2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Volume 28, Number 3
Introductions by Members
Introductions by Members
S. Chandra Herbert
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill M205 — Fall Fixed Election Amendment Act, 2011
Bill M206 — Concussions in Youth Sport Safety Act
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Sechelt First Nations governance
Aspen Planers sawmill operations
Aboriginal friendship centres
Veterans of war and memorial for Tara Singh Hayer
Community of Ruskin and dam upgrade project
Mental health and addiction treatment services for youth
Hon. G. Abbott
Electronic billboard at B.C. Place
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. P. Bell
Adult basic education
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Denman Island cable ferry proposal
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Funding for aboriginal friendship centres
Hon. M. Polak
Extreme weather and emergency shelter beds in Vancouver
Hon. T. Lake
Release of hunting allocation policy
Hon. S. Thomson
Hon. S. Bond
Auditor General access to information in B.C. Rail court case
Hon. S. Bond
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Guarantees and indemnities authorized and issued report, fiscal year ended March 31, 2011
Labour Relations Board, 2010 annual report
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 16 — Family Law Act (continued)
Hon. M. McNeil
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. S. Bond
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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2011
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. Polak: I'm pleased to introduce to the House today a group of students from the King's School in Langley. It's always a pleasure for me to visit that school, and I always enjoy a pretty lively discussion with the students. They're always very well informed, and I think a few of them have their eyes on a future in politics. You never know.
I was able today to join them for lunch in the legislative dining room. In the gallery today we have two grade 11 students — Ryan Mameral and Adele Martins; and three grade 12 students — Marsa Rezvani, Jacob Anderson and Christina Tomison. They are joined by their teacher, Loraina Hensell. Would the House please make them very welcome.
S. Fraser: Joining us in the precinct today we have representatives from the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. Joining Paul Lacerte, the executive director, and Annette Morgan, the president, are Willie Abrahams, Barb Ward-Burkitt, Richard Samuel from Port Alberni, Christopher Phillips, Rikki Wylie, Laura Hockman, Bruce Parisian, Kari Hutchison, Amy Woodruffe, Ellen Newman, Warren Clarmont, Jeannette MacInnis and, also from Port Alberni, Cyndi Stevens. Would you please all join me in making them feel very, very welcome.
E. Foster: Joining us in the House today is a young man that's a Rotary International student visiting us from Germany. He's staying with friends of mine in Vernon and has taken a few days to come to Victoria. He's here to see how we do business. So would the House please make Luki Viebahn very welcome.
D. Routley: Joining us in the House today is a group of students from Park Avenue Community School in my constituency — 25 students and five adults with their teacher. I'd like the House to help me make them welcome.
They've been warned about question period, but also, I've related to them the story Mr. MacMinn told me with a high school student once — that there's anger and passion in the chamber of this House so that there isn't blood on the streets of this province. So I think they're well warned as to what they're going to experience. Help me make them welcome.
R. Howard: Two reasons to stand before you today. The first is to introduce my most important constituent on the occasion of our 30th anniversary. Joining us today in the House is my wife Trudy. I wish the House to please make her feel welcome.
R. Howard: Secondly, on a sad note, I would like the House to recognize today the passing of Matthew Robic, the co-pilot of the airplane that crashed in Richmond on October 27. Mr. Robic had remained in hospital since the crash, and despite all possible medical efforts, he passed away yesterday afternoon.
As members will know, the valiant efforts of Matt Robic and pilot Luc Fortin to land safely helped to prevent the loss of any of the passengers in their care on that day. Matt was also our Finance Committee's co-pilot on the second leg of our recent tour, and we will well remember his enthusiasm for his job.
I know that the House and all British Columbians will join me in extending our sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr. Robic.
Introductions by Members
N. Simons: I, too, would like to welcome the folks from the friendship centres. I'd also like to welcome Chief Garry Feschuk from the Sechelt Nation, who has just returned from Kamloops where, along with Chief Gottfriedson, he has sought justice for the day scholars of residential schools. Will the House please make Chief Garry Feschuk of the Sechelt Nation welcome.
Hon. I. Chong: In the precinct today is Jim Mullin, who is the director of marketing and communications for the Vanier Cup 2011. He is joined by Clint Hamilton, the athletic director of the University of Victoria. Clint, as well, is a representative of the CIS, which is the Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
The Vanier Cup, as many will know, is the championship game for collegiate football in Canada and will be held at B.C. Place Stadium on Friday. That's next Friday, November 25. As part of the promotion of this event, the Vanier Cup trophy has made a trip here to Victoria. I will be officially welcoming the trophy to Victoria later today in front of the Legislature.
With that, I would ask the House to please make Jim and Clint very welcome — and the Vanier Cup as well.
S. Chandra Herbert: It was ten years ago today that Aaron Webster was brutally murdered in my community
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of Vancouver–West End. His final words were: "That's enough, guys." Our community has taken up that call to speak out against violence, to speak out against homophobia. Indeed, many communities across all of British Columbia have taken up that call.
I'd like to acknowledge his family and say that on behalf of this House we are sending them our love — to the family, to his friends and, indeed, to everybody who was affected by his murder.
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. Polak: I just want to join with colleagues across the way in welcoming members from the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres — in particular, Paul Lacerte. Of course, our caucus had an opportunity to meet with them on Wednesday morning, and we're very much looking forward to working with them as we develop the off-reserve aboriginal action plan.
P. Pimm: In the gallery today we have one of the longer-serving mayors of the province. Please help me to welcome Mayor Fred Jarvis from Taylor. Fred has come down from Taylor to be part of the PNWER conference. Fred has been the mayor of Taylor for 25 years, going on to 28 years. Would the House please help me welcome him.
Hon. M. McNeil: I'm delighted today to welcome to the gallery one of the staff members from my legislative office. John Manning is my executive assistant and is a valued part of the team. He's enthusiastic and sharp and often goes above and beyond, but more than that, he puts up with six women in the office. So let's give John our absolute best and welcome him today.
M. Dalton: In the gallery today we have Bob O'Neal and Bill Brooks. This is Bob's first visit to the Legislature. He's a resident of Mission and the forestry manager for the district. We met with the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, discussing recreational development in the newly approved Mission interpretive forest site.
Also Bill Brooks. He is more of a frequent flyer of this place and can't get enough, so glad to have him here. He's with Tim Horton's foundation working towards establishing an exciting camp for British Columbia children here in my constituency. Would the House please make them both feel welcome.
G. Hogg: There are probably few groups that deserve four introductions in this House, but I think the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres is one of those groups. They have 23 friendship centres across this province. They represent over 50 percent of the First Nations people who live off reserve, and I have the good fortune of trying to provide some of their traditional names as well.
Willie Abrahams is on the board of directors of the Kermode Friendship Society. Willie's traditional name is Guudsandlass, which means "eagle at daybreak." Paul Lacerte has been introduced a number of times and is a good friend of this Legislature and has shown extreme leadership in aboriginal issues and, certainly, has shown extreme leadership on the Innovation Council for the province of British Columbia.
Annette Morgan is president and executive director of Dze L K'ant Friendship Centre. Barb Ward-Burkitt is first vice-president and executive director of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre, and Barb's traditional name is Wahiyow Wapatane Espquáo.
It gets better. Richard Samuel, the second vice-president. Richard's traditional name is Kii xah nis; Christopher Phillips, treasurer and executive director of the Interior Friendship Centre; Rikki Wylie, the youth representative; Laura Hockman, treasurer, and Bruce Parisian, the executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre; Kari Hutchison from Victoria Native Friendship Centre; and Cyndi Stevens, executive director of the Port Alberni Friendship Center. She has two traditional names. They are Seechpa-utzka, which mean "woman of the cougars," and Waakaafvvsess, which means "never gives up."
I'm almost finished. Warren Clarmont, Jeannette MacInnis and Amy Woodruffe with the B.C. Association of Friendship Centres; and finally, Ellen Newman. Ellen's traditional name is Kugwi'si'logwa. Would the House please make them all very welcome for a fourth time.
Hon. S. Thomson: Joining us today in the precincts are some staff from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. They're from the corporate services division, and they serve the overall natural resource sector in corporate services across ministries. So I'd like to make them welcome to the House today. John Sedun, Diane St. Hilair, Tina St. Hilaire, Kevin Doran, Brenda McKinley, Rod Bergen, Mark Griffin, Susan Penner-Davis, Dannielle Kitt, Tammy Anderson, Will Aldridge and Susan Coutts. Would the House please make them welcome today.
First Reading of Bills
Bill M205 — Fall Fixed Election
Amendment Act, 2011
B. Simpson presented a bill intituled Fall Fixed Election Amendment Act, 2011.
B. Simpson: I move that the bill be introduced and read now for a first time.
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B. Simpson: The spring 2013 budget will be a critical turning point for British Columbia, as it will be the first truly post-HST budget, and it must be, by law, a balanced budget. Therefore, it is essential that the 2013 budget gets debated, scrutinized and passed into law before an election is held that year. That will not happen if the fixed election date remains May 2013.
Spring elections also mean that every four years the government may use the budget as an election platform because it doesn't get examined by the opposition and passed into law. Not passing the spring budget every four years means government agencies and organizations that depend on public money do not know what their budgets are until at least September, unnecessarily disrupting the delivery of public services.
Moving the fixed election date to the fall will also give the public access to the comptroller general's and Auditor General's independent assessments of the government's finances and accounting practices. The bill I introduced last spring had a fall 2012 election date. This bill moves the date to October 2013, as this is the only way to guarantee British Columbians a truly post-HST election.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M205, Fall Fixed Election Amendment Act, 2011, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M206 — Concussions in Youth
Sport Safety Act
M. Stilwell presented a bill intituled Concussions in Youth Sport Safety Act.
M. Stilwell: I move that the bill be introduced and now read a first time.
M. Stilwell: The bill protects young athletes participating in high-impact sports by outlining specific guidelines for managing sport-related concussions to protect their developing brains. It leverages modern advances in our understanding of how the brain functions and the dangers of concussions, specifically in young persons.
The facts are clear. Once an individual suffers a concussion, he or she is more likely to sustain a second one. Impacts to the head of someone who has not yet fully recovered from an initial concussion can be devastating, potentially resulting in lifelong brain damage or death.
It also recognizes that the majority of sport-related head injuries occur in athletes younger than the age of 20 and that the frequency of these injuries is increasing. This bill seeks to address these issues by outlining three principles to protect young athletes and their brains.
First, it makes mandatory to remove a child or youth athlete from play if a concussion is suspected. Second, it ensures that the child or youth athlete does not return to play until he or she has received medical clearance. And third, it ensures that concussion-related education materials are distributed to athletes, coaches and parents prior to competition to empower them with knowledge on the severity of head injuries.
This bill was drafted after reviewing similar legislation in the United States and concussion protocols of certain sports organizations. Over the next few months I plan to meet with youth sports organizations, health professionals around the province and MLAs from both sides of the House to explain the bill's intent and work out the details on how it should be implemented.
This bill is an opportunity for British Columbia to be a national leader with regard to protecting the brains of young athletes from the serious dangers of concussion. It's my privilege to be sponsoring the bill and, by doing so, protecting the minds of young athletes from unnecessary injury and permanent damage.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M206, Concussions in Youth Sport Safety Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
SECHELT FIRST NATIONS GOVERNANCE
N. Simons: Mr. Speaker, first of all, thank you for the permission to wear this Sechelt vest. The elders in Sechelt said when I had something important to say, I should wear it. And you'll note it's the first time I'm wearing it in this House. But I would like to thank them for that.
Twenty-five years ago the Sechelt nation became the first First Nation to reassert its self-governing authority in British Columbia and the first in Canada to do so outside of the treaty process. The Sechelt nation's constitution made Sechelt the first to shed the restrictions of the Indian Act and restored their self-government authority.
In 1986 going this path alone was courageous and innovative. Not many other First Nations were supportive at the time, in large part because the form of govern-
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ment was misinterpreted as municipal style. But under the Sechelt self-government act Sechelt has law-making authority that extends beyond the responsibilities of local government to education, membership, taxation and land use.
Sechelt land is held in fee simple that remains reserves under section 91.24 of the Constitution Act. Led by the chiefs in councils of time before and the chief in council of the time, Sechelt found a unique and practical solution to the challenges that it faced. Land claims and reconciliation are still on the agenda.
Sechelt has always contended that every First Nation has a right to determine its own path away from the Indian Act toward a better quality of life. This principled stand promotes respect for the cultural and historical diversity of First Nations.
Judging by the celebrations in the longhouse recently and the presence of dignitaries from all levels of government and other First Nations, there's no doubt that Sechelt enjoys widespread support and is actually looked toward for advice for future other bands.
So I join the people of British Columbia in congratulating Chief Garry Feschuk, the Sechelt Nation, recognizing the elders and the chiefs in council for their foresight, resilience and courage 25 years ago.
ASPEN PLANERS SAWMILL OPERATIONS
J. Les: I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about a family-owned business which has called British Columbia home for over five decades. Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Aspen Planers sawmill in Merritt. The company was founded by the Ghog family in 1959 and now employs 300 people — 150 in the bush and another 150 at their sawmill and planer operations.
