Victoria Times Colonist

Justice minister rejects shared parenting

Janice Tibbetts
Victoria Times Colonist
Friday, March 28, 2003

OTTAWA -- Estranged parents have no rights when it comes to their children, they only have responsibilities, says Justice Minister Martin Cauchon.

The married father of three made the comment Thursday as he explained why he rejected the presumption of shared parenting -- or joint custody -- in his proposed new divorce laws.

"Parents have responsibilities, they don't have rights," said Cauchon, under questioning from the all-party justice committee.

"The starting point in each and every crisis is the best interests of the child."

Glen Cheriton, an Ottawa father who runs a support group for non-custodial parents, said the justice minister is trying to wipe out traditional parental rights that pre-date the Canadian government.

"The idea that parents don't have rights is a very radical concept," Cheriton said in an interview.

"The problem with the idea that parents don't have rights is that when we go to school and say we'd like to see the report cards of our kids, and they say 'you don't have any rights' then what do we do?"

"The only reason parents want rights is so that we can take our responsibilities. The two go hand in hand."

Robbing parents of rights is wrong because it also violates a child's right to contact with both parents, said Jay Hill, a Canadian Alliance member of the justice committee.

Cauchon was defending his proposed changes to the federal Divorce Act, which rejects the premise of "shared parenting," in which both parents would be presumed equal under the law when raising their children.

Cauchon's bill has angered fathers' groups, who lobbied hard for the key recommendation from a Parliamentary committee that there should be a presumption that both parents share the care of their children unless one parent is considered unfit.

The concept was abandoned because parents are more likely to end up in court battles if they believe they have equal access to their children, Cauchon told the committee.

"Shared parenting has created a legal presumption that we don't want," said Cauchon. "We've learned from other countries' experience."

When Australia and the United Kingdom modified their divorce laws to enshrine shared parenting, they saw a "clear spike in litigation" from estranged parents who were fighting for their perceived rights, said Virginia McRae, a Justice lawyer.

 Copyright  2003 CanWest News Service