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 Brief to the SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON CHILD CUSTODY AND ACCESS by the 
VICTORIA MEN'S CENTRE

June 24th, 1998

 

INTRODUCTION

The Victoria Men's Centre (VMC) is a Provincially incorporated non-profit society, providing support, referrals and services to the Men, sons, and mothers of sons, in Victoria.

It has been in operation for the past 5 years, being an outgrowth of the Island Men's Network, which began in 1989.

We operate a voice mail phone line, which has been known to receive up to 10 phone calls per day from a variety of men, women, and groups, both in Victoria and from around Vancouver Island and Province of B.C. We also have integrated non-specific services such as the Fathers For Equality support group for men with divorce and custody issues, and the Island Men Talking Circle for men who want to share experiences and discuss other perspectives. We refer men to other therapeutic counsellors and services as required.

We are very supportive of the essence of submissions of the following groups, who we feel have based their briefs on a considerable level of experience interacting with men and their issues, and come with an equality perspective.

Fathers For Equality David Campbell / Keith Harris / Avi Tal

Men Supporting Men Tony McIntyre

The Fathers Advocacy Program Guy Thisdelle

The Well Society Rod Keays

National Shared Parenting Association Danny Guspie

Fathers Are Capable Too Malcolm Mansfield

Dr. Ferrel Christensen University of Alberta

This submission is an interim document, with additional firm references to be added as they arrive. A complete reissue of this document will follow shortly.

 

OUR PHILOSOPHY REGARDING CUSTODY AND ACCESS

During Senate / Commons deliberations last year around Bill C-41, the Victoria Men's Centre was active in formulating policy regarding our vision of changes to the Divorce Act which we believe will reduce the potential of animosity between parents at the time of divorce, and reduce litigation due to an approach which is respectful of both parents. This joint submission is presented in Appendix B, and can be summarised by the following two points:

- Enshrine the presumption of pro-equal alternating shared parenting, which includes joint custody, care and control, and guardianship.

- Implement a mandatory mediation program to enhance a non-adversarial divorce solution, and largely reduce the loading on the court system.

OUR CLIENTELLE

The calls often are from men who are embroiled in custody and access issues, and for the past year are represented by the following statistics.

Total number of calls:

Number from women: 24

Men reporting Custody issues: 33

Men reporting Access issues: 26

Withholding of access: 15

Men reporting Family Maintenance Enforcement problems: 25

Men reporting False Allegations of Physical / Sexual abuse 12

Men reporting Domestic Violence issues 3

Falsely accused 3

 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

The facts of domestic violence cannot be separated from custody and access, as that same violence is very often translated into animosity toward the other partner in divorce. The facts are well documented in many studies, including the 85 presented in a Bibliography collected by Martin S. Fiebert, presented in Appendix D. Described are studies including over 58,000 individuals, with commonly accepted measures of evaluation being used, primarily the standard Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS). They show in consistent and general terms that violence in a physical sense is equal, if not predominant in the female partner of a relationship. Entrenching philosophies and laws which present the domestic violence in a different light, as the male as the overwhelming perpetrator, has badly skewed the values of equality in parenting.

New legislation such as Washington State's House Bill 2756 - (Domestic Violence Act) is a very complex web of statutes, providing a myriad of punitive actions for an accused's actions, such as interacting with a child at school. We have concerns over such actions serving to further limit non-custodial parent interaction with their children.

Anger displayed by men we've seen, has been directed not so much at their grievances against their partner during the marriage, but at the actions of their former partner during and after divorce.

 

MALE SUICIDE

Within the Men's Centre, we are very conscious of the level of pressure on men during divorce, and the despondency and feeling of hopelessness that can arise. Despite our intense efforts suicides have occurred. As we have seen in cases prominently described by the media, men have acted or shall we say "over reacted" to shunning, alienation, accusations, and using the law in a manner which the individual likely couldn't feel understood, even if his expectations were unrealistic.

According to Statistics Canada 1994 figures, Canadian suicides per 100,000 population were 20.5 males (79%), and 5.3 females (21%). This predominance by males is disturbing, as it points to a higher "hopelessness" level. By 1996 the suicide rate for men had risen to 22.8 per 100,000. In the total population of Canada, this extrapolates to deaths of approximately 6000 men per year. Farrell writes "We care for grieving women and isolate grieving men, reinforcing the atmosphere for male suicide"4

In a study done by an Officer of the Calgary Police Department (Appendix E), the estimate was that half the men killed in the line of duty, were in effect "Officer Assisted Suicides". These deaths are not classified as suicides, further minimising the recognition of the problem.

In the same group of Stats. Canada figures, "homicides and legal intervention" deaths were a much smaller 2.3 for males, and 1.2 for females. Our very large emphasis on curbing homicide deaths, would be better spent on reducing suicides.