Together they produce close to one million board feet of lumber per day and roughly 300 million board feet per year. To sustain itself the mill must bring in between 75 and 80 truckloads of logs every day. The majority of those logs come from within a 100-mile radius from the hills surrounding the community of Merritt. They've also managed to develop a great and respectful working relationship with local First Nations and have a joint venture partnership with four separate bands.
Over the past few years the mill has found great success, mainly due to increased exports to the Asia-Pacific. Today the Aspen Planers Merritt division is only exporting about 10 percent of its product to the United States; 80 percent of their product now makes its way to China.
All of this underlines the importance of increasing and strengthening trade ties with the Asia-Pacific and emphasizes the significance of our B.C. jobs plan. Without the hard work that government has done and continues to do to build these trade relationships, companies like Aspen would not have been able to capitalize on these amazing opportunities.
ABORIGINAL FRIENDSHIP CENTRES
Mr. Speaker: Member for Alberni–Pacific Rim. [Applause.]
S. Fraser: Thanks for the applause.
It's been many years since I first visited the Port Alberni Friendship Center. Executive director Cyndi Stevens began my education on that day, and I have become a big fan and supporter ever since.
Almost 70 percent of aboriginal people in B.C. live off reserve, predominantly in cities. The essential work that aboriginal friendship centres do is crucial to so many who make that move. My visits to the other centres in the province have certainly affirmed that to me.
In early October I took the opportunity to visit six more centres. These latest were located in Mission, Merritt, Vernon, Kelowna, Kamloops and Lillooet, and I was so impressed by the work that they do. Many of the centres have been around for decades. While the number of people that they serve has increased dramatically, funding has certainly not, creating a challenge for all the centres in the province.
There are two issues that I have been advocating for as opposition critic. The first is to urge government to ensure necessary funding for aboriginal friendship centres. This is not an expense, hon. Speaker, but an investment that will pay huge dividends. The second is to develop an off-reserve urban aboriginal strategy that incorporates and involves the 23 friendship centres that have already been filling the historic provincial policy void.
During the throne speech I was pleased to hear a commitment made to develop an off-reserve aboriginal action plan. I applaud that commitment.
Aboriginal people are the province's fastest-growing population group, but they face disproportionate risks and barriers to living long, healthy and productive lives on and off reserves. Without aboriginal friendship centres the situation would be far, far worse.
Let us all in this House ensure that an inclusive strategy is developed to support the great work of our aboriginal friendship centres and that sufficient resources are brought to bear to invest in a bright future that will ultimately benefit all British Columbians.
VETERANS OF WAR AND
MEMORIAL FOR TARA SINGH HAYER
D. Hayer: Last Friday, November 11, people across this great nation and around the world paid homage to the brave men and women who fought, who were
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wounded and who died in wars, past and present, to preserve the democracy that we hold so precious.
If it were not for their sacrifices, we would not be here in this chamber today. We would not have the society that we have today — a society that is controlled by the people, for the people. We have the freedom to move, freedom to vote, freedom to choose and freedom to speak because of those young men and women.
Our courageous soldiers, sailors, aviators, peacekeepers and others fought and died around the world for us, such as World War I, World War II, Korea, Bosnia, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
Personally, I want to recognize two of those veterans, my father-in-law, Jose Martinez, who served in France during the Second World War, and my father, Tara Singh Hayer, who was a captain in the Indian Army.
My father did not lose his life in combat. It was taken right here in Surrey, British Columbia, in an act of terrorism to silence him in his effort to bring justice to the victims of the Air India bombing. My father died in his garage in Surrey on November 18, 1998.
To recognize our loss and his devotion to free speech, to our democracy and to preserve our Canadian way of life, we will be holding the 13th memorial for his death on Sunday, November 20, at the Gurdwara Sahib Brookside in Surrey. I invite all members in the House to join me with my family in commemorating his passing and his valiant effort to preserve democracy and the freedom of speech and thought, through his newspaper, against the plague of terrorism.
D. Routley: I rise today to speak of a former member of this House who passed recently, Barbara Brookman Wallace. Barbara was born in Coronation, Alberta, on March 24, 1917, and died in Ladysmith, B.C., November 12, 2011, at the age of 93. She was predeceased by her husband Bob and her daughter Lynne.
Barbara was an active member of the Cedar Women's Institute and a B.C. Hydro retiree, after many years of employment. She was the New Democratic Party member of the B.C. Legislature from 1975 to 1987 for the riding of the constituency of Cowichan-Malahat.
Left to mourn Barbara are her son Greg, daughter-in-law Judy, granddaughter Jessica, grandson Jordon and great-grandson Ezra. Barbara was a beacon of our community. She was a constant and consistent reminder of the principles we in the NDP pursue: equity, social justice, environmental responsibility and a pursuit of excellence.
Barbara always had time and patience for those who followed her, the youth of our community and me, as an MLA. Her gentle way was accompanied by a solid expectation that we always work to advance those principles. Barbara was a beacon of leadership for young women, was a woman who excelled, who spoke her mind with courage, a woman who sat in this House at a time when that was not such a usual occurrence. Barbara, even once she required extended support, carried herself with grace, elegance and dignity.
To Barbara, and on behalf of all of us in the NDP, I say thank you. Barbara will be missed by many old friends. The family would like to extend their thanks to the caring staff at Lodge on 4th.
COMMUNITY OF RUSKIN
AND DAM UPGRADE PROJECT
M. Dalton: I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about a small historic community on the border of Maple Ridge and Mission. I'm speaking about Ruskin, located on the slopes where the Stave River converges with the Fraser. Its roots began as a commune in the 19th century by followers of John Ruskin, an English art critic and writer. The commune faded away, but the name remained.
Logging became the economic mainstay, and Ruskin's many sawmills made it a cedar shake capital of the world, employing hundreds of people With industrial activity flourishing and the community growing, Ruskin was in need of increased power. In 1927 construction began on the Ruskin dam and powerhouse.
I toured the dam last week. It was certainly a blast from the past. Still functioning is an 80-year-old lightbulb that has never been turned off. I kept my distance from it. B.C. Hydro is planning on a major renovation of the Ruskin station, which will improve its seismic performance and restore the building's heritage façade, replace the aging powerhouse equipment and enhance the protection of fish and wildlife in the area. Once upgraded, the facility will provide safe, reliable electricity for more than 33,000 homes.
The project has strong support in the Mission business community, which recognizes the very positive economic impact that it will have. Ruskin residents have told me that they appreciate the importance of the upgrade for their personal safety.
Ruskin's dam and quaint houses have become a staple for film and television productions, such as The X Files and Smallville. Next time you're around Ruskin drop by Whonnock's Shake and Shingle Pub, maybe after reeling in a day's catch of salmon off the Stave.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION
TREATMENT SERVICES FOR YOUTH
C. Trevena: The Cory family from Vancouver were desperate for addictions treatment for their teenage son,
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but the only place for intensive psychiatry, the CAPE unit at Children's Hospital, has four beds for the entire province and told the family they couldn't help them. They were told: "We have nothing to offer you. Find something else."
Mr. Speaker, there is nothing else available in the public sector for kids and young people with mental health and addictions problems in B.C., so I'd like to ask, through you, the Minister of Children and Family Development, to explain why her ministry does not ensure there is adequate care for mental health problems in our province.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'll take that question on notice on behalf of the Minister of Health.
Mr. Speaker: A new question, Member?
C. Trevena: The Ministry of Children and Family Development does have responsibility for mental health and addictions issues in the province, and I'd just like to continue with a separate question about how the ministry….
Mr. Speaker: New question, Member.
C. Trevena: It is a new question, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Okay. Proceed.
C. Trevena: The family had to leave B.C. to try and find care. The mother commutes now from Alberta to her job at Women's Hospital in Vancouver. I think everybody in this House would agree it's a ridiculous situation. Families who do need help are being told to first find their own help, and then they have to leave the province to find help.
I'd like to ask the Minister of Children and Family Development, who has responsibility through Ledger House and a number of other facilities for mental health and addictions problems for our young people in our province, what she is going to do to ensure that families who do need that sort of help don't have to uproot their entire lives and don't have to leave the province to get the help.
Hon. G. Abbott: Again, as the purview for this area of responsibility resides with the Minister of Health, I take the question on notice on behalf of the Minister of Health.
ELECTRONIC BILLBOARD AT B.C. PLACE
S. Chandra Herbert: B.C. PavCo decided to erect a giant electronic billboard right on Terry Fox Plaza, destroying the quality of life for residents of nearby Vancouver condos, dishonouring the Terry Fox memorial and, most importantly, breaking Vancouver's city bylaw. My question to the minister responsible for PavCo: does he agree with PavCo breaking Vancouver's law?
Hon. P. Bell: There have been challenges with the technology implemented at the new B.C. Place Stadium. PavCo has been dealing with that, and I understand that they have now come to a successful conclusion on it.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Chandra Herbert: Modifying how you break the law is still breaking the law. This billboard is nearly 2,000 square feet, when the law allows 200 square feet. It dominates Terry Fox plaza with Budweiser ads, and it dominates residents' homes with blinding and flashing lights. This billboard needs to be taken down now. Will this Liberal government listen to the city of Vancouver, which has requested that the sign be removed, and stop breaking the law today?
Hon. P. Bell: PavCo has been working with the city of Vancouver to ensure that we're working within the structure of the approved bylaws. They have ramped down the number of hours per day that the sign is lit, and I believe they've come to a successful conclusion.
ADULT BASIC EDUCATION
M. Mungall: Adult basic education is a ticket out of poverty for many British Columbians. It gives them access to post-secondary education and literacy necessary for most jobs. However, the B.C. Liberals are letting students down when it comes to adult basic education seats. The ongoing funding freeze and recent cuts have made it difficult for institutions to meet demand for the program.
Last year Capilano University, in the minister's own backyard, had to cut many of its adult basic education courses. The president said: "We are honouring our commitment in the ABE at least to the level that the ministry has financed us to."
To the minister: why are the Liberals leaving people out of the economy and failing to properly fund adult basic education?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The ministry has maintained funding for public post-secondary institutions, and our expectation for the delivery of adult basic education programs has not changed. Since 2008 tuition has been free for adult basic education….
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll just repeat that, in case the member opposite didn't hear. Since 2008 the tuition has
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been made free for adult basic education at 18 of our public post-secondary institutions, including colleges, universities and institutes.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Mungall: I'd be happy to give the member opposite a bit of a history lesson. ABE courses were first offered for free in the 1990s under the NDP, and then schools had to charge for them because of this Liberal government and their cutbacks when they came into power in 2001. They only reinstated three ABE programs in 2007 and since that time have failed to fund to the level of demand that is wanted in this province.
People want to get into today's labour force, where 78 percent of jobs are going to be requiring a post-secondary education. But as the vice-president of the Camosun College said: "Our problem is: how do we deal with too little money and too much demand?" Too little money for adult basic education because this government will not honour its commitment.
Last month Camosun College Student Society held a yard sale on the lawn of this building just to get the Liberals' attention on this issue.
To the minister: when is she going to step up to the plate and ensure that people who need adult basic education get it and have the chance to be a part of today's economy?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: In addition to the tuition-free courses available for adult basic education, I'd just like to remind the member opposite that we've also provided $5.7 million, which is available through the adult basic education student assistance program, which provides students in need with funds for other expenses such as transportation and child care, in order to actually attend those adult basic education programs.
DENMAN ISLAND CABLE FERRY PROPOSAL
G. Coons: The B.C. Liberals' million-dollar man David Hahn has a parting gift to Denman Island residents. It's the imposition of a 2.2-kilometre-long cable ferry experiment across the often treacherous Baynes Sound from Buckley Bay.
Residents have serious concerns about service, safety, significant employment loss and many other issues, but because of the lack of consultation with the regional district, the Denman-Hornby ferry advisory committee, the school parent advisory committee, and residents, none of the concerns have been addressed.
Will the Minister of Transportation direct B.C. Ferries to not proceed until full consultation has been done and all issues have been identified and addressed?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: B.C. Ferries is doing what I believe the public of British Columbia are asking them to do: look for services that are affordable, sustainable, safe, meet the requirements and the demands of the travelling public. And that's what they've done in this case, Member.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
G. Coons: Well, that answer doesn't pass muster with the over 80 percent of Denman Island residents who oppose this one-off experiment. B.C. Ferries and this B.C. Liberal government clearly won't consult with residents until they're forced to.
The Denman Island residents advisory association said in a letter to B.C. Ferries: "In fact, no meaningful consultation whatsoever has occurred with the residents of Denman Island."
Graham Johnson, a retired B.C. Ferries mate who operated the ferry on this route for over 30 years, says: "It's a bad idea. There's no manoeuvrability to avoid debris in the water or obstacles like tugs hauling logbooms. The vessel will not be able to assist in marine emergencies."
Again to the Minister of Transportation: will he direct B.C. Ferries to postpone any final decision until genuine consultation has been done on all outstanding issues?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: There were consultations in both 2010 and 2011. If the member was unaware of that, hopefully that will help clear that up. But I do want to reiterate first and foremost: safety is the highest priority, whether we're travelling by ferry or on our road system, by rail or in the air in this province and around the country.
