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Speech in Senate Chamber: Senator Cools speaks to the first report of the Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access to extend its Order of Reference, including statements made by Secretary of State (Status of Women) about the Committee's work.

Hon. Anne C. Cools: Honourable senators, I rise to support Senator Pearson's motion to extend the Order of Reference of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access.

As senators know, this committee's genesis was godmothered by Senator Jessiman and myself when it was constituted by the Senate motion to which I spoke on October 28, 1998.

The committee's subject-matter, family breakdown, has been my life's work. The committee has laboured under many internal and administrative problems, including poor attendance by members of the House of Commons, frequently functioning without a quorum, media leaks and other handicaps.

On June 2, 1998, I spoke about the poor attendance of members of the House of Commons. In addition, the senators on this committee have been pained by the House of Commons co-chair Roger Gallaway's campaign to abolish the Senate of Canada, about which I spoke on June 11, 1998.

I have found this committee's handicaps to be a personal trial. These handicaps have been so serious as to deter me from wishing to serve on another joint committee in the near future. On the other hand, this committee's very existence has been greatly welcomed and widely supported across the land. That fact has made my sacrifice and any tribulations worthwhile.

Honourable senators, this committee, though enormously supported by the public, has been under consistent and persistent attack from a small number of biological determinist gender feminists who wish the Divorce Act to be a feminist act.

Honourable senators know that I repudiate gender feminist morality and that I reject any concept of morality based on biology, race, colour or gender. Simply put, I reject their notion that women are morally superior and that men are morally defective. I reject the notion that virtue is women's and that vice is men's; that virtue and love and caring are women's and that vice and violence are men's.

Honourable senators, human aggression and violence are the scourges of the human condition. Human nature's dark sides are reflected in both genders, as are human nature's light sides. Aggression and violence are human problems, not gender problems. Both men and women are capable of terrible deeds. However, both men and women are capable of great love and humanity.

I am supported in these assertions by all the evidence and by the scholarly studies on domestic violence which shows symmetry and reciprocity. Men and women attack each other equally. Men and women both share equal potential to be good parents, and conversely, to be bad parents. In marriage, children are produced by men and women. Nature gave children two parents, a mother and a father. Therefore, I assert that children of divorce need both their parents. Children of divorce need the love and support of both their parents. Parliament and the courts must vindicate the need of children for both parents, emotionally, psychologically and financially. Divorce ends the marital bond but not the parenting bond. The parenting bond survives. Parenting is forever, and that parenting bond must be protected. Further, the Divorce Act as enacted by Parliament never intended or enacted the dispossession of parents of their children, or that of children of their parents. The disinclination of the courts to vindicate the needs of children for both of their parents, and their disinclination to enforce their court orders for access has, in effect, left the children of divorce without the protection of the courts. This disinclination is begging correction. It has also left many children fatherless.

Honourable senators, this committee has enjoyed wide support across this land. It has also endured some nasty, vitriolic attacks, many directed personally at me. I shall draw senators' attention to some of these attacks. Before I do that, however, I shall speak to one particular attempt to discredit this committee. I speak of the actions and of an Op-Ed article in the November 9, 1998 issue of The Globe and Mail written by the Secretary of State for the Status of Women, Hedy Fry. The Secretary of State's Op-Ed piece, entitled, "A blanket rule of forced joint custody would be a bad move: Will the best interests of the child be the first casualty in the battle to change custody and access rules?", is a bald ministerial attack on a parliamentary committee.

Such an attack on a committee of Parliament by a minister is an egregious act, unworthy of any minister of the Crown, of the cabinet and of the Liberal Party of Canada. As a senior Liberal senator, I condemn most strenuously this minister's efforts to discredit a committee of the Parliament of Canada. Her efforts to direct and form the conclusions of this committee are appalling. Secretary of State Hedy Fry, like certain modern Liberal ministers, does not understand the parliamentary system in which she operates. In the alternative, if she understands it, she does not respect or practise it. The Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access has completed its public work and is currently working on its report. It appears from her Op-Ed piece that Hedy Fry does not like the conclusions she believes and hears that the committee will make, and is taking steps to force and compel a different set of conclusions.

Honourable senators, in another era of strong parliaments and strong party caucuses, this or any other minister's similar actions would have been unwelcome and would have met with strong disapproval from her own party caucus. In today's parliamentary community, however, they are met with silence, even acquiescence, as members of Parliament shrink from the representative political duty of holding ministers politically responsible to Parliament, which is the people's representative assembly. Some members even wish to persuade me that it is party loyalty.

Honourable senators, I note that Hedy Fry is the minister responsible for the Status of Women. I note that the minister responsible for the Divorce Act and its judicial operation is not Hedy Fry but Minister of Justice Anne McLellan. Minister McLellan has acted nobly and properly all through the entire process of this joint committee on custody and access. Secretary Fry should take a page from the minister's book and uphold that Parliament's committees have an integrity and an existence which is subject only to Parliament, and not to any minister, and that Parliament expects its committees to do their work unimpaired, unimpeded, and unfettered by any minister of the Crown.

Our system of cabinet and ministerially responsible government stands on the premise that cabinet speaks with one voice, the government's voice, and that that voice is articulated by the minister responsible for the individual portfolio or by the Prime Minister for all portfolios. Cabinet has no personal, private voice or no private voice of individual ministers, even if spoken publicly in the media. Canadian principles and practices have always held that when a minister cannot abide by the single voice of cabinet, then that minister must surrender ministerial office, resign, and rejoin the multitude of backbenchers who are hoping and longing to be ministers. The secretary's voice as a non-responsible minister is unknown to our system. Is the secretary speaking for cabinet, or is she not? Are her utterances government policy, or are they not?