Placing a greater legal emphasis on mandatory mediation, will provide the catalyst to bring all participants in divorce a greater level of input to the process, and understanding of the elements and importance of our children's wellbeing.

 

LEGISLATION

Various jurisdictions have or are approaching the legislation concerning custody and access, actions which we support in a guarded way. We have investigated new bills in England, Colorado (HB 1183) 3, and Washington State (HB 2407) 2, and see a general trend toward changing wordage to some form of "Shared Parental Responsibility", with recognition of mediation in some form to change the confrontative dynamic.

We believe mediation should be mandatory, with minimal allowance for opting out of the process, without some level of punitive outcome to the non-co-operative party(ies).

With societal recognition that food, shelter, and protection are considered the necessities of life, Bills such as Washington's HB2407 place "providing for the financial support of the child" as the last of six "parenting functions". We have concern that this function will take on a lower significance and recognition than functions such as "attending to the daily needs of the child". Contrastingly we see with Canadian Bill C-41 and recent British Colombia legislation, providing for the financial support is seemingly attracting the most attention from a punitive point of view. We recommend it be recognised as the integral and very necessary part of "nurturing" the child.

 

CONCLUSION

Parents are capable before divorce, what mysterious thing happens at divorce to make mothers more capable, and fathers less capable. I suggest it's the systematic vilification of men by lobby groups and supporters over the past few decades, without men (or vocal women) actively countering this power. Fortunately statistics are finally breaking through the wall of half-truth to indicate the much touted huge abundance of physical violence by men in relationships relative to women's physical violence, is in fact approximately equal by gender.

Alienation of men through this systematic perception manipulation, of presenting questionable statistics for only half of the problem, as described by Prof. F. Christensen [see Appendix C], causes fear and loneliness in may men, and a propensity to react, especially when unrespectfully challenged. I've often said that women's groups who publish lists of things women "should do" in divorce situations to avoid violence, would add the item "don't tell your husband that you'll arrange it that he'll never see the children again". The current political and legislative climate places a huge majority of power in the women's hands, even if she chooses not to use it.

Both Men and Women have a high degree of anxiety during the divorce, and will react inappropriately at times, especially if they are in fear. The emotional rape of men by the legal and court environment, holding them down with threats of legal prosecution, taking their virtue of being recognised as a parent with assumed continued equal parenting rights, and emasculating them by leaving them with the odour of the risk and danger they represent to their children and ex-wife, all mearly by being male.

After all this, physically attaching the father to servitude of paying the greater portion of the child's upkeep, even past the age of majority, completely demoralises the male, making his responsibilities onerous and rights minimal. The VMC feels it's the parents' and then adult child's right to sit down and negotiate supporting the student, depending on the parent's ability to contribute at that time.

We see and encourage the momentum for laws to be changed to entrench the concept of the "Best Interest of the Children is Coparenting after Divorce". We very much support this concept. We want specific entrenching of this principle, to provide clear guidance to the provincial governments and their respective legislation.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1Kruk, Edward, UBC, "Access Denial, Parental Alienation, Parental Disengagement, and the Divorce Industry", The Mediator, #55 - Spring 1998.

 

2Washington State Legislature,

House Bill 2407 - Shared Parental Responsibility Act

House Bill 2406 - Friendly Parent Presumption Act

House Bill 2750 - Visitation Act

House Bill 2756 - Domestic Violence Act

House Bill 2770 - Representation of Parties in Child Dependency and Termination Proceedings

House Bill 2761 - At Risk Youth Act

 

3Colorado State Legislature,

House Bill 1183 - Parental Responsibility Act

 

4Farrell, Warren, Speech at University of Victoria, Fathers Day, 1997

 

 

APPENDICIES

A. Brochure of the Victoria Men's Centre, generally describing its philosophy and services.

B. Joint Victoria Men's Center submission to the STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY investigating Bill C-41, January 17th., 1997.

C. Presentation by Professor Ferrel Christensen, University of Alberta, entitled "The Big Half Truth and Its Tragic Consequences", at Vancouver Conference entitled "Neglected Issues Of Abuse in the Family" February 7th, 1998

D. Annotated Bibliography citing "References Examining Assaults by Women on their Spouses / Partners" 1997 Issue of "Sexuality and Culture".

E. Article from The Toronto Star, December 8, 1997. "Why people get police to kill them, Officer researches little-understood phenomenon".

 

Appendix B:

Submission to the

STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE

ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Honourable Senators,

After much considerations of the merit and substance of the draft copy of Bill C-41 previously distributed, and our concerns over the future of Canadian families, representatives of the below listed groups have formulated the following points, which we believe, in concept and principle, should supplant or supplement the essence of Bill C-41.

- Enshrine the presumption of pro-equal alternating shared parenting, which includes joint custody, care and control, and guardianship.

- Implement a mandatory mediation program to enhance a non-adversarial divorce solution, and largely reduce the loading on the court system.