The issue of affordability, sustainability, is obviously at the forefront right now on the minds of the people that use our ferry system in this province. This actually can deliver a service that's affordable and cost-effective and that meets the needs and the demands of the people of the islands.
ABORIGINAL FRIENDSHIP CENTRES
S. Fraser: Aboriginal friendship centres provide services to thousands of aboriginal people living off reserve or away from traditional territories. Nearly 70 percent of the aboriginal people live off reserve in this province. Friendship centres have been asking for years for stable, long-term funding. The Finance Committee agrees — that's the second year in a row — and we probed this well in estimates last year.
In the throne speech there was a commitment made for an off-reserve aboriginal action plan. To the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation: will the minister explain what actions have been taken in the action plan, and will she commit to stable, long-term funding for friendship centres in British Columbia?
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Hon. M. Polak: I'm very proud to get up in this House and talk about the beginnings of our off-reserve aboriginal action plan. In fact, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation has completed a preliminary analysis of many of the programs and services that are delivered across the province, cross-ministry. We look forward now to moving into the stage of working with ministries and aboriginal agencies, including friendship centres, in order to develop the workplan going forward.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Fraser: Did I mention funding — long-term, stable funding? I didn't hear an answer there.
Hon. Speaker, it's about priorities. You know, $30 million to pay off Boss Power — no problem; $6 million to pay the legal fees for convicted Liberal insiders — done; $600 million for a roof on B.C. Place Stadium — done. When an association that provides direct, vital supports to the aboriginal population and addresses their needs…. The minister doesn't have an answer.
The B.C. Association of Friendship Centres does essential work. We know that; all members know that. But they need the support of government. So will the minister offer that support today? Will she commit to support the B.C. Association of Friendship Centres and provide them with stable, long-term funding?
Hon. M. Polak: In fact, we do provide ongoing funding to friendship centres and others through the first citizens fund — which, by the way, in 2001 we doubled from $36 million to $72 million.
EXTREME WEATHER AND
EMERGENCY SHELTER BEDS IN VANCOUVER
S. Simpson: In Vancouver the emergency weather response planners announced today that they expect they will be declaring an extreme weather alert for tomorrow as it affects the homeless in Vancouver. That is their expectation. They've said that they're looking at that as temperatures drop.
Hon. Speaker, you'll know that the Minister for Housing chose not to fund the 160 beds, shelter beds and the HEAT shelters. There are about 238 beds funded in the city today. The planners have been quoted in the media as saying that they've found about another 25 beds to supplement those 238, but there still is a significant shortage of beds if this emergency is declared.
My question is to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. This is an emergency, if it's deemed so by those folks. I would ask the minister if she's prepared to commit to ensure there are sufficient shelter beds if an extreme weather alert is declared.
Hon. T. Lake: Since the Minister Responsible for Housing is not here today, I would be happy to take that on notice for the minister, but if I could just add that no one has done more to reduce homelessness in this province than the current Minister for Housing.
Mr. Speaker: The question was taken on notice. Does the member have a new question?
S. Simpson: I do.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
S. Simpson: I'm not asking about the housing issue. I'm asking the minister responsible for emergency preparedness if she deems this situation to be an emergency. Does she consider that if the extreme weather response planners in Vancouver and potentially in other communities around this province declare an emergency that could affect the health and safety of the homeless in Vancouver and elsewhere, it is enough of an emergency for this government and this minister or any minister to say: "We will supply the resources to produce the shelters to keep people out of the cold in extreme weather"?
Hon. T. Lake: As the Out of the Cold program falls under the Minister Responsible for Housing, I will take that question on notice for the minister.
HUNTING ALLOCATION POLICY
D. Donaldson: The Trumpy report has been on the desk of the Minister of Natural Resource Operations for eight months. That's how long guide-outfitters and local hunters have been waiting for a decision from the B.C. Liberals on changes to hunting allocations. It's a matter of weeks before guide-outfitters hit the trade show circuit to sell their hunts to clients, and they still don't know their numbers. B.C. hunters are planning their own trips for 2012, and they don't know the numbers they have either. The executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association, Scott Ellis, says: "We are anxiously awaiting a decision by the minister." So are hunters with the B.C. Wildlife Federation.
Why is the minister waiting so long on a decision of such impact to hunters and small businesses across the province?
Hon. S. Thomson: I recognize the urgency and the need to deal with the decisions around this. We've had an extensive process over the summer involving both the guide-outfitters and the B.C. Wildlife Federation in discussions on policy options related to the report. Those meetings have included joint meetings with both organizations as we work through the policy options. We're in
[ Page 8871 ]
the final stages of making those policy decisions. Those decisions will be made next week and communicated to both organizations at the same time.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
D. Donaldson: Well, I'm glad the minister recognizes the problem. What the people want, what the hunters want, is for him to do something about it. For eight months the report has been sitting on the minister's desk. That's 240 days. They've been considering this issue for five years.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation hunters make a valuable contribution to local businesses. The guide-outfitters are important small businesses in rural communities across the province. Why hasn't the minister made a decision? When will he make this decision?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I just indicated to the member opposite, that decision will be made next week. We've been through an extensive consultation process with both parties to make sure that we have the policy options and the policy responses correct. We recognize the value that both of those organizations bring to the province and bring to rural British Columbia. We've been working through it. The decisions will be made next week and communicated to both organizations.
K. Corrigan: The snowmobile season has started again. In 2009 the Solicitor General at the time said we needed to look at legislation for people who ignore back-country warnings. Then in March 2010 the next year's Solicitor General promised that legislation would be in place by autumn of 2011.
To this year's Solicitor General: what happened to the legislation to protect the safety of snowmobilers in the back country?
Hon. S. Bond: Certainly, the work that has been done…. There has been significant consultation. We've worked very closely with snowmobilers and associations right across the province, and we will continue to contemplate what form future legislation might take.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: The promise was, the promise has been for years, that there was going to be legislation to protect the safety of snowmobilers in the back country. In 2008 and 2009 alone there were 24 avalanche-related deaths in B.C. mountains. There were more again the following year. Again to the Solicitor General: where is the legislation?
Hon. S. Bond: As I said in my previous answer, we continue to contemplate the issue and how we would look at what is reasonable regulation. Just the other day we heard a significant tirade by members on the other side of the House about the number of regulations that were being considered in the Metal Dealers Act, which actually looks at public safety. So we're going to take our time and make sure we get the regulation right.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
M. Farnworth: I'll tell you this much, hon. Member. Stick you in the rain, and you rust pretty darn quick.
You know, I can understand why the current Solicitor General has said she's still contemplating what the legislation might be, because it's been so many Solicitors General ago in this House…. When the former Solicitor General, the member for Vancouver-Fraserview, addressed a very serious issue — back in 2008-2009, 24 people died in the back country in this province because of a lack of regulation — and made….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
M. Farnworth: He recognized a very serious issue — a lack of regulation — and made a commitment to change that issue, to change those problems and to bring in regulations. The government, those numbers of Solicitors General ago, said that they would consult, that they had been doing that. They said there would be regulations in place this November. They would be in place this November.
My question to the Solicitor General: has she talked with the former Solicitor General — or the other one or the other one or the other one? And can she tell this House why those regulations that this government committed would be in place by this November aren't in place yet?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, if the legislation and the regulations were so important and related to public safety, the member opposite had a decade of opportunity to actually take care of putting regulations in place.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: Once again, this government has proved that a commitment that they make is worth absolutely nothing.
[ Page 8872 ]
This government committed that there would be regulations in place to address such basic issues as whether or not children should be going into high-risk avalanche areas. Those are the types of commitments the former Solicitor General said would be dealt with by this November.
Now, the Solicitor General may want to laugh it off. Her colleagues may want to laugh it off. The bottom line is this. We're entering avalanche season in this province. People come in from Alberta and other places expecting some sort of safety. The government committed to putting in place those regulations, and they failed to do so.
Will the minister tell this House when we will get those regulations in place for back-country safety regarding snowmobiling that the former Solicitor General committed the House to do?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, public safety is a priority for this government, and we are working very closely with the Union of B.C. Municipalities to make sure that an appropriate degree of regulation is put in place. In fact, there have been significant consultations. We are working in partnership with the minister responsible for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, under whose guidance the legislation will be put in place.
We will continue to look at an appropriate degree of regulation, and in fact we have had those discussions, and we are working closely with the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
AUDITOR GENERAL ACCESS TO
INFORMATION IN B.C. RAIL COURT CASE
J. Horgan: While we're on the subject of keeping commitments.... Another day, another affidavit — this time, sworn on the 15th of November by the Deputy Auditor General, the same day that the Attorney General stood in this place and talked about the overwhelming amounts of cooperation, the abundance of cooperation, mountains of cooperation.
That very day the Deputy Auditor General was back in court, swearing an affidavit that said the following: "These delays are too great, and the withholding of documents inhibits the Auditor General from effectively planning and conducting the audit. The audit in this case has been significantly delayed."
A year since the Auditor started his investigation, and he's still in court trying to get access to documents. My question to the Attorney General: why don't you trust the Auditor General?
Hon. S. Bond: The government has, for the third day in a row, the same answer it had, which is that we have a legal responsibility. It's not a matter of whether or not we want to trust the Auditor General. There is a legal responsibility to protect third-party, solicitor-client information.
Let me list what we have done. We have waived our own government's solicitor-client privilege. We have waived cabinet privilege, and we have repeatedly advised the Auditor General that as soon as we can release the documents that we are able to, we will do precisely that.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: I know that yesterday the minister was anxious to answer Tuesday's question on Wednesday, but let's try and focus on Thursday's question today.
The question is quite simple. The Auditor General Act clearly states that he is bound by confidentiality to any materials he may find, whether he's looking at health authorities, whether he's looking at school boards or whether he's looking at personal information.
Why is it that the B.C. Liberals won't allow the Auditor General to do his job? Let him have access. He's protected under his own act. Surely you've all read it. Let's be clear about this. He has a right to look at the documents. Let him have a peek.
Hon. S. Bond: The courts have been clear. The courts have been clear that privilege, solicitor-client privilege…. It is essential that we respect privilege. Once the courts make the ruling about our ability to release those documents, we have given absolutely every single indication to the Auditor General that we will do exactly what the courts permit us to do.
L. Krog: You know, unlike the way the Liberals would like to portray this, this is not some intellectual exercise in court being carried out with tremendous cooperation. The fact is that the affidavit my friend the House Leader refers to is an affidavit filed in response to the factual allegations made in the response of the Attorney General's ministry.
In that affidavit the Deputy Auditor General states:
"Due to the lack of information provided and delays over the past 3½ months, the Auditor General has not been able to complete the planning for the indemnities performance audit, has not interviewed relevant witnesses, including those persons who have received indemnities, nor has he been permitted to review the legal accounts rendered pursuant to the indemnities. Without access to the documents and information sought by the Auditor General, the Auditor General will be unable to complete the planned audit."
Very simply, does the Attorney General want the Auditor General to do his statutory duty — yes or no?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I have a simple question for the member opposite. Would the member opposite, when he was…?
[ Page 8873 ]
Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat, Member.
Hon. S. Bond: When the member opposite was practising law, the question would simply be: would he have released third-party billing information on his own accord? I highly think not.
[End of question period.]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I seek leave to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Mr. Speaker, I have a petition here signed by 28 people entitled "Petition to Improve Milk Container Recycling in British Columbia." They would like milk containers added to the deposit refund system.
C. Trevena: I have a petition to table from residents on Denman Island who are concerned about the potential of a new ferry — for job reasons, safety reasons, health reasons, lack of consultation reasons. It's been signed by a thousand residents.
N. Macdonald: I'm presenting a petition signed by more than 7,000 people asking the provincial government to amend section 78 of the Wildlife Act to permit trained Karelian bear dog teams to perform bear shepherding on problem bears.
Hon. K. Falcon: I respectfully present some reports. Firstly, the guarantees and indemnities authorized and issued report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2011, in accordance with the Financial Administration Act, section 72(8).
Pursuant to the Financial Administration Act, I'm pleased to present reports for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2011, on all amounts borrowed by government and all amounts loaned to government bodies. These reports provide an overview of the province's borrowing activity in fiscal 2010-11.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Respectfully, I am presenting the 2010 annual report of the Labour Relations Board.
Orders of the Day
Hon. T. Lake: I call continued second reading of Bill 16, intituled the Family Law Act.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 16 — Family law act
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no speakers….
Member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast continues.
N. Simons: I am pleased to be able to resume my spot speaking to the Family Law Act, Bill 16. It's nice to have such a good crowd in the House. I'm not used to that, as I've said, as a classical musician.
However, I do want to at least conclude my remarks by reassuring those who may be concerned that, in fact, I do have a lot…. There are a lot of parts of this bill that deserve full support. I do think it's necessary to go through it quite carefully, because there are many issues in it that I think cause a bit of concern without further elaboration. As I've mentioned prior to our adjournment, those relate to family violence.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Having worked in the area of child protection for a number of years and having seen a lot of family violence and the impacts of family violence, I think that we must consider the range of legal options available to address family violence.
Perhaps, the Family Law Act will do that better than the Family Relations Act. In fact, there's no doubt that it will. However, I do wonder about where it overlaps with the Child, Family and Community Service Act, which specifically defines what harm to a child is and what the best interest of a child might be.
