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Cotler hopes to reintroduce child-custody legislation

The Calgary Herald, Monday, April 11, 2005

OTTAWA - Justice Minister Irwin Cotler says his government hopes to reintroduce child custody and access reforms this fall.

Cotler told the Senate human rights committee Monday he still intends to revive a contentious Chretien-era bill, with some changes.

The defunct bill, which was supported by the Canadian Bar Association but condemned by fathers' rights groups, died when Paul Martin became prime minister.

It would have jettisoned the familiar terms "custody," "access" and the current specific directive in the Divorce Act that children should maintain "maximum contact" with both parents post-divorce.

Instead, the bill created a regime of "parental responsibilities" that the government hoped would reduce divorce acrimony by de-emphasizing parental rights and power struggles, in favour of court-ordered parenting plans that would allocate specific child-related responsibilities to each parent.

"Right now there is a legislative traffic jam with regard to our bills that are already in the (Commons), and so we would hope to be able to introduce this in the fall session," Cotler explained in answer to Liberal Senator Landon Pearson, co-chair of a joint Commons-Senate committee in 1999 that recommended sweeping child-related divorce reforms.

Cotler said the Justice Department is using its time to "better refine the legislation to respond to those representations that have been made to us, and to anchor the notion of 'the best interests of the child' in a way that will, in fact, secure the best interests of the child when in fact the legislation is in fact reintroduced."

The Senate/Commons committee, which held hearings across the country, recommended 49 reforms in its report, For the Sake of the Children. The recommendations included replacing the terms "custody" and "access" with a "shared-parenting" regime that would in most cases give both parents equal say over their children's upbringing.