Bureaucrats Thwart Child Custody Reform
THE OTTAWA SUN
By Robert Fife
September 23, 1998
Bureaucrats thwart child custody reform
CREDIT: By ROBERT FIFE
A backroom power play is under way that could dash the dreams of tens of thousands of grandparents and divorced fathers.
With the tacit approval of higher-ups, faceless bureaucrats are attempting to thwart reforms to the child custody and access system. This is a story of how the bureaucracy can influence decision-making and neuter our legislators.
Since April, non-custodial parents and grandparents have counted on a joint Commons-Senate committee to right the wrongs in the 1968 Divorce Act. The all-party committee was set up to respond to a groundswell of male anger after Parliament passed tough laws in 1997 to deal with deadbeat dads. The Senate had refused to pass those amendments unless the government promised custody reform for the majority of fathers who faithfully pay child support but are shut out of their children's lives just the same.
The justice department, led at that time by Allan Rock, didn't give a hoot about these parents but was forced into a child custody study to get the deadbeat dads bill adopted.
The hearings have shone a light into the dark corner of divorce where children are pawns in the war of the sexes. Fathers bitterly complained the Divorce Act is used by their ex-wives as a weapon to punish them. Many men spoke of being denied regular access to their children and paying heavy legal bills to enforce access orders. Fathers tearfully relived stories of judges denying them access to their kids based on accusations of sex abuse or violence levelled by former spouses, without a shred of evidence.
This summer, bureaucrats set to work on a first draft of the final report to be tabled Nov. 30.
Liberal Roger Gallaway, the committee co-chair, was flabbergasted when he saw the draft in mid-July. It was supposed to be a summary of the evidence heard to date. Instead, the draft contained conclusions and recommendations that would have delighted the radical National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC).
Gallaway, a chain-smoking giant with an independent streak, was convinced officials with a feminist agenda were trying to dilute his committee's efforts to put some fairness back into the system.
Missing from the report were key recommendations that judges demand solid proof of child abuse in custody cases and levy sanctions against parents who make false accusations. Left out or diluted were fines for custodial parents who obstruct court-ordered visitation rights and deny legal access to grandparents.
The report was cleverly watered down to make it seem as if the committee was acting to address the concerns of divorced dads. About 75% of the proposals fell within the purview of the provinces.
In other words, bureaucrats wrote a report that made it seem like Ottawa was doing custody reform when it was shifting responsibility elsewhere. Even more troublesome was the fact the report urged the hiring of more costly lawyers and social workers.
Nor did the report reflect the depth of anger and emotion that the committee witnessed from traumatized fathers.
Gallaway fears the committee has been set up and he's warning the public that promised changes may be derailed by the bureaucracy. This is not paranoia in a city where bureaucrats wield more power than elected MPs, who, in theory, are supposed to have a substantial role in making laws.
"If you believe the committee system is real, you probably also believe that professional wrestling is a real sport," says a frustrated Gallaway, whose independence will undoubtedly cost him advancement within the Liberal party ranks. "But I didn't come to Ottawa to kiss anybody's ass."
Gallaway is putting up the good fight. Let's hope this not-so-gentle giant can beat the system.
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Edmonton Journal September 8, 1998
Diluting of Divorce Act changes feared
The federal Justice department is attempting to dilute recommendations from the emotionally charged parliamentary committee on custody and access in divorce cases, says the co-chairman of the committee.
Ontario MP Roger Gallaway says despite considerable evidence that amendments are needed to the 1968 Divorce Act, the Justice department is attempting to tame the all-party Senate-Commons committee which is due to report to Parliament by Nov. 30.
Gallaway would not say how Justice officials are attempting to influence the committee's work but indicated he is unhappy that the testimony heard during weeks of hearings across the country is being given short shrift.
"The Justice department would prefer some refinements to the status quo and that's not acceptable," said Gallaway. "This whole thing revolves around whether we are going to have more of the status quo or whether we are going to fundamentally change a system that most people agree is broken. We have to put some fairness back into the custody and access system."
He says when members of the committee meet later this month, he will attempt to get consensus on several specific recommendations. Among the recommendations Galloway wants:
*Parliament to tell judges that both parents in a divorce must be granted access to children unless it can be proven that one parent is unfit.
*Parliament to tell judges they must reject accusations by one parent of another unless the accusations are proven. *An acceptance by courts that it is in the best Interests of children to have regular visits with both parents.
*Immediate penalties for custodial parents who obstruct court-ordered visitation rights granted the other parent.
*A strict curtailing of the role in custody cases of social workers, psychologists and similar specialists whose services can cost thousands of dollars for parents in custody battles but whose reports can be ignored by courts. Gallaway is adamant the committee will force changes to the Divorce Act which he says is unfair to many parents and grandparents and not serving the best interests of children.
"People told us." said Gallaway "that they go into court actions where there were all sorts of allegations of abuse or violence but none of it was ever substantiated.
"Then child agencies become involved and there is a big state mechanism in place where these agencies move in and the father - it's usually the father. though not always - is told that he cannot see the children until the investigation is over which can be a long time. Then the father gets pressured into admitting his guilt to make life easier so we never know what the reality was. These are areas the committee has to deal with."
Gallaway says the committee has to make clear that one parent should not be excluded from the life of a child on the basis of an allegation.
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