The issue that I see as problematic is in the blurring of responsibilities between officials and the blurring between the social worker's responsibility and those other individuals who are appointed by the court or by third-party mediators to address specific issues.
I do support any opportunity to promote the resolution of family disputes outside of the court for many reasons. But at the same time I think it's important to recognize that the experts on family dynamics, and those who have expertise in the various types of behaviours that lead to harm to a child, are social workers. Those social workers can't have their voices muted in order to simply see another act take their place.
I do see that many people have supported this legislation. It's a very lengthy piece of legislation. I mentioned earlier, and I would like to repeat, that I think this is the kind of legislation that would serve British Columbians better if it were actually written and created with the participation of 85 members duly elected by the people of this province.
[ Page 8874 ]
I think there needs to be, perhaps, a change of attitude in terms of how legislation is created. If this is essentially what will be best for our various constituencies, perhaps those constituencies should be specifically consulted through a committee or through other mechanisms available to us as legislators.
As it stands, the government went through some extensive consultation with various interest groups and agencies and societies, and I respect that. I do think, though, that we as individual MLAs and as private members have had individuals contact us with respect to issues around separation, access, custody, guardianship and the like.
Perhaps in the committee stage of this bill, we'll be able to further pursue some of those concerns and perhaps get some answers to specific questions. That's the intent of committee stage, and I look forward to that opportunity.
With that, Madam Speaker, I look forward to hearing the comments of my colleagues.
J. McIntyre: It gives me great pleasure to rise in support of Bill 16, the Family Law Act, replacing the Family Relations Act of 1978. I'm speaking today wearing a number of hats: as a legislator, of course; the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth; a mom; a wife; and a woman. I'm very proud today that this government has tackled complex reform of B.C. family law, reflecting over 30 years of evolution in family life.
This process has involved years of consultation and engagement with British Columbians, the legal community and a White Paper that was introduced in July, 2010, that's quite rare in our province, actually, which I think pays tribute to a topic that's so important, far-reaching and complicated that it was really deserving of such an elaborate process.
One of the key features for me is that it brings a new approach to the law, so that the court is not — and I repeat, not — the starting point; so that we take the adversarial nature that is so detrimental to family unions, we take it out of the process or at least minimize the impact. Most importantly, this new act is centred on children's best interest. When making decisions, in fact, it will be the sole consideration.
In addition to this new approach, this act is going to update family law and make it easier to understand. It will be reflecting the current needs of families as well as the changing nature of families.
It describes parents' roles and responsibilities in much less adversarial terms. It actually changes the language. For instance, it rids us of dehumanizing terms like "custody" and "access." Instead, it refers to "guardianship" and "parental responsibilities" and allows for more customized parenting arrangements, which I think is much needed in today's world, when two working parents is the norm.
I'm pleased to see that under the new act, both parents retain guardianship of their children after separation, unless they agree or the court directs differently. The proposal also provides a range of remedies and tools to enforce agreements or orders for time with a child.
I think another important aspect is that the act will provide a much-needed framework and clarification for determining legal parentage, including where assisted conception is used. It's in a way that will protect the child's best interest and also promote stable family relationships. I think this is a very important tool, as many families today need to rely on reproductive technology to create their family.
In the past there was little guidance in law, leading to ad hoc decisions being made and to outdated situations where, for example, donors were by law declared the natural parent, instead of the intended parent. You can just imagine, for a moment, the stressful and heartbreaking scenarios that that's been creating for families for years.
This act also looks at the financial implications of relationship breakdowns. It includes major reforms to property divisions, and it uses an excluded property model to make it easier to identify which assets should be divided, with exclusions, for example, like gifts, inheritance received by a spouse and property that a spouse brings into the relationship. I think that only makes sense, in many instances. People will have control over those divisions.
Many today will be interested to know that this regime will also apply to unmarried spouses, who have lived in marriage-like relationships for at least two years, in a time when common-law relationships are growing at a rate three times faster than that of married couples. So this brings us into today's family situation.
It also brings us consistency with other areas of law: wills, estates, taxation, spousal support. Pension division provisions will also be extended to common-law spouses. These, Madam Speaker, are very important issues, especially as we baby boomers age, and not always so gracefully. It's important that the law is catching up.
Before I close, I would also like to highlight one of the other key areas of the act, from my perspective. It increases the law's ability to deal with family violence and safety issues. This is a very serious issue that the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and our Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth have been wrestling for many years — for some time, sad to say. This law will now identify children's safety as an overarching objective in "the best interests of the child" test. It's also going to include the impact of family violence and the consideration of civil and criminal proceedings that are relevant to the safety or the well-being of the child.
For the first time, I believe, it actually defines family violence, and it sets out factors that are to be considered in parenting cases that involve violence. It also creates a
[ Page 8875 ]
brand-new type of order, called a protection order, that replaces the existing restraining orders, and which will now be applied where there is deemed risk of family violence. These are huge steps forward.
I appreciate that the Representative for Children and Youth has been a keen supporter of the introduction of this modernized act. I want to spend a few moments about that. In her recent CBC Early Edition interview on November 15, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond terms it a big step on the family justice side. She adds that she is "going to work hard to try and see we get this implemented fully, because I think it will make a big difference for many children and families in British Columbia." I could not agree more.
I would like to publicly thank her for her support and the efforts she has given us, as government, to help us ensure the public and all of the stakeholders that are engaged in this to fully understand the benefits, because this is very important. It's complicated, and it touches all of us personally one way or another. It's very important, from my perspective, that the public fully understands how this act is going to benefit them going forward.
I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to the many people who have contributed for years to such a much-needed, far-reaching revamping of our approach to family law in this province. I'm confident that these changes are in the right direction. They place the best interests of the child at the heart of the changes, and they recognize and support the changing nature of families today.
I'd like to thank specifically the Attorney General and her very knowledgable and committed staff for taking a courageous step in tackling the law that touches us all, as I say, so very personally. I'm proud as a legislator to stand in support of something so significant. I say: "What a privilege."
I hope this bill receives unanimous support in this House to send a unified message that we are listening to families and are wholeheartedly desirous of a new approach to providing support in times of family dysfunction. In the past children too often have paid the price. Let's hope these days are behind us.
M. Sather: I rise to join the debate on Bill 16, the Family Law Act. This is a considerable piece of legislation that touches a number of areas and advances some new ideas or new orientations towards dealing with age-old societal problems.
I'm not going to attempt to cover the gamut of what this bill covers. Other speakers have addressed some of those issues. But I do want to put on the record what the bill does cover. It covers things like resolution of family law disputes, certainly a hugely contentious area. The language throughout, I think, is a more conciliatory and, I believe, a more productive approach to dealing with these very contentious issues.
It addresses determining parentage. You know, assisted reproduction is becoming much more common today than it used to be. Parents are sometimes finding, for example, that pregnancy is not as easy to achieve as they would have hoped.
I know our daughter was convinced on some medical evidence, actually, that she wouldn't become pregnant and so had gone to reproductive technologies to achieve that end. I guess it's not so uncommon that this happens. But sure enough, after she had set that all up, she got pregnant. But a lot of couples find that it doesn't happen and they do need these steps that they need to take, whether it's use of sperm donation or other technologies.
It brings up some sensitive areas and some areas that I think previously we didn't have on the radar so much, so we hadn't begun to deal with them in previous legislation. That's a welcome addition that Bill 16 brings in.
Bill 16 also talks about care of and time with children. As we've heard previous speakers say, there is a lot of messaging in this bill about children coming first in the decision-making that we do around their welfare and the welfare of their families. Similarly, there's a section on property division and pension divisions. These issues are also hugely contentious, often, in the dissolution of marriages.
I think also bringing into effect that common-law relationships will have similar rights as legal marriages do is a very good and necessary move because, let's face it, a lot of couples now are choosing to live common law rather than to be legally married. Some, like my wife and I, moved from one to the other. So it's a good move there.
Child and spousal support — exceedingly important when there's a separation, for whatever reason. There can be a number of reasons why that happens. There, again, it becomes…. I don't know.
I'm sure any MLA that has been an MLA for any length of time, like we have here in this House, will have found those difficult cases that come to your attention, that are brought to your attention by our constituents, who have gotten into this very warlike situation with spousal support and the pursuit of that support and that support not forthcoming and finding it very difficult to obtain that support. It's very contentious and difficult to resolve. So it's a welcome addition that this bill addresses that particular issue.
It also addresses children's property, protection from family violence, court processes and a few other issues. But I'm going to address the remainder of my remarks to the section on the protection from family violence.
Prior to becoming an MLA my career was as a counselling psychologist. Over a number of years I had been involved with treatment programs for men who had been abusive in their relationships. It's extremely difficult work to do.
[ Page 8876 ]
Most of the work that I did was not with individuals who had come forward voluntarily for treatment but with those that were mandated by the courts. Oftentimes it's a choice of avoiding a criminal record and accepting treatment. That isn't what always happens, but that would happen in most of the work I did with these men.
You can imagine that it's not a place that any man wants to find himself. There is a lot of resentment, typically, a lot of denial and a lot of shame, actually — unspoken, primarily. But it's important work, and it's one that needs to be continued.
I think that part 9, "Protection from Family Violence," is definitely speaking the right language here and is heading in the right direction towards us being able to deal with family violence in a more positive manner. It needs to be understood, and oftentimes it's not — that when there is an issue of family violence, whoever is the perpetrator, if you will, what's not called for is family counselling off the bat. That simply is counter-indicated.
There are specific issues around family violence and the beliefs that are part of that syndrome that have to be addressed first. Family counselling is a venue, if I may say, whereby there's an equal partnership, I suppose, is a good way of putting it.
Family counselling is very important, but unfortunately, it's not the place that you can start, not in the work that I did with the men who had, unfortunately, been violent in their relationships. So the person has to come to the place, first of all, where they accept responsibility for their actions, and that's a very, very difficult step, Madam Speaker, let me tell you.
I suppose it's kind of human nature, in some respects, to blame others for things that we do that are, in this case, antisocial. Of course, that step has to be gotten past, and that's a tough one. That's a real tough one, and it takes a lot of work to do that. And of course, you can't move on to family counselling if the violence is still ongoing in the relationship. So number one, that has to end.
Having said that, nor does it work in treatment of men, who…. It has to be said that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of physical violence in relationships, and it's not always physical violence; oftentimes it's emotional violence as well.
We're talking here about, you know, pretty extreme examples. Certainly, whenever it gets physical, that's an extreme example, but it's not an uncommon occurrence, unfortunately, and it's one that is difficult to deal with, as I say. I don't think we as a society…. Particularly for men, it's difficult to deal with. So the fact that legislation is coming forward that's talking about this issue, that's giving us new tools to deal with the issue, I think, is definitely laudable.
Now, when I was working as a counsellor in these programs…. You can't start by blaming the person for what they've done. They're already, as I say, underneath…. They don't usually show it, but they're definitely…. If they do come to a period of showing the shame that they feel underneath, then you're probably making pretty good progress.
Certainly, the counsellor can't take a position, or shouldn't…. It's not productive to take a position of blaming the person or the persons. Group therapy is what works best in this case, and the hope is, when it works best, that men get to the point — and this does happen, not uncommonly — that men help each other to take responsibility for what they've done.
Having said that, it is necessary as part of this work to hold the person responsible for what they've done. That's where I want to make some comments, because I had problems with how I saw this evolving over the last number of years, and I think it wasn't in a positive direction.
As I say, you don't want to be blaming, but you have to have the men taking responsibility. What I saw was a weakening of that resolve, where there was, actually, a movement towards more of a psychoeducational approach. But even when there was an actual treatment program…. For example, one of the things, the tools….
I think, as my colleague from Powell River–Sunshine Coast mentioned — he has a long history as a social worker — you don't know the facts. You're not there when these issues happen. You know, you can't say: "Well, the story that you're telling me is wrong. I know it's wrong." But what we can do and what we did do in those treatment programs was to consult the record that the police had provided, the information that they had.
Sometimes that was necessary to say to the person: "Well, you know what? Granted, I don't know exactly what happened, but here's what the police are saying happened, and it really is at odds with what you're saying happened."
I have to say that it was without any announcement of any policy change by the provider who was providing most of these treatment programs in the province, if not all of them — they may still be to this day; I don't know — that that was not permitted, that it was no longer permitted.
Well, I can tell you that it's like taking two legs of the three-legged chair out from underneath the counsellor, because these guys, these men, oftentimes are pretty good at seeing where the power balance lies. If they know that you don't have the authority to confront them on the police record, they'll just thumb their nose at you.
So I quit. I said, "I can't do this work under those circumstances," because it was not productive. I felt that it was quite counterproductive, quite counter-indicated for good treatment.
Now, I'm hoping that the positive tone and the pretty definitive measures that are laid out in this bill — particularly under part 9, "Protection from Family Violence" — are going to be helpful and useful in mov-
[ Page 8877 ]
ing us onto more productive conclusions of these very difficult circumstances.
I want to read a statement that was made by the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund. This is when they were commenting on the proposed changes. They said: "While many of the proposed changes are laudable on paper, these provisions will mean little if those working within the system have not been adequately trained on the broadened scope and legal implications of violence." I think that's very accurate. As I said, my colleague also made mention of a similar theme.
