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The Ottawa Citizen - Sunday 20 May 2001
Divorce survey prejudicial: fathers' groups Federal poll
aims to stall changes to custody, access, they charge
by Chris Cobb
Father and grandparent groups across the
country are banding together in an effort to spoil a federal
government survey they say is part of a deliberate policy to
limit changes to divorce law and maintain the status quo on
custody and access.
"The current family law system is designed to
create a winner and a loser," said Eric Tarkington, a Toronto
computer consultant and a co-ordinator of the protest.
"And the winner in custody and access matters
is nearly always the woman. We see an entrenched
government-funded lobby of feminists who shape these policies.
This survey is not meant to help create change."
Mr. Tarkington, who moderates an electronic
mailing list for Equal Parents of Canada said members of about
30 "father- friendly" groups will use the survey to protest lack
of change to the Divorce Act.
The federal Justice department survey and
64-page information booklets were sent to all parliamentarians,
everyone who appeared before a special Senate-Commons joint
committee on custody three years ago, and other "stakeholders"
across the country. Recipients are asked to return the completed
questionnaire by June 15. It is also available at
Justice officials say the survey is part of
an ongoing consultation process that could lead to changes to
sections in the Divorce Act dealing with child support, custody
But Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, who co-chaired
the special committee, has called the survey an "affront to
The joint committee spent a year from January
1998 holding hearings on custody and access across Canada before
producing a report it named For the Sake of the Children. The
cornerstone of its many recommendations is the replacing of
custody and access with a new concept called "shared parenting"
under which both separated or divorced parents would have an
automatic legal right to be involved in the upbringing of their
In cases where one parent alleges the other
is unsuitable to be a parent, the committee recommended that
charges would have to be proven in court before being used to
determine a long-term parenting arrangement. False accusations,
or deliberate denying of legally ordered access to children,
should be punished, said the committee.
But critics say the survey questions suggest
a prejudice against the changes recommended by the committee in
favour of maintaining the status quo.
For example, the survey offers the option of
retaining the terms custody and access, language the committee
expressly recommended be eliminated.
Mr. Gallaway said For the Sake of the
Children is the will of Parliament and should be implemented.
Justice Minister Anne McLellan received the report in December
1998 and responded six months later, saying more study was
Mr. Tarkington says he expects protesters
will simply mail or e-mail the survey to the Justice department
with written comments about its "inadequacies."
Mr. Gallaway supports the fathers' protest.
"Some of the language in the survey would challenge lawyers," he
said. "It is not about change, it's about deception."
He is also angry that feminists groups were
discussing and planning strategy on the Internet several days
before the survey was sent to parliamentarians and released to
"It's outrageous that one group had advanced
knowledge of it," he said.
Father and grandparent groups do not receive
government funding to assist their lobbying efforts, though
feminist groups do.
Included in the protest are the Victoria
Men's Centre Society, Kids Turn of Greater Vancouver Society,
Fathers Are Capable Too (FACT), Equitable Child Maintenance and
Access Society (ECMAS) of Alberta, Groupe d'entraide aux peres
et de soutien a l'enfant Inc. (GEPSE) of Quebec, Men's
Educational Support Association (MESA), also of Alberta and the
Human Equality Action and Resource Team (HEART) of Ontario and
Grandparents Requesting Access and Dignity (GRAND).
"Good people are going through the court
system in horrible agony," said Mr. Tarkington, who had custody
of his now-grown son. "Why are good people being punished
emotionally and financially? It isn't necessarily males who are
the main victims but in practical terms, it mostly is. We want
to take away the government's power to order anything but equal
Tarkington said the groups' first reaction
was to boycott the survey.
"But you have to respond somehow," he said.
"We have a crazy system where there has to be one winner parent
and one loser parent That's what we want to change. Remove the
power of the government to take perfectly good parents away from
their children and children away from their parents."
"The work of the joint committee was
brilliant," he said, "but it's only a beginning. Whatever our
various groups call themselves, they all agree that they want
real, practical equality for all parents. I'm asking people to
tell the government to make some real change. If you want to
call it spoiling the survey you can."
Copyright 2001 (c) The Ottawa Citizen