The secretary's Op-Ed piece is a compromise of cabinet, of a parliamentary committee, and of Parliament itself. Her action seeks to pre-empt all three, and is novel, unprecedented, improper, and undemocratic. I also view the Secretary of State's action as an attack on Minister of Justice Anne McLellan and an attack on the cabinet system itself.

Honourable senators, the Secretary of State is publicly discrediting the committee's work. The secretary is publicly coercing the committee to do her bidding - to obey her wishes. Simply put, she is directing the committee to abandon its work, to ignore its witnesses, to ignore the testimony it heard, to ignore the Canadian public, and to abandon any conclusions that the committee might make, based on its own very open public process. Instead, she is publicly coercing the committee to substitute and adopt her personal opinion on recommendations concerning the Divorce Act, for which she is not even the responsible minister, and on recommendations that are not yet made.

Honourable senators, on November 2, 1998, Secretary of State for the Status of Women Hedy Fry appeared before the special joint committee, accompanied by an October 30, 1998 news release from her department, Status of Women Canada, which said:

"There are no simple, quick-fix solutions in custody and access disputes," said Dr. Fry. "Before we begin to change the law, Canadians need to do a reality check. Will the best interests of the child be served by the changes being considered?"

Dr. Fry will be available for media interviews immediately following the presentation.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable Senator Cools, I regret to interrupt you but, under the order from the Senate, I must ask that the bells be rung at 3:15 p.m .

Senator Cools: Honourable senators, could I have leave to finish my speech following the vote? I have just a bit more to say.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Debate suspended.

. . .

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Pearson, seconded by the Honourable Senator Butts, for the adoption of the first report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access (extension of reporting date), presented in the Senate on November 17, 1998.- (Honourable Senator Cools)

 Hon. Anne C. Cools: Honourable senators, I was talking about Secretary of State Hedy Fry's news release, which called for a reality check. It is the Secretary of State who needs a reality check. She also needs a lesson in the history of the Liberal Party's position on divorce.

When Ms Fry appeared before our committee on November 2, I asked her about the Liberal Party of Canada and the government's position on the need of children of divorce for both parents. She responded:

. . . I am not here to speak for the Liberal Party of Canada, . . .

As a Liberal, I offer her then Liberal Minister of Justice Mark MacGuigan's work on divorce. He introduced the words "the best interests of the child" into the Divorce Act. His Bill C-10 was later superceded by then Minister of Justice John Crosbie's bill after our 1984 devastating defeat by Mr. Mulroney's Conservatives. In Mr. MacGuigan's 1984 position document called "Divorce Law in Canada: Proposals for Change," he said:

1. . . . a child should have maximum access to both parents. Whatever the parents' reasons for divorce, the child has an interest in maintaining a normal relationship with each parent....any animosity the parents may feel for each other should not be allowed to interfere with this interest.

He added:

3. . . . the court should consider the best interests of the child, particularly the child's interest in having maximum access to both parents.

That was the Liberal government's position in 1984, and that is my position today, in 1998.

Honourable senators, I know that certain gender feminists at the Women's Justice Network are poised this week to join the Secretary of State. Their Web site informs us of their intention to:

Discredit the process and nullify any recommendations that come from the Committee.

It adds:

It is critical that a fax or letter be sent to Hedy Fry, Secretary of State for the Status of Women, and that all letters mention they are being c.c.-ed to Dr. Fry.

I note that Michele Landsberg has joined the parade as well. In her Toronto Star article on November 14, 1998, "Custody committee leaves trail of toxic myths," she said:

. . . send a fax to Dr. Hedy Fry . . . cheering her recent tough stand against the committee's excesses.

She joined her again in her November 15 Toronto Star article "Beware this men's rights poison."

Honourable senators, Liberal ministers who uphold neither parliamentary principles nor the principles of liberalism are tedious, but Liberal ministers who publicly act and express opinions in support of attempts to discredit, to defeat and to supplant the work and conclusions of Parliament and its committees are shameful and outrageous.

I speak now about these vitriolic attacks on the special joint committee. Michele Landsberg's article of hate propaganda, savaging the committee and its members, was so pathologically nasty as to cause reasonable readers to condemn the committee. Ms Landsberg, in that same November 14 article already quoted, described the special joint committee as "The travelling circus . . .", and added:

The joint committee crossed Canada like a manure spreader run amok, leaving a trail of toxic falsehoods in its wake.

I also noted that June 8, 1998 was the Lobby Day of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Joan Grant-Cummings of NAC, in a speech broadcast on CPAC on that day, stated:

. . . women experienced violence and abuse during those hearings . . .

Honourable senators, the perpetrators of these gross untruths seem to believe that the repetition of an untruth makes it true. I have rarely seen or heard as much hatred and aggression as I have heard spoken by these women. Thankfully, their pathologies and extremisms are so evident that the public has no appetite for their attitude.

Honourable senators, I thank Senator Pearson for bringing forward this request to extend the committee's Order of Reference for a few days. I fully support it.

I also thank Senator Pearson for all her efforts and all the senators on that committee who have laboured under some very difficult conditions.

The Hon. the Speaker: It was moved by the Honourable Senator Pearson, seconded by the Honourable Senator Butts, that this report be adopted now. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Motion agreed to and report adopted.

 

The remainder of this day's Senate Debates available here.