I just want to read briefly a bit about section 183. These are in "Orders respecting protection." Under subsection (2), it says: "A court may make an order against a family member for the protection of another family member if the court determines that (a) family violence is likely to occur, and (b) the other family member is an at-risk family member." It goes on to give further delineation of the same theme.
I did want to bring up an issue that I was quite involved with in my community to help, I hope, exemplify the challenges with family violence and the hope that this legislation brings that we're going to be able to deal with it better.
This involves a lady named Karen Beck. Ms. Beck and her husband lived in Maple Ridge, in a nice subdivision in Maple Ridge. They had a reputable business in town.
It was clear from the discussions I had with the family that Karen was feeling a great deal of control of her activities, of her daily life, by her husband. This was becoming increasingly contentious and difficult for her, such that she actually was experiencing herself being trapped in her own home, where her husband was not wanting her to go anywhere outside of the home.
Things had started to escalate with regard to a weapon that he had in the home, so she escaped one day, basically, after coming up with kind of an excuse. When she got out on Dewdney Trunk Road, as I'm told, she flagged down a police car and started talking to them about her concerns.
Interestingly enough, however, she…. When you think about a family, even when there's family violence going on, there's oftentimes a desire to hold your family together, and that becomes paramount.
In any event, she told the police that she was concerned that her husband was going to harm himself. She did, however, say that there were weapons in the home. This is where the information is a little bit buried. We know that she did end up in the police station. She was interviewed. I believe that she made the case that she felt threatened.
In any event, the police did suggest she go to a transition home, which she did. The police then did go to the home and retrieved the weapons from her husband — weapon or weapons; I don't recall which it was — but there was no arrest made.
I just want to say that the Beck family has done a tremendous amount over the years since what later happened. What later happened was that — it was actually some two years later — they were separated, but there was no agreement to sell the home. That was a nightmare in itself.
I'm also hopeful that this legislation will — and I think it will, from what I gather — bring speedy closure to those kinds of situations.
The fact was that they couldn't get agreement on selling the home. Then eventually, in desperation, she went to the home to do some cleaning, and what entailed was that her husband murdered her. He set the house on fire, and he killed himself. It's an absolutely tragic situation that happened.
I just wanted to mention her family and what fabulous work they've been doing, her daughter and the sons, to make people more aware of the issue of family violence. They're not doing it and blaming anyone. They're doing it with a view to solving the problem.
I think that's what's good about this legislation as well. I think it's moving in that direction of problem-solving. There can't be an area that's much more difficult than this one to solve problems in, because it's so contentious and can lead to such tragedy.
I think about the police and what they're trying to do when they're confronted with an issue like this. I know that they err, as well, sometimes, but they look at things through a legalistic point of view, as they're trained to do.
When someone like Karen Beck is before them, they understand that she's being threatened on one level, but then on the legalistic level they look at it…. What they indicated was, "Well, is there enough evidence here to arrest this person?" — her husband in that case. Sadly, they concluded at the time that there wasn't.
I think the orders that can be made respecting protection are going to be helpful. It also says: "An order under subsection (2) may include one or more of the following: (a) a provision restraining the family member from (i) directly or indirectly communicating with or contacting the at-risk family member or a specified person."
That's another one where so often there are breaches of those orders. Sometimes, actually, it's consensual, which is understandable, but it's counterproductive to what society is trying to achieve. It does speak, though, to the fact that — not always, by any means — it's not uncommon that the urge to keep the relationship or the family together is so strong that they will consensually come together. More frequently, I think, the spouse who has been guilty of the family violence tends to break the order and make contact. So that one is good.
[ Page 8878 ]
It also talks about a provision restraining the family member from "attending at, nearing or entering a place regularly attended by the at-risk family member…(iii) following the at-risk family member, or (iv) possessing a weapon or firearm." That's a really good one.
I just have to say briefly…. I don't intend to get involved in any debate about the long-gun registry, but I will say that this is a case where, for the police, it was very advantageous to know, when they went to that home, as I believe they did, how many weapons were there so that they could be prepared.
They are very dangerous situations for the police, I know. My wife's ex-husband was a police officer, and he said those were the worst tasks that he had to go to and the most dangerous. Going into a home where there was reported family violence — very, very dangerous situations at times. So I give full credit to our police forces for the work they do there. I know that their training is better than it used to be. I think that this law is going to help, though, to bring us even closer to a positive resolution.
It also provides directions to a police officer to "remove the family member from the residence immediately or within a specified period of time." I don't know, in the case of Karen Beck, whether there would have been an order in that regard, but I like to think that there might have been and that that could have been a start of a happier ending than what happened. Also, directions to a police officer to "seize from the family member any weapons or firearms" — we covered that one already.
I just want to mention that the bill does state that the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration or the only consideration in making decisions involving the child. As my former colleague mentioned, I do want to say that that is a tough one.
I fully appreciate that family violence is never best for the interest of children, but it's hard for us to look through the eyes of the children. Often, for them, being moved from their home is also exceedingly traumatic, and so I give full credit to the people that drafted this legislation and the work that's going to ensue to ensure that — to make their best efforts. As my colleague said, we do want, I believe, the social workers or the professionals in this area.
We do want professionals involved — and they will make mistakes; we all will make mistakes — that can best assess what the needs of the child are and at what age the child, herself or himself, does have a say in it. I don't know the answers to that. My colleague probably understands that. Well, I know he understands that work much better than I do. It's definitely a laudable goal, a necessary goal to keep the interests of children first.
I believe there is goodwill on both sides around this legislation. Of course, we will have some discussion of the particulars. I certainly haven't delved into all of it, but I trust that others have.
With that, Madam Speaker, I thank you for my opportunity to speak to this, and I'll take my seat for the next speaker.
R. Hawes: Gee, it's a rare occasion when you get to stand in the House and agree with a speaker on the other side. But I do have to first mention some of the points the previous speaker, my colleague from Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, had to make about the Beck family. I, too, met with Karen Beck's family, and that was indeed a really tragic situation. I'm not going to delve into that part of this bill.
I'm pleased to stand and speak in favour of this bill, as I think probably every speaker is going to. It's 33 years since the last bill was passed in this House. If you think of the changes that have taken place in society over the last 33 years, they're pretty profound. We've entered the computer age. I know — and I'm quite sure the statistics would show — that the incidence of marriage breakdown is significantly higher today, I'm sure, than it was 33 years ago. That has led to all kinds of problems.
What I just want to talk about briefly today is what goes on, I'm sure, in constituency offices all over British Columbia. Certainly, it happens in mine.
When we're sitting here, we go home on a Friday, and most of us will have meetings in our constituency office on a Friday and sometimes on a Saturday. Oftentimes it will be somebody coming in that's going to talk about custody and access. I'm pleased to see those words are being tossed out in this piece of legislation. We're going to talk about guardianship and parental responsibility rather than custody and access.
When you get into these kinds of family feuds over children, oftentimes it's the vindictive nature…. It's one side or the other that has gained the guardianship of the child, and they're being vindictive. They're going to stop the other side from ever seeing the children, and relationships get poisoned between children and one side of their parents.
It becomes kind of heartrending sometimes, when you talk to these parents who have been shut out of their children's lives and are trying to gain legal access. Often that is being denied. Even though the courts have ordered it, oftentimes things are made so difficult that that parent can't see their children.
A lot of that vindictiveness, I think, goes back to how marriage breakdown was happening. What happens so often…. I'll give an example. I'll use the names Bill and Betty, but…. They happen to be friends of mine. Their names aren't Bill and Betty. They have been married for probably 30 years, and they just grew apart. They didn't have a lot in common with each other. They started to snipe at each other a little bit, and they decided that they were going to go their separate ways.
[ Page 8879 ]
When Bill moved out of the house, not long afterwards he started to date somebody, and Betty was pretty upset about that. Very quickly she went and got a lawyer, and they started the argument. Then Bill got a lawyer. Well, they first started talking about how they would sell the house and everything would be fine. They'd split the assets.
It quickly got into a fight between lawyers, and they couldn't speak to each other anymore. It became more and more bitter. You would talk to one or the other, and it would be just vitriol. The lawyers, though, kept telling one side or the other: "Well, you don't have to do that, because we can get you this." It just escalated until a huge amount of the assets they had acquired over 30 years actually were going to legal fees, for no good purpose.
When they finally got their day in court, the judge told them to go outside in the hallway and see if they could settle it before he gave a judgment that one side or the other wasn't going to like. They went outside, and they actually settled for what they had originally talked about, but they had lost all of the legal fees. It makes no sense.
This has been going on for a long time in this province. I suspect there are probably some in the legal profession who won't particularly like the way this act tries to deal with that kind of a marriage breakdown, where we're saying: "Rather than go to court, let's start with mediation." You know, if you can't work it out together, then go to a mediator. Then, ultimately, arbitration is going to be an option, and the very last resort is going to be to refer to the courts.
Now, to get a mediator, you don't really need to go get a lawyer. When you go into mediation, you don't have to lay out all kinds of money. I'm hoping and truly believe that what will happen in many, many cases here is that the vitriol will be parked at the door, that the relationship breakdowns will be a little bit more amicable and that, in the end, the bitterness and the vindictiveness that shuts parents away from their children actually doesn't have to take place. I think that's going to wind up being a better thing for children, for families.
Much as you don't want to see marriage breakdowns, they do happen. So that's the part of this bill that I wanted to speak about, the part that I think really makes so much sense. When we see our courts that are plugged with all kinds of cases that have been stalled and the backlog of cases, it just doesn't make sense to be pushing divorce cases into court when they could be dealt with in a completely different venue.
When marriage breakdowns can be handled so much more amicably and when there are rules spelled out, as in here, that I think make it much more clear about the division of assets and things like common-law relationships…. I think that will show itself to be extremely helpful as we move forward with this bill and as this bill finds its way into practice.
I'm quite sure that in the end, the beneficiaries are going to be not just those whose marriages, sadly, break down. The children of those relationships, I think, are going to benefit from this as well.
So mine is a very brief statement. I want to congratulate the Attorney for bringing this bill forward. I think it's long overdue.
Like others have said, the kind of consultation that went into putting this bill together…. I know an earlier speaker from the other side said he thought it was too bad that all 85 MLAs couldn't have been involved in this. Actually, a White Paper was put out to the public. It was an invitation not just to the 85 people sitting elected in this room, but indeed, everyone in British Columbia was invited to participate in that White Paper. So there was very, very broad consultation.
I think all of us ought to be pretty satisfied, and those of us on this side are extremely proud of the way that this bill was brought forward. The consultation that took place is going to stand this bill well in the eyes of the public. I know it does. I'm so pleased to be able to stand and support it, as I know, I think, all 85 members of this House would support it.
H. Bains: I, too, feel that it is my honour to stand here and speak about this very, very important and timely piece of legislation. I do want to thank the Attorney for bringing this forward. There are changes here that, as our critic put it, will affect eventually, I think, a vast segment of society as we are moving forward in a new age.
What I want to talk about is one part of it. We as British Columbians are as diverse as any other jurisdiction in the world can be, if not the most diverse — the community that we live in. That brings with it all those communities that made this province their home with their cultural and their religious values. When we are talking about family and family law, much of that is affected by what and how they think along those values.
I'm sure that during the committee stage we could ask some more questions, and I'm sure the Attorney will also make notes.
First of all, I want to say that no matter what you do, you cannot cover every aspect of our lives in a piece of legislation, although you may try to. I think the same thing goes with this bill that is to deal with family law in the event of a breakup, in the event of family violence.
I think the parts that I want to remind the Attorney of are these. I'm hoping that when we are talking about part 2, "Resolution of Family Law Disputes," we are cognizant of the fact that different values work in different communities and different cultural and religious issues play a major part in whether the dispute is going to be resolved or not, based on the right type of person with the right type of training and with culturally competent people available. I think that will be the key in many of those areas.
[ Page 8880 ]
What works in one culture does not work in another culture. What is acceptable in one area of a community is totally opposite in other communities.
I have a constituency that has almost every community that made their home here, made our province as their home, whether they are Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese. You name it; I think our constituency has it. We, too, as we sit in our community offices, hear some of those stories during the marriage breakdown and how children get affected.
I think what I would like to remind the Attorney of is that when we are talking about…. This bill expressly states that the best interests of a child must be the only consideration in making decisions involving the child. Again, I think we are venturing into an area where different cultures and different communities feel that differently and view very, very differently what the best interest is of those children involved.
What you could appreciate is that if, in the case of family violence…. In our community we have seen our fair share, where we have seen that the children have lost one parent. On one hand, they have lost their parent, and on the other hand, the law could make them a victim, as well, if it's not handled appropriately.
If we are not sensitive to the needs of that community and those children, then we're not helping and we're not keeping the best interests of the children. Although it would be inadvertent, although it's not intentional, that's the way it could end up. That would be the end result.
I think our critic mentioned a bit on that. In my own community — and there are other communities out there — they will look at their grandparents playing a major role in raising children. Even today, in my case, with my children, we have played as much a role in raising my two children as my parents and my wife's parents have played.
I think those are the things where we need to be very, very careful. To that extent, my brothers and their families played almost the same role that I played in raising my children or raising their children. We in the community feel that those children are our shared responsibility and that we all look after their interests.
