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Justice Obstruction 2 (National Post)

JUSTICE OBSTRUCTION 2

In December, 1998, a special 23-member, all-party Parliamentary committee on child custody and access presented For the Sake of the Children, a report that concluded children should have both parents in their lives. With this goal in mind, the committee recommended that following separation or divorce, parties applying to a court for an order with respect to custody must file a plan spelling out parenting arrangements. It also concluded governments should establish a co-ordinated policy that would assure non-custodial parents (mostly fathers) have real recourse when wrongly denied access to children by the custodial parent (usually the mother). The proposal would have improved the quality of parenting in Canada and empowered parents who are wrongly denied their court-approved visitation rights. Yet it fell afoul of Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice, and senior justice department civil servants. They have buried the report.

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In recent weeks, the justice department's public relations battle spilled over into the pages of the National Post. When we published a story suggesting that feminist groups who did not want to attend family law hearings with men present may be given separate hearings, it drew a response from Virginia McRae, a senior official in the Justice Department, saying that no effort was being made to indulge the feminists' request. The letter became the source of a debate in our letters page between, on the one hand, Liberal Senator Anne Cools and Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, who both support shared parenting, and, on the other, Ms. McLellan, who repeated familiar platitudes. "Our common goal," wrote the justice minister on July 20, "is to create an effective family law system across Canada that will promote a child-centered approach by focusing on children's needs and best interests." Such language might as well have been plucked straight from her media plan.

Word within senior Liberal circles is that phase three of the communication plan may soon begin. Ms. McLellan is expected by some to introduce an omnibus child poverty bill this fall that will contain amendments to access and custody laws at odds with the shared parenting recommendations contained in For the Sake of the Children. Parliament and Canadians must not allow this. Ms. McLellan has not been candid on the subject of shared parenting. She must not be permitted to reify her agenda under cover of a deceptive media strategy.