- Resolution of child custody, including awarding of sole custody, should only revert to the courts, when proven relevant criminal actions to the child, is evident by one or both parents.

- Remove all financial obligation by either of the parents to the other, by the concept of complete shared care and control of the children.

- Failing equal parenting, both parents costs of child raising and the income of both parents should be proportionally and equally considered in the financial settlement.

- Remove any increased and unaffordable financial burden to fathers through new legal statutes. The current proposed plan is not financially neutral.

Adversarial process of the courts induces ongoing damage to all parties, parents, children, and extended families. A mandatory mediation program will enhance a non-adversarial divorce solution, and largely reduce the loading on the court system. Imbalance of power, such as one parent having sole custody, invalidates successful mediation, and often requires enforced access.

Within our suggested pro-equal alternating shared parenting, supported by mandatory mediation, financial obligation and human care and love for children will be filled by both parents and extended families. We will also be in harmony with the Charter of Rights.

 

signed,

Harvey Maser Victoria Men's Centre

David Campbell Father's For Equality

Joseph Miello Father's Rights Action Group

Rod Keays Island Men's Network

Ken Wiebe Leader B.C. Libertarian Party

  

Appendix E:

 

Why people get police to kill them

Officer researches little-understood phenomenon

The Toronto Star, December 8, 1997, Final Edition, p.A7

Illustration note: CP photo: PHD CANDIDATE: Acting Sergeant Rick Parent holds his thesis on deadly police shootings in B.C. He is considered a leading expert on suicide by cop.

VANCOUVER (CP) - It's known as victim-precipitated homicide in the heady world of academe. In blunt street jargon, it's called suicide by cop.

Last week, a distressed 67-year-old man walked into a downtown jewelry store and began smashing display cases.

He came out of the store, wielding a long knife and scissors, and began taunting police to kill him.

They did - after pepper spray and repeated warnings to drop the knife were unsuccessful.

He appears to be the latest casualty added to the little-understood phenomenon of people who get cops to kill them.

Acting Sergeant Rick Parent is a Delta, B.C., police officer with 18 years' experience and a master's degree in criminology. He's considered a leading expert on suicide by cop.

"It's fair to say it's not widely researched and not very well at all from a Canadian perspective," says Parent, who is working towards a Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University on the same subject.

Parent, 39, began his research intending to look at the big picture; then the disturbing data emerged.

"I was trying to find out why do police actually kill people," he said. "Why does it happen so infrequently? Why does it happen at all?"

He interviewed 34 police officers and analyzed 58 incidents in British Columbia between 1980 and 1994 in which police were confronted by a lethal threat.

A total of 28 people were killed in those incidents by police shootings; Parent determined that half were victim-precipitated homicides.

"I didn't go in there looking for it and specifically when I interviewed 34 officers I never mentioned it.

"This was something that was glaringly obvious, that somehow these people were contributing or bringing about their own demise."

What's not yet clear to him - and may be better known as his doctoral research extends to all of Canada and several other countries - is how to better differentiate between victim-assisted homicide and suicide by cop.

"A clearer way to describe it is victim-precipitated because in some cases it's not a clear suicide, it's a gray issue.

"It could be mental illness. The person could be having delusions that they're Jewish and the police are Nazis and all they have to protect themselves is to attack the Nazis with a knife.

"That's not suicide, but it is victim-precipitated."

Another factor might be consumption of alcohol or drugs.

"They aren't suicidal per se, but so incoherent they don't know what's going on."

Still, he estimates the number of people who consciously and determinedly commit suicide by getting shot at to be between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of those killed by police.

"The others may be suicidal, too . . . like the guy who crouched into a shooting position, pointed a Sony Walkman and was shot and killed. The individual there was high and extremely intoxicated.

"Why would anybody do that? We don't know and we can't go back and interview him."

More research might find answers; for now Parent can only offer theories.

"We know from living in North American society that if police are called, and you do certain things, they're going to kill you." There may be visions of grandeur, or a skewed religious belief.

"They can see the police as absolving them of sins because the police are seen as good. If they're despondent because they've done something bad or evil, the police can maybe cleanse them."

And perhaps there is the need to avoid a stigma.

"Committing suicide by hanging, for instance, may be seen as a cowardly act. But if you're killed or wounded by the police, it's somewhat heroic."

Parent hopes his research will result in some practical use, including prompting Canadian police forces to consider alternatives to deadly force.

For the last 150 years, Canadian police have used the same basic tools: a baton and a gun. More recently, they've been equipped with pepper spray.

Now, some police forces have possible alternatives - electrical-charge guns, bean-bag guns, glue guns, net guns, and rubber-bullet guns.

"Those are things that police should have with them readily right now," Parent says.

Rod Louis, spokesperson for the Patient Empowerment Society, an advocacy group for the mentally ill, says police officers working in the sometimes rough-and-ready downtown core need special training to deal with mentally ill people.

Copyright The Toronto Star 1997 All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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