When we are dealing with issues of family violence, those are the areas that we must keep in mind. We need to make sure that the law enforcement officers are trained and are culturally competent, I would say, when they're dealing with violence in different communities.
We're talking about mediation. Those people must be trained in their cultural and religious background, be sensitive to not crossing that line, to make sure that they are, at the end of the day, helping according to those values and keeping the child's best interests front and centre.
You can achieve that, if we are putting our intentions in this bill, and make it work through regulations or whatever else is going to come after this, to make sure the implementation part, when we are talking about it, has those components covered.
As many of the people before me said, it's not something we can make long speeches on, I think, because we all agree on the main parts of the bill and the intent of the bill. But those are some of the areas that I feel we must keep in mind when we are dealing with family disputes — whether it's mediation, whether it's counselling, whether it's arbitration. I think those are the key factors that will be the determining factors, in my view, whether the dispute is resolved out of court or it ends up in court.
That would be my position, or actually, I think that would be the position of many of those communities that would be watching this debate very, very carefully. They would be sitting there, wondering what that means to them in the event that they are in that situation, knowing what could happen in a situation where people are not culturally sensitive when they are dealing with families and children and dealing with their disputes.
I think I just want to make sure that I put those concerns before this House and to make sure that when we are talking about or making statements such as "best interests of the child" that we also must view them in the eyes of those who have different cultures and different religious backgrounds, and make sure that we are sensitive about their needs.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
I'm really happy that we are emphasizing in this bill to have those disputes resolved outside of the courts. I'll tell you one of the statements that someone made here — I think it was Eugene Raponi, a family lawyer and mediator in Victoria — in support of this. Basically, what he said was: "I'd like to say that if it costs as much to get divorced as it did to get married, you are doing well, and I think a mediation can accomplish that goal."
I can tell you there are some communities out there. They are spending a lot of money on marriages these days. I don't think that should be the criteria or the gauge to measure how much money is spent on divorce in order to get the dispute resolved.
All in all, I think I am really happy that this bill is before us, but I am putting those thoughts on the floor here — and I'm sure the minister has made notes — that when we are talking about implementation of this bill, when we are going to go into the next stage of this bill and talk clause by clause, I'm sure the questions can be asked, and I'm sure the minister would have those areas covered.
With that, I want to thank you for having the opportunity to speak on this and to put those thoughts here before this House.
[ Page 8881 ]
Hon. M. McNeil: I rise today to speak in support of Bill 16 and to emphasize the importance of the Family Law Act in promoting a cooperative and compassionate child-focused model of family law. It is obviously time to replace the current act, which was introduced well over 30 years ago, with a new act that focuses more clearly on meeting what is the best interest of the child.
This new act better reflects current issues faced today by B.C. families. The act increases the ability of courts to deal with family violence by defining family violence in a clear and concise manner, legislating risk factors considered in parenting cases involving violence, and making the safety of children a key goal when determining what is in the best interests of the child.
The introduction of this act will enable family law problems to be resolved in a timely manner with better outcomes for the children. Perhaps most importantly, children will benefit from this act because it promotes non-court dispute resolution and agreements. Families will be encouraged to settle their affairs and move on, with the least disruption to the children, who are so vulnerable at these times.
A child's guardians will also now be clearly defined, and a list of parental responsibilities will allow for clear allocation between guardians, allowing families and parents to customize parenting arrangements.
Children will benefit from the clarity of knowing who their legal parents are, including in situations where reproductive technology has been used. There is also specific emphasis placed on strengthening the legislation around the safety of children, a commitment and value shared by the Representative for Children and Youth.
With these changes, an applicant for guardianship of a child must provide evidence to a court as to what is in the best interests of that child. The proposed legislation will also ensure that the child's best interests will be the only consideration when parents or a judge are making guardianship and parenting arrangements. The child's views must be considered unless it would be inappropriate to do so.
We need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to put our children first and protect their safety and well-being while serving children, youth and families across British Columbia in the best way possible. I am convinced that the Family Law Act will help us to do just this.
Bill 16 also proposes consequential amendments to five acts that are administered by the Ministry of Children and Family Development in order to achieve clarity and consistency with the language in the Family Law Act. Those five acts are the Adoption Act; the Child Care B.C. Act; the Child Care Subsidy Act; the Child, Family and Community Service Act; and the Youth Justice Act.
These are generally minor amendments with the exception of the amendments to the Adoption Act. Proposed amendment to this act will allow for the recognition of legal parentage when a child has been conceived through assisted reproduction.
Over the past 30-odd years reproductive technology has advanced far beyond what was, if you will pardon the expression, conceived of in 1978. The number of children born in B.C. using reproductive technology is increasing, and the law has simply not kept up with the changing reality, leaving children and parents vulnerable.
The amendments to the Adoption Act reflect that parents may not always have a biological connection with their child, such as a father in a family where donated sperm was used or where the child has parents of the same sex. These amendments are necessary to respond to the changing dynamics of British Columbia families, and I wholeheartedly support them.
Another proposed amendment is to the Child, Family and Community Service Act, which will enable protective orders made under that act to be enforced by the Criminal Code of Canada. The repeal of certain portions of sections 28, 98 and 102 relating to protection orders under the CFCSA will allow for enforcement of these orders under the Criminal Code.
This will align the enforcement of protection orders made under the Child, Family and Community Service Act and the Family Law Act in order to provide greater certainty for law enforcement personnel. These amendments will enhance protections for children by promoting a more effective and streamlined enforcement of safety-related orders.
The introduction of this new Family Law Act is a concrete example of this government's commitment to our families-first agenda. Thank you for allowing me to rise in the House today and give my full support to Bill 16.
K. Corrigan: I'm rising to speak on Bill 16. This is a very significant bill, and it is important to all of us in this House.
Before I had this very fulfilling career as an MLA and before I was a trustee and before I was a researcher, and even before I spent years at home with my kids, my first career was as a lawyer, and my main area of practice was in family law. It goes to show how long it's been since these laws have been in place, as I do recall in my very early years practising law — well, there were only a couple of them — the first Family Relations Act, which a lot of the new bill covers, came into being. So it's been a long time. This was well due. I do appreciate that it's happened now.
I want to say that, overall, I'm very supportive of this act for a lot of the reasons that others have talked about — making the process through which people go through divorce, separation, dealing with kids, custody arrangements and so on, much, much improved.
[ Page 8882 ]
But first of all, I want to talk particularly about a section of the old Family Relations Act, which is now gone and which is very important to a constituent of mine named Donna Anderson Dobco. Section 90 of the Family Relations Act provided that children were liable to maintain and support a parent. This section has been around but has not been used often. In considering the changes to the act and the rewriting of this Family Law Act, it is one section that there was widespread concern about — the section 90 of the Family Law Act, which provided for children supporting their parents.
While, on the face of it, it sounds like that is something that is reasonable, the reality of its application, according to the B.C. Law Institute that recommended to government that this section of the act should be scrapped, the actual impact was that it was creating a devastation in families.
I wanted to pass on and spend just a few minutes talking about the impact that Donna Anderson Dobco, my constituent, said it had on her. She said that the law completely destroyed her family, both financially and in terms of the relationships within the family. In her family, according to what she told me and what she told the court, essentially the kids…. There were a number of children who had left their family homes very young and had fended for themselves from the time they were as young as 13 or 14, up to 15 or 16 and 17 and that they had no relationship with their mother, who was suing them.
I'm not commenting on that. That is the story that Donna talked about, which she talked about in court as well. But the impact of this law has been devastating on the family, not only financially but, as well, the stress that it's caused as Donna tried to continue to support her children, tried to have a healthy marriage, tried to deal with all of the things that we all have to deal with when we have families and children. Then she was trying to deal with the mental stress as well as the division that it was creating in her family as they dealt with this lawsuit from the parent.
So Donna came to me not to ask that I in anyway interfere in the court proceedings. Of course, we made it very clear that we could not do that — that we had no ability — nor would it be appropriate for us to interfere in court proceedings, but she did want us to bring attention to the law itself. So we worked with Donna in contacting the government and laying out her concerns about section 90 and showing the very vivid impacts that it had on her and her family.
I'm sure that Donna is going to be very, very pleased to hear that section 90 is not in the new act. I'm not sure, frankly, what impact that's going to have, because there already were decisions in her case, and there were assessments made. I think she's still fighting it out, so I'm not sure what the legal impact is going to be, but I'm sure that she will feel very pleased that this section is no longer in the act. So that's one thing.
The other thing I wanted to talk about — there are many, many good things in this act — is one that other members have spoken about in this House, and that is part 4, which says: "In making an agreement or order…respecting guardianship, parenting arrangements or contact with a child, the parties and the court must consider the best interests of the child only."
And not only must they consider the best interests of the child only, but in determining those interests, the act has said that the court must specifically include "the impact of any family violence on the child's safety, security or well-being, whether the family violence is directed toward the child or another family member" and also "whether the actions of a person responsible for family violence indicate that the person may be impaired in his or her ability to care for the child and meet the child's needs." So I am really, really pleased with this specific provision that family violence must be taken into account, as it should, in determining guardianship, parenting arrangements or contact with a child.
I am reminded of a very moving report that the Representative for Children and Youth presented just over two years ago called Honouring Christian Lee: No Private Matter — Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence.
Everybody in this House, I think, will recall that Christian Lee, six years old, was supposed to have been, on September 4, 2007, walking into his grade 1 classroom for the first time. Instead, in the early hours that morning Christian and four members of his family died in a murder-suicide. Peter Lee murdered his son, Christian; his wife, Sunny Park; and his parents-in-law from Korea, and then killed himself.
There had been some signs of family violence. There had been a car crash. I won't go through the whole history, but the investigation essentially found that the systems of support for children and families exposed to domestic violence were not adequate to protect Christian and his family.
Family violence is a huge problem in British Columbia and across Canada. It's a deep problem. In 2007 family violence accounted for almost one-quarter of all police-reported violent crime in Canada. More than half of these incidents were perpetrated by a current or former spouse or a common-law partner with spousal violence. So it is a deep problem; it is a wide problem. It has many, many impacts.
We know that in many, many situations where there is spousal violence, there are children who witness that violence or who are violently attacked themselves that are impacted in all sorts of deep and lasting ways. So this bill will help.
[ Page 8883 ]
It's a small piece, in this particular respect. But it's a very important piece that now when people are leaving — primarily women, because that's what the stats say — relationships, when a marriage or a common-law marriage is ending, there will at least be that knowledge that when somebody is making that very difficult decision…. And it is often a difficult decision for women to leave violent relationships because of their inability to support themselves. There are sometimes extreme economic circumstances for a whole variety of reasons — not knowing where somebody is going to go and live.
It is very difficult for people to leave violent relationships. And I believe that if women know…. The fact that there will be provisions now that assure women that if they have to go to court in order to get custody, guardianship, parenting of their child, this provision is going to be in place. And that will provide one more protection for women and their children who are in the family that is breaking up.
I do want to say, though, that there is so much more to do. I just spoke about the difficulty that women have leaving violent relationships. I salute many organizations — the transition houses and people that work in the transition houses across this province for women and children who are fleeing violence. I salute all the people that work in counselling programs that provide counselling and provide assistance, the front-line workers who deal with women and children who are fleeing violence.
I want to point out that this is an important piece of legislation, but we also have to remember that there is so much more to do — that a woman who is in court, having this determination made, cannot be fully represented if she doesn't have proper legal assistance, if she doesn't have proper and equal access to the law. The serious cuts that have been made to legal aid have seriously impacted the ability of women whose families are breaking up, whose marriages are ending, to have proper representation in those situations.
If somebody doesn't have proper legal representation, they are not able to fully access the full benefit that they can get under the law. And while this is an important piece of legislation and will provide some comfort, we need to make sure that women and children leaving violent family relationships have the ability to have access to the help that they need in order that they can get the just result.
I note that there are some people who I have a great deal of respect for that have expressed support for this bill, for this provision, and for a number of other provisions. For example, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth, who I just mentioned as the author of the Honouring Christian Lee document, says that the "bill marks a significant turning point for B.C. in addressing domestic violence by introducing an explicit definition and provisions that send a clear message about the importance of courts considering all factors that might affect a child's safety."
Tracy Porteous, who's with the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, does wonderful work in the province of British Columbia on behalf of women and children that are trying to escape violence. She said: "I think we're beginning to realize in this province that these are life-and-death situations, that if we see those kinds of breaches, that kind of disregard for the law, we have to take it seriously."
I think that this is phenomenally progressive that we're actually seeing coordination between family court and criminal court on breaches. Tracy Porteous also said: "This legislation has the potential to save lives." "The fact is that we're looking at safety across the board in the definition and in the best interests of the child, the fact that we're giving the judiciary and the family court justice counsellors information about domestic violence" — then a part was left out in the tape, but anyway — "that none of these people had before." It is testimony from people that I have a great deal of respect for.
I've looked at the act, at many of the provisions of the act, and was particularly drawn to the importance of section 37 and in protecting the interests of children. I have to say that when I practised family law, I was involved in child custody cases and child protection cases, and I saw cases decided where, if this law had been in place, if these provisions of section 37 had been in place, I think the outcome would have been different, and I think it would have been a better outcome.
