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The Calgary Herald - April 30, 1998

Father's rights debated at hearing

By Helen Dolik

Canadians need more hard facts on what really happens in child-custody cases, not just anecdotal evidence from men who feel they have been treated unfairly by the courts, a retired Calgary judge says. Herb Allard, the former senior family and youth court judge in Calgary, made the comments Wednesday after addressing a special parliamentary committee on child custody and access at the Calgary Airport Hotel.

Noticing the predominantly male audience in the hearing room, Allard said: "In my life experience in the court, I never saw so many men except those who were under compulsion. "They don't show up when their children are hurting as often as they should, or as often as mothers," he said, adding that no one is keeping track of how many men have sought sole or joint custody and didn't get it. "We should count."

But Gus Sleiman, president of the Men's Educational Support Association in Calgary, said the courts are biased against fathers. Men give up, he said, because the financial and emotional resources of fathers fighting for access to their children are often exhausted, and they know the end result is that they will lose inside the courtroom. "I want the justice system to change its direction and start treating fathers as fathers, not as a paying father," said Sleiman.

More than 20 individuals and groups presented a variety of views to the joint Senate-House of Commons committee, which is conducting cross-country hearings. It will present a report in November.

Joe Hornick, executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family said," We have to be very careful because we lack good empirical research in this area."

The committee is composed of Senators and MP's from all political parties. Its mandate is to access the need for a more child-centered approach to family law policies that would emphasize joint parental responsibilities.

Liberal Senator Anne Cools, a committee member, said, "It is the duty of the law to support equality and to support the fact that despite the dissolution of that marriage, both of those parents should be good parents."

There's an enormous social transformation happening in Canada and it's time to look at divorce and its consequences, Cools argued, noting that thousands of fathers are now insisting that they will not be shut out of their children's lives.

About 8,000 divorces are granted each year in Alberta.

Copyright Calgary Herald