’re being made shows that men and women are struggling to correct the rights revolution, so that equality works for everyone. [pp. 105-6; footnote omitted, emphasis added]
Families that divorce need help so that parenting responsibilities can be genuinely shared, not reluctantly conceded in rigid custody-and-access schemes that end up dividing children from their parents. We need to create new cheap and efficient institutions that mediate family conflict instead of impoverishing families with exorbitant legal costs. [p. 110]
On the campaign trail last fall, one shared parenting advocate asked Mr. Ignatieff if he still believed those words. He said he did. If Liberal Leader Ignatieff were to commit to implementing that change in his first term of office, he would do more to fix what ails Canada than anyone since Brian Mulroney negotiated free trade.
Now that Stephen Harper has abandoned the field, Ignatieff deserves a chance.
Posted by Grant Brown on March 20, 2009 | Permalink