With that, I am pleased to…. I am supportive of many, many of the provisions of this act. I look forward to the next round with this, which will be the committee stage. I'm going to have lots of questions in the committee stage. But with those comments, I am going to take my seat.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member and recognize the member for Kelowna–Lake Country. [Applause.]
N. Letnick: Well, it's really nice to get applause before I've even spoken. That doesn't happen very often.
I'd like to also thank the member for Burnaby–Deer Lake for sharing her legal knowledge with us. I'm not a lawyer — never have been and probably never will be.
N. Letnick: All right. We'll have to meet afterwards and find out what that was all about.
But I am a father of three wonderful children. I am a husband of a wonderful wife, Helene, for 30 years. I'm a brother to four siblings, I think two of which have gone through divorce — one several times. It is an act which
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is not about creating families. It's not about putting people together. It's actually about taking care of children when people come into a situation in their lives where they need help.
It's about taking care of people who have, through their time together, amassed some form of assets and have to find a way to distribute those assets fairly amongst themselves. It's about putting the needs of the children first, and it's also about trying to reduce the workload in our court system so that we can have the resources that the member for Burnaby–Deer Lake was talking about to tackle the very serious issues that we have throughout our society.
But before I start getting into the specifics of the bill, I just want to talk about the process for a moment. I don't believe that an act has involved so many people for such a long time as this one has, at least in my brief 2½ years' tenure in this Legislature. So I just want to put on the record the process that this bill has gone through to get to this point.
Because of the way it touches all our lives — all our lives in here and our constituents and our families — so profoundly, this process also had to be a profound process. There have been exhaustive consultations throughout B.C., which raised expectations, and this bill was also announced in the throne speech just recently. But the first round of public consultations was in 2007, and a report of the results was publicly posted for all to see.
To ensure that a broad range of citizens provided their views, the Social Planning and Research Council, SPARC for short, conducted focus groups with members of the public in 21 communities across British Columbia. That included men's and women's groups, community-based organizations, multicultural and aboriginal family services. As well, SPARC surveyed 223 family-related organizations across B.C.
A second round of public consultations occurred with the release of a White Paper in July of 2010. The White Paper included proposals for a new family law. It received media attention, most of it very positive, and significant feedback from the public, community and advocacy organizations — and the legal community, of course. That's the kind of intensive process it has gone through to bring this bill to our tables right now. As has been stated by other members, it is widely supported. The representative for children and families is supporting it, amongst others, and I'll talk about her statements in a few minutes.
Divorce is part of our culture. It is part of British Columbia. B.C. in 2005 had the second-highest level of divorce — 234 instances out of every 100,000 couples. In 2008 and 2009 we had 11,000 divorces in British Columbia. So this is an act that obviously impacts many people throughout the province, Mr. Speaker. It impacts them at a fundamental level.
I hope, through passage of the act — because it sounds like all parties are going to be supporting it — that over the next year, year and a half, as the act becomes law and gets implemented, we will see the benefits of the act roll out — such benefits as better reflecting the current-day families that are dealing with the Family Relations Act, especially since the other one hasn't been touched since 1978, benefits that put children first, which is exactly in line with our family-first agenda.
Children's needs are placed front and centre by stating that "the best interests of a child" must be the only consideration in making decisions involving the child. It also helps to keep family disputes out of court by supporting ways for parents to resolve disputes, such as through making agreements, mediation, parenting coordination and arbitration, and the use of the courts only when necessary.
I can tell you, based on my experience not only with family members but with constituents and friends, if we can help people adjust to the reality of getting split — splitting up with the children and splitting up with their assets — a lot closer to when they've actually made the decision, without going through the acrimony of the legal system, not only can we better utilize our 2,000 or so legal graduates every year, but we can also make the process a lot better for them.
I believe that will save a lot of people from becoming alcoholics or from other abuse situations, whether it's physical abuse or abuse of themselves. It will cause some people to avoid, hopefully, going into mental illness — I've seen that happen as well — and overall, of course, keep our courts open for all those other cases that are just as important as these.
This also provides the tools necessary to address family violence. With a new protection order to help the courts more effectively deal with family violence situations, breaching a protective order will be a criminal offence. At a high level it clarifies how property is divided to improve fairness when couples break up. Certain types of property, such as pre-relationship property and inheritance, will be excluded from the 50-50 division of property upon separation. These rules are also extended to common-law spouses.
In the case of my son, for example, he has proposed to his girlfriend. They expect to get married next summer, but little does…. Well, actually he knows now. They've been living together for two years, so as far as this law is concerned, they both have the same rights and obligations today as they will have next summer once they get married under common law.
So what would happen if, for example, I provided him with an inheritance? What this law would do is it would allow him to claim that inheritance as his own if they happened to split up any time after the two years or after they get married, and it wouldn't be deemed as part of the common property — which is different than the way
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it is now but more in sync with what other provinces are doing.
I remember clearly a couple years ago after getting elected to this House that a constituent came up to me and said: "Norm, if you do anything in the four years, what you need to do is make sure that if I give money to my son or my daughter and if they split up with their spouse, they can keep that money." It's not separated between the two people, the split couple. He was worried that once he provided that money to the couple and they split up, then his inheritance wouldn't go to the person that he wanted it to go to. It would go to the person's ex-wife or his son's or daughter's ex, and that was not the intent.
Here you are. I can now go back to that constituent, and many others of his generation who think this is important, and report out that, indeed, the government, through the last few years of consultation, has come up with an act which will take care of that.
Of course, money is important, but we all know that the children are the most important piece of this act and making sure that we take care of them. The act talks about custody and access. The terms "custody" and "access" suggest that there are winners and losers when it comes to parenting.
The biggest loser in an acrimonious separation, of course, is the children, so we have to make sure that we continue to look at them. The proposed act replaces these terms with less adversarial terms such as "guardianship," "parental responsibilities" and "parenting time." This can also promote a more collaborative approach to parenting.
A list of parental responsibilities will allow for guardians to tailor their parenting arrangements by sharing or allocating parental responsibilities, and that sharing through this act provides that generally both parents will continue to be guardians after a separation, unlike the current law that says only one parent becomes the guardian. The new act does not provide a presumed starting point when making parenting decisions. Rather, the act provides flexibility for parents to tailor their parenting arrangements so they're suitable and in the best interest of the child.
The enforcement part of the act deals currently with a problem that is faced by many parents. That is, the new act provides a range of tools and remedies to make sure that people comply with an agreement or order for time with a child. I just can't imagine. Well, my children are a little older now. I have a 26-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter, and I love them all dearly. Two out of three have moved out, so my 17-year-old is still at home. I can't imagine if ever I got dumped by my wife, which is always a possibility because it's in her hands, not being able to….
N. Letnick: Especially with the moustache, if that keeps going, once again. Especially with this growing, as it's growing so well, so I've been told. If I keep it after December 1, I will certainly get dumped by my wife. I potentially would not be able to see my children and, of course, my 17-year-old, who is still at home.
For the 17-year-old it's not so bad, I would imagine, as it is for a 2-month or a 3-year-old or a 7-year-old or a younger child. That's really important when you look at the statistics, because most marriages when they break down are breaking down in that five- to 15-year time slot. People of our vintage don't usually get divorced. The numbers are very small compared to the seven-year, ten-year time slot. In that case, there are a lot of people who have young children, and it's very difficult to lose the ability to share your life with those young children. This act will help do that, will help make sure that the best interests of the child are taken into account.
As I said before, common-law couples are increasing. In 1991 it was 6.5 percent of couples who were common law, and as of 2006 it's up to 8.2 percent. The new property division rules will apply to unmarried couples who have been living together for two years.
This means common-law couples, like married couples, will generally share any property that accrues to them in the course of their relationship but not property that is brought into the relationship. So if I get a house, for example, as a wedding gift with my spouse from my parents, then that would be my property after the breakup. But any capital gains that accrued because of the house or the investment of any kind would also be able to be split evenly between the two, if it could be shown that it was invested as a common property. That's a difference from before where all property would be looked at.
Now, if I bring property in or if I get property that's directed to me, then I would have that property geared towards me, whether it's a common-law or a married couple.
Those new property division rules exclude certain properties, such as a pre-relationship property or inheritance and from the 50-50 division of property upon separation. As well, couples can opt out from the agreement by signing something, if they wish.
The law also addresses family violence, creating a new protection order to restrain a family member from contacting or communicating with another family member where there's a risk of family violence. That's why, I believe, in part, that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the provincial Representative for Children and Youth, said that this law will save lives.
She said: "It will put in place a much stronger system for addressing the safety of women and children through protective orders, with criminal consequences for those who disregard them." Later on she said she has no doubt this new act will help to save lives.
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So all in all, I must commend the Solicitor General and her predecessors, the community at large in British Columbia, the legal community, the people who are involved with the White Paper, the people from SPARC, women's groups, men's groups, multicultural and aboriginal societies, people around British Columbia, members of the opposition and the members of this government, who have taken the time to put together an act which is in the best interest of children, in the best interest of our province and in the best interest of people everywhere.
S. Chandra Herbert: I want to thank the member for his comments, and I've been interested in the comments of many of the speakers here today. I would concur with the member about his moustache. It may be attractive to him, and I appreciate his commitment to the fight against prostate cancer and men's health, which I would assume the moustache is about — maybe just a style choice.
I'm here today to speak in support of Bill 16, the Family Law Act. We've heard many people speak in detail about the law, the changes to the laws. I'm not going to go into the details in my remarks to explain the act, because I believe that people at home or people reading the Hansard can do that themselves and find the more detailed responses here.
I want to talk about a few things. One of them is men's responsibility to deal with domestic violence — in particular against women but also within other relationships. I know that domestic violence occurs between men and men, women and women, not just between men and women — and as well, women and men. That has been known to happen. But by and large, the vast majority of cases, as we know, are men against women.
I think the Family Law Act is taking us a great deal forward in terms of how these cases are handled. But I think we, as men, both here in this Legislature…. There is a disproportionate number of men in this chamber compared to the population of our province, and I think that's important to think about.
Why is violence against women from men such a big deal? Well, there is a power imbalance in our society, as we know. We still see it in terms of economics, the value of a wage. We see that in terms of how people are treated in our popular culture, how women are talked about in terms of appearance, in terms of sexist behaviour in our communities. That continues through to today.
I think oftentimes we will see organizations coming forward and speaking out against violence against women. The vast majority of times, though, we see that those organizations are led by women. I'm certainly glad that they're there making those remarks and speaking out, but it's not their fault.
By and large, it's men who make the violence against women. So I believe it is incumbent upon us as men to show leadership, to speak out, to tell our colleagues, to tell our friends, to tell our communities that it is not acceptable, that jokes and sexist jokes are not funny, that there is no place for that in British Columbia. Unless men take leadership on these issues, these issues will continue.
I appreciate the leadership that women have shown on this issue, standing up for their sisters, standing up for their daughters, standing up for their wives in some cases, and standing up for family members. But it is us men in this House and men across British Columbia that need to speak out loudly, need to speak out to end this. We need to not just speak out, because words are one thing, but we need to take action — action to right the huge inequalities which still exist between men and women in our society.
I believe that until we actually deal with that wider inequality, we will still see violence against women in our society, unfortunately. Because what is sexism? It's a belief that somebody is higher than another. It is a belief that one person is better, that one gender, one sex is more important than another. That in itself is violent. It is an othering. It is a lowering of people, and I think that that sometimes leads to people thinking they can beat up others with impunity. I think until we address that in our education system, in our popular culture and in our families and communities, that this issue will continue.
This law will help, but it helps on the side down the road once the violence already occurs, once the threats may occur. I think that we as a society and our government need to do more to make sure that we're actually preventing this violence through education and through speaking out.
I'd ask the males in this room, the men watching at home and the people in our communities to think about this, to consider what we can do to support our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, to support the woman that we don't know but we see is struggling, what we can do as allies. Although we will never know what it feels like to be a woman unless we're a woman, we can still, as allies, work with the women in our province to make sure that domestic violence, verbal violence, abuse in our homes and in our communities stop, and that's something that I think we all should aim for.
Another issue in this bill that I'd like to speak about is the section regarding assisted reproduction, the section that speaks about couples that conceive children not through the traditional means but through means of assisted reproduction. I had an experience of this in my community — not personally; I haven't tried assisted reproduction, although I know that friends have, some with success, some not. They were constituents, a couple that I'll call Avelle and Ian, who came into my community office with a big concern.
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They'd gone through the paperwork. They had all sorts of written legal agreements with the woman who had agreed to carry the child, the woman who had agreed to help them — as they were two men who wanted to have a baby — in that relationship. It was a family friend. She was keen to support them in their desire to have a child of their own.
They went through the process. I believe it cost tens and tens of thousands of dollars, but eventually the baby was conceived. They'd gone through the agreements. The baby was born, and then they went to register the baby — that they would be the two parents. However, the system was not set up, and until this law takes effect, it's still not really set up to deal with a situation like that.
They could go back to the courts and spend tens of thousands more dollars to try to work through the system so that both of their names could be registered on that birth certificate, so that the two of them could be the parents, as that is what the decision was, that's what the agreement was. That's what the friend of theirs who had carried the child for them wanted. She didn't want to be the parent of record. She was just helping them. She was doing something good for them because she knew that they would be great parents.
