by ~ Chris Morgan
Maurice Vellacott, MP
London, ON -- Most parents who have been through a divorce will acknowledge that reaching equitable child custody agreements are in the best interests of everyone involved. Yet all too often, joint custody in Canadian courts means one parent is allowed regular, sustained access to a child, while the other parent is denied the same right.
This is largely the fault of outdated federal and provincial statutes in family law that generally presume mothers will be the primary caregivers following a marital breakdown. But times are changing, and the definition of family – as understood within statistical, sociological and legal realms - is changing as well.
On April 16, Saskatchewan Member of Parliament Maurice Vellacott announced the results of a March Nanos Research poll on equal parenting after divorce. Equal parenting – a term used by advocates to describe the shared rearing of children following a divorce – has long been a passion of Vellacott’s, and he has devoted significant time and resources to the cause.
“The results indicate that four out of five Canadians continue to support equal shared parenting after divorce with almost no difference by gender, region, age group or party affiliation,” Vellacott said. “The poll was commissioned in conjunction with the work I’ve been doing to advance equal parenting through private member bills and motions.”
A similar survey conducted in 2007 yielded nearly identical results to the one performed in March this year, suggesting the outcomes are part of an ongoing trend which favours equal parenting. Vellacott is also responsible for a 2008 private members motion on the subject, which provided a gauge of Parliamentary support and earned the vote of 17 Conservative and Liberal MPs.
“The response I received to this motion has encouraged me to proceed with the poll and the drafting of a private members bill in this session with a view to garnering all-party support for equal parenting,” Vellacott said. The outcome of the motion revealed that all parties in the House of Commons believe in the principals behind equal parenting, with 76 percent party support reported from the NDP to a high of 83 percent among Bloc MPs.
Closer to home, a man from London – who has spoken up in defiance of Canada’s family law - has issued an intriguing challenge. In November 2008, Fanshawe College instructor Dave Flook decided to channel his frustration with ongoing child custody issues into a website called Not All Dads Are Deadbeats.
“The motivation behind the website was to essentially meet people in the same situation as me,” Flook said. “Worse than the feeling of me being alone was the idea that other people are alone as well. I knew that if I just applied myself I could ease their pain to some degree. This is what I aimed to do.”
Flook’s fledgling organization has already gained several hundred members since its inception late last year and support shows no sign of flagging. In addition to his advocacy work, Flook has also announced a public debate on equal parenting and the state of family law in Canada. The debate is scheduled to take place on September 15 at Wolf Performance Hall and Flook is looking for speakers from the public to state their case.
“[If you are] instigators or perpetuators of the Canadian family law system that disregards equality in parenting then show your integrity by standing up for your beliefs,” Flook said.
“Here is your opportunity to show people like me why the current family court system should be considered just and acceptable.”