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The Special Joint Committee on Custody and Access

The Committee, co-chaired by Senator Landon Pearson (Liberal - Ontario) and Roger Gallaway, Member of Parliament (Liberal - Sarnia-Lambton), is composed of members from both Houses of Parliament representing all political parties. The mandate of the Committee was to assess the need for a more child-centred approach to family law policies and practices that would emphasize joint parental responsibilities and child-focused parenting arrangements based on children’s needs and best interests. In meetings held in Ottawa (March 1998), the Committee heard from witnesses representing a variety of views. Non-custodial parents, Grandparents, women’s groups, and the legal and therapeutic communities have all offered recommendations to the Committee.

The Committee held meetings across Canada during 1998 and reported to Parliament and the Senate in December 1998.

Witnesses
Standing Orders 113(5), 122, and 108(1)(a) grant legislative and standing committees of the House of Commons the power "to send for persons..." A similar phrase is usually found in the orders of reference creating special committees.

Most witnesses appear before a committee after being invited to do so, such an invitation being issued on the committee's behalf through the clerk of the committee. Should a witness refuse an invitation, the committee may then decide by motion to summon the witness to appear. Committees only rarely use their power to summon people. Since time constraintsmay make it impossible for committees to hear testimony from every individual and group requesting to be heard, steering committees usually consider lists of potential witnesses and make recommendations to the full committee. The committee decides to whom invitations will be issued.

There are no grounds on which a witness, other than a public servant, can refuse to answer aquestion. While witnesses are at the mercy of the committee and its collective wisdom, it is important to note that they are only compelled to answer questions that a committee agrees to put to them.

F.A.C.T. Appeared at Our Nation's Capital to Testify
Fathers Are Capable Too (F.A.C.T.) played an important part. Our President, Malcolm Mansfield and our Director-Media, Deborah Powell attended the Committee meetings in Ottawa, our nation's capital, on March 11, 1998. Their testimony was broadcast on the Canadian Parliamentary Channel (CPAC) a number of times across Canada.

Some of the Briefs Presented to the Committee:
Fathers Are Capable Too (F.A.C.T.) Brief (html format)
The Children's Voice Brief (pdf format)

The Special Joint Committee Website Links:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/InfoComDoc/36/1/SJCA/Studies/Reports/sjcarp02-e.htm
The Department of Justice's response has a press release is at:
http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/news/nr/1999/CUS1005.html
a D of J backgrounder is at:
http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/news/nr/1999/CUS1005bck.html
and the full D of J statement is at:
http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/dept/pub/cca/sjcarp02.html

Important or Interesting Testimony
This section will be the highlights of the more important and interesting testimony.

Alison Grenon (child witness)
Here is the text of Alison Grenon's testimony before the Committee on May 28, 1998 which made a very great impression on both the Committee and the media. She was featured and quoted on every tv and radio newscast in the province and every newspaper article about the Fredericton hearings, including the Daily Gleaner editorial.
Ms. Bina Ostoff (Counsellor Advocate, London Battered Women Advisory Centre, London Coordinating Committee to End Women Abuse):
April 1, 1998 "Many American states have conducted studies and have found that the courts treat women's custody claims far less favourably than men's. "
Dr. Marty McKay (Clinical Psychologist):
"I'm a psychologist, and I'm here to speak to you about my 20 years of carrying out custody and access assessments, the pain that I have seen in the lives of children, and the difficulties that I have experienced in continuing in the role of an assessor due to what I feel are significant shortcomings and room for abuses that prevail in our family law system. "