So they had their baby, Erin, but they could not be the parents of record on the birth certificate. This was a huge concern for them. They'd gone through the paperwork. They'd written to ministries. They'd done this back and forth, back and forth, and the baby was aging.
Beautiful baby. It was difficult, I must admit, to focus on their questions because the baby was so cute. It was difficult for them too. But to see the wonder, to see the joy that they had for their child and how difficult the system was for them to get through — that was hard. It was hard for them, and it was hard for me as their representative.
We checked out the legal options. We tried the different registrars. We tried a whole bunch of things, and we didn't really seem to get anywhere. They said to me with frustration that surely they must not be the first same-sex couple in all of British Columbia to try to go through something like that. And I don't believe they were, because this happened just this year, and I know that this kind of process and these kinds of families and this kind of understanding has been going on for quite some time.
This law, this act, I hope, will address this. I know it's supposed to. I know there's still much to be figured out. But we should be doing more to make sure that people are celebrated as parents and get that support, so they can focus on those early months, the early years with their child, with their baby, instead of having to deal with bureaucracy and instead of having to assert again and again that they are the parents, that they have the legal paperwork, that they should be supported. So I'm glad to see that is in the bill as well.
I'm interested, in this act, about the discussion of mediation and the discussion of pulling people together to cooperate instead of just having the legal division, instead of having the plaintiff and the defendant and the fight that can happen in the court of law. I think that's an exciting road to go down.
Now, it's going to be interesting to see how it develops, because as we know, not everybody in our society brings the same abilities, the same privileges to conversations, to discussions. Sometimes somebody may have more money. They may be able to hire a crack team of people to help them through the system, where somebody else may not have those privileges. That power imbalance can be very difficult.
Of course, it's, I think, much more difficult in the court system we have today. I know there have been a number of cuts in assistance for families and for people finding their way through that system. I understand this is meant to help address that. However, the concern I have is that as we go down this road, we may save money in the legal system, but that support will not come through to the families that this law and this act is supposed to support through the mediation system.
We'll see. I'm hopeful. I am optimistic. I'm forever hopeful, I like to say, because people change. Governments can change. I'm hopeful that this government will listen to the concern of families and ensure that they are supported through this process.
I think it is interesting — the change of language in this act. Of course, language is very important. Instead of taking custody of the child, instead of that kind of ownership and saying, "I own it; you don't," which can lead to such conflict…. I see it in the office when we have people come in very concerned about losing their child when, in fact, they haven't lost their child, but the language makes it feel that way and the courts make it feel that way.
I'm hopeful that this act will help, because of the change in language and the change in processes — to help families make their way through a very, very difficult process and, hopefully, find out what's best for their child rather than just what's best for themselves or their hurt feelings or their egos. That is going to be an issue in this bill, and it is not going to be solved by this bill, I must say, as people are people. We do have conflicts, and it's difficult sometimes.
I just want to say thank you to all the organizations, all the British Columbians, all the staff, all the folks, the minister, the opposition critics who have been concerned about this for years, for taking the time, for working through this. It is a work in progress, and I'm hoping that as we move forward with this, if there are changes needed in the act, it won't take as many years as this act has taken to come to fruition.
I understand that we haven't had large changes since 1978, so I'm not just criticizing this government. I'm
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criticizing governments in general who have not exactly put family law as a top priority, even though, of course, as we know, families in all their many different varieties really do make up our communities.
I want to say thank you for that work to all those folks who have made this happen.
I'll finish today just by repeating what I said at the beginning, in relation to violence against women, violence between couples, violence men-to-men, woman- to-woman, man-to-woman and, in rare cases, woman-to-man. We all have a responsibility to stand up and speak out, educate ourselves and educate our communities. I think the huge focus, obviously, has to be on violence from men against women, and we, as men, have a greater responsibility, I believe, than women do to take action on this and to speak out about this.
R. Sultan: As my colleagues who have preceded me, I feel a great sense of privilege to talk on this very, very critically important act, Bill 16, the Family Law Act. Just to talk a little bit about the history of this statute, it replaces a law which was drafted and became law a third of a century ago — a third of a century.
If you youngsters in the House could cast your minds back to a time when you probably didn't think much about these things, let me assure you that a third of a century ago families were very different and society was very different. In our rapidly evolving, indeed, accelerating society….
R. Sultan: The member for Nanaimo is obviously having a hearing problem through age, but there are lots of technologies to help.
The society has changed a great deal, and it has required a serious addressing of the issues that that presents for the structure of our families. One can hardly think of a more important topic than that.
I, you might say, was present as this act, this new bill, was conceived and born, to use an apt analogy. It seems to have coincided, in fact, with my rather lengthy career in this place. I cannot recall not having attended a meeting of the legislative review committee, one of the obscure committees which have occupied me over the years, where this law in various versions wasn't on the table for discussion.
For those of you unaware of the legislative review committee…. Probably for your well-being you should hope it stays that way, because it's not one of the more exciting committees. But it's one of the more necessary committees of this institution, where you go through every word, every comma, every semicolon and try to ascertain whether, indeed, the intent of the government is actually conveyed properly in the words of the proposed law.
This has been going on for a long time. It has been going on for six or seven years. We can hardly say that this is a statute which has been rushed. As part of that, lots of people have been consulted. White Papers have been issued. As I understand it, something like over 500 different people and organizations have offered their views on what the new Family Law Act should look like. That's representative, I think, of the importance of the topic.
It has been propelled, as I've already said, by rapid societal change. Let me just quote some statistics to show what has been happening to our society in the one-third of a century since the original law it will replace was enacted.
For example, if we look at the most recent data from the famous long-form census — we don't yet have the full results of the most recent long form — in 2006 common-law-couple families were increasing at a much faster rate than traditionally married couple families. Same-sex married couples were counted for the first time in that census, reflecting another important societal change. Lone-mother families remained the majority of lone-parent families, and the proportion of lone-parent families seemed to be on the increase.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Unmarried people outnumbered married people for the first time. The institution of marriage itself seemed to be falling into some lower popularity. Living as part of a common-law-couple arrangement was growing rapidly, particularly among older age groups. There were more divorced common-law partners in the population than people who had never been married in the first place.
There was an increasing proportion of children under 14 living with common-law parents, and an increasing number of people were sharing a home with grandparents. Fewer young adults aged 20 to 29 were in a couples relationship.
In tandem with these changes in marriage and living arrangements were changes in marriages and divorces. A more recent report by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada summarizing, again, more recent data reported that the crude divorce rate in Canada has actually been going down — that's a surprise — as measured per 100,000 population. You have to keep in mind that this is in proportion to the total population, which includes a lot of older folks these days who really are not as active in the marriage and divorce market.
The crude divorce rate has actually declined in the last 20 years or so by about a third. That surprised me. However, and this may seem contradictory, the percentage of marriages in a given year that will end in divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary has increased slightly, from 36 percent up to almost 38 percent.
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The divorce rate for first marriages is likely lower. First marriages have a 67 percent chance of lasting a lifetime. Two-thirds of first marriages last a lifetime — for those who think marriage is disappearing and a beleaguered phenomenon. Twenty percent of all the divorces in Canada are a repeat divorce for at least one of the spouses. The average age of divorce is 43 for men and a little over 40 for women.
So those are some of the changes that have taken place in our society. It isn't quite the quaint family in the television sitcom, behind the white picket fence, with mom cooking meals and dad coming home and two kids running out to greet father, the breadwinner. That archetype disappeared decades ago, if indeed it was ever a valid representation of the reality of married life and family life in Canada.
Another reason, in addition to these changes in the structure of family and marriage and child-raising in Canada, forcing some other considerations to be built into this new act is rapid changes due to medical science in reproductive technology. This has been referred to by the member opposite from the West End. I was rather astonished to be informed the other day as we prepared to introduce this bill that 7 percent of all births today involve reproductive technology of some sort.
I even hesitate to describe all the types of reproductive technology which are out there, but it seems medicine has been amazingly creative in assisting men and women who otherwise cannot bring, shall I say, genetic material together to form a new life.
Particularly, we see the phenomenon of older women having children, perhaps at age 40. That's no longer so unusual. This is all driven, importantly, it seems to me, by the career orientation — the fact that women have entered the workforce and in many ways are providing leadership in society in many realms in comparison to the men. Along the way, at some point, they do decide that it would be nice to have children as well, and medicine does its best to help them.
As we consider the permutations and variations of the old-fashioned mom and the old-fashioned dad, and the sperm and the egg and the surrogate, the mind boggles at the various outcomes. Indeed, I think the legal system has been very confused as to how to deal with this, and I think has cried out, in fact, saying: "Please, lawmakers, sort this out." That was another strong, compelling reason for drafting this new family act.
I think what in fact has emerged is an astonishing solution to that sensitive subject which seems to have satisfied those who would embrace the most radical forms of parenting and conception and the creation of the union of genetic materials — let's use that rather sterile phrase — on the one hand, and social conservatives who yearn for the good old days when you had one mom, one dad, behind the white picket fence, and life was as Dick and Jane described it in the grade 1 primer that I read.
How can any law breach that enormous gulf? Lo and behold, it appears that we have a proposed new law here that has been applauded by both extremes on that spectrum. I would say that is an astonishing accomplishment. I give full credit to the Attorney General and her predecessors and to the many persons on both sides of the House — and credit should be spread widely here — who put their minds to work as to what would be workable, which would address the new realities of family and conception and be good for our society.
Well, what in fact does the new law do? I'm sure it'd be repetitive to the excellent summaries my predecessors in this debate have already delivered, but let me summarize. It's, as has been already pointed out, a new approach to family law — a new approach to family law. This is a path-breaking statute in the Canadian context. We are pioneering, here in British Columbia, a new standard for how family law should be formatted and enacted.
Most importantly, the court now, under the new family law that we hope to pass, is not the implied starting point to resolve family disputes. We've all heard and we read the messy consequences, sometimes very tragic consequences, of family disputes in the evening newspapers. Jealousy, anger and disagreement can frequently have a very messy outcome.
The courts are not really equipped to reconcile and to mediate these disputes. It's expensive. It's contentious. It's deliberately controversial — that's the basis of our legal system — and it is no way to solve the family dispute.
This law says the court is not the beginning for the resolution of family disputes. Instead, the act will reference non-court dispute resolution options while improving the tools the courts, if it comes to that, have available to them. Parents will be encouraged to resolve their differences without getting before a judge.
Secondly, the proposed new family law centred on the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child. This has been emphasized again by the previous speaker. It has a rather astonishing declaration. It expressly states that when making decisions involving the child, the best interests of the child shall be the only consideration — the only consideration, Members. That is a pretty declarative statement. I wonder how many of the laws we pass come up with something as firm, decisive — and that's it. It's the only consideration. It removes all doubt and all the "if," "but," "maybe," "but on the other hand" that we frequently see.
The third point. The proposed act describes parent roles and responsibilities in less adversarial terms. The idea that we should be talking about custody and access…. Custody. It's like: who owns the car? Who has custody of the child? Is that new piece of furniture
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something that I have custody over, or do you have custody over it? It almost treats a child as a piece of personal property. That is gone. That terminology has been written out of the law.
Similarly, access. "You have to let me in." It's sort of almost like: when are you trespassing, and when are you not? Another connotation of property. Children are not property, and this law emphasizes that point. So we are removing the adversarial terms as improper in the future.
After separation — this is interesting too — both parents remain as guardians of the child. That just goes without saying, unless there has been some specific legal contract entered into to do otherwise. It just goes without saying. You can't stop being a parent just by sort of walking out. You're still a guardian of that child, whether you want to be or not. That's the law. That's a switch and, I think, an important one and a good one.
We come back to the reproductive technology issue next. The proposed family law provides a much needed framework for determining legal parentage, including where assisted conception is used, in a way that protects the child's best interests and promotes a stable family relationship. It responds to recent court decisions and follows most of the recommendations made by a national law reform body, the Uniform Law Conference of Canada.
I repeat, the astonishing thing to me is that persons who might set their hair on fire at the thought that we would somehow create a legal framework around these new, complex parenting arrangements based on medical technology say: "Well, thank goodness, we now have a law which makes clear their traditional role of who is the parent." They are right. This is not adding to the confusion. It's cutting to the core of the issue and settling who are the guardians, to use the new terminology of the child in this complex technology world.
On the support side — spousal support, child support — not many changes. I won't dwell on that.
On property division. Here is a big one, particularly in a community such as I represent, where people perhaps like to think they own a lot of property, and some of them do. Those houses are worth a lot of money over there. The proposed Family Law Act introduces major reforms to property division.
You break up. How do you divide the property? Well, the reforms include an excluded-property model to make it easier to identify which assets should be divided. Family property will include all real and personal property owned by one or both of the spouses at the date of separation, unless the asset in question is excluded, in which case only the increase in the value of the asset during the relationship is divisible.
Now, what does that mean? Well, I'll use another, maybe old-fashioned, example. I don't know if you've seen these old cartoons of some rich sugar daddy with a lot of money, and some 17-year-old showgirl shows up on his arm. Who knows? We see this stuff going on in Italy all the time, it