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Divorce Bill’s flaws inadvertently aid abusers

26 juin 2003

par Michele Landsberg, journaliste

Dans cet article, publié dans le Toronto Star, Michele Landsberg résume les inquiétudes des femmes qui ont pris le temps d’analyser les caractéristiques de la réforme de la Loi canadienne sur le divorce proposée par le ministre Martin Cauchon (voir et, le projet de loi C-22.

Ces problèmes sont nombreux : suppression de la notion de garde pour créer l’équivalent d’une garde conjointe automatique, sans égard à qui assure le travail parental au quotidien ; prévisible perpétuation de la violence conjugale, toujours "pire" après une séparation, au nom d’une prétendue "responsabilité parentale" attribuée d’office au parent le moins investi ; refus de tenir compte de l’inégalité persistante des femmes, notamment pour ce qui est du partage des tâches parentales, ou du désintérêt de la majorité des pères divorcés pour leurs enfants (autrement que pour esquiver leurs obligations financières en réclamant 40% du temps parental) ; risques accrus d’enlèvement international s’il suffit d’avoir du "temps parental" pour être présumé avoir la garde de l’enfant au sens de la Convention de La Haye ; multiplication prévisible des procédures de harcèlement judiciaire des mères (déjà constatées dans les pays où de telles réformes ont été adoptées au nom des Droits du Père) ; suppression de l’aide juridique au nom des ententes "à l’amiable" ; partage au petit bonheur des allocations familiales, de l’aide sociale, selon ce que Monsieur promet...

Landsberg signale que les députés du parti au pouvoir et de l’Opposition ne semblent pas comprendre les risques en cause si ce projet de loi au langage mielleux ("smarmy") est adopté tel quel.

Elle signale que cette loi va donner encore plus d’armes aux parents contrôlants et violents - qui même s"ils sont en minorité ont accaparé la réforme en cours - alors même que se multiplient les meurtres commis par des pères aigris. Il s’agit ni plus ni moins que d’une atteinte directe au droit au divorce. (Martin Dufresne)

Divorce Bill’s flaws inadvertently aid abusers

In the bright new federal Divorce Act, the words will be anodine, a honeyed syrup to blot out troubling thoughts and smooth away raucous dissent.

To placate the most extreme of the fathers’ rights agitators (many of them among his own Liberal colleagues in parliament) justice minister Martin Cauchon has come up with some smarmy new language in his Bill C-22 to amend the Divorce Act. He’s going to do away with the nasty win-lose implications of "custody" and "access", for example,in favour of "parental responsibility" to be carved up by Solomon-like judges.

The problem is that the words are so ill thought out that they will imperil abused women and their children, undermine the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights, make international kidnappings much easier, and create a disastrous surge of new litigation.

This "parental responsibility" is a thinly disguised version of automatic shared custody. Where it’s been tried, in England and Australia, the amount of litigation has increased rather than decreased, because it’s precisely the tiny minority of really combative, warring parents who make it all the way to trial and are then ordered to do just what they’re incapable of : co-operating for the sake of the kids.

Most parents, of course, separate with some civility. They keep their mutual anger from spilling over and scalding the children. The huge majority (95 per cent) settle, by themselves or with lawyers, without going all the way to trial.

The small, angry minority, however, has now made enough noise that the law is about to be rewritten in its interests.

That’s competely lunatic.

Trace the current controversy back to its source. When the federal government brought in new child support guidelines a few years back, it said that support payments could be reduced if the paying parent (usually the father) actually had custody of the child for 40 per cent or more of the time. Boom ! Joint custody suddenly became the passionate goal of the fathers’ rights movement.

The conservative media pounced on this cause because it shored up male rights and male dominance. Most Canadians also go along with joint custody because it sounds equal and fair.

But here’s the documented reality : Some men may indeed suffer from denied access. But 69 per cent of children live with their mothers, whether there is "joint custody" or not. More than 40 per cent of fathers who have joint custody do not bother to see their children at all, or no more than once a month.

It’s the mothers, just as in almost all intact families, who take the temperatures, clean up the vomit, scrub the toilet, take days off work when the child is sick, run to the doctor and dentist, fold the laundry, listen to the school-age heartaches about mean teachers and best friends, phone around for a babysitter, juggle the weekend schedule and keep mental track of everyone’s needs.

This work is invisible and uncounted when done by women. For most children, this is the steady underpinning of their lives. Yet, when fathers demand custody, the courts lean heavily in their favour. In some U.S. jurisdictions, men who sue for custody win between 50 and 75 per cent of the time. In Canada, it’s always been slightly more than 50 per cent. There is, in fact, no bias toward women in the courts. Quite the opposite.

Here’s the danger : among the small minority that battles all the way through the courts, a significant number are abused women and their aggressive, controlling partners. Inevitably, the burden will be on the woman to argue why "shared responsibility" would be wrong. Often, an abused woman is warned by her lawyer (if she can afford one, now that legal aid has evaporated) not to mention the abuse, lest it be held against her as a "false accusation". So Cauchon’s amendment offers the abuser an open door into the life of his ex. Because of her children, she is sentenced to a sort of permanent, ongoing non-marriage to the man she is trying to escape.

True - and this is a very positive aspect - Cauchon’s bill says that judges must take into account any domestic violence when deciding the best interests of the child. But even there, the language of the bill is dishonest. It never mentions violence against women, or women’s entrenched inequality. It smears over the truth with its oleaginous talk about "family violence" , a concept that encourages violent men to counter-charge their partners and have the allegations wash each other out.

The amendments also ignore the fact that the most dangerous men (like murderers Randy Iles and Ralph Hadley) commit emotional rather than physical violence before the final attack : spying, stalking, harassing, death threats, injuring pets, destroying clothes and photos. The new bill makes no mention of these terrifying warning signs.

A batterer or a stalker should never, ever, have unsupervised access. Just look at the newspapers : these are the men who are capable of killing their own children in their rage against the woman who left them. Like Peter Currie, convicted of slashing the throat of his two-year old daughter Alexis and leaving her to die alone in the forest, so he could take vengeance on his ex-wife.

Until the Divorce Act drops the phony "gender neutrality" and confronts the danger posed by abusive men, this is one scary piece of legislation.

Kidnappers, too, will have a joyride with the " shared parenting" presumption, because, with this wording, they can elude charges under the anti-abduction Hague Convention.

Perhaps worst of all, the bill flouts the Charter of Rights, which demands that laws enhance women’s equality. There is not a word in this badly designed bill that acknowledges women’s continuing inequality, in the family, in finances and in the courts.

The deeply flawed Bill C-22 will go before a parliamentary committee later this spring. MPs and the public better wake up before its too late.

Publié dans The Sunday Star, le 13 avril 2003

Mis en ligne sur Sisyphe en juin 2003

Michele Landsberg, journaliste


- "Premiers commentaires sur le projet de loi amendant la Loi sur le divorce" - Lire ici :

- Réseau des femmes ontariennes sur la garde légale des enfants

"Mémoire au Comité fédéral, provincial et territorial sur le droit de la famille sur la garde, le droit de visite et les pensions alimentaires pour enfants", le 6 juin 2001. Ontario Women’s Justice Network (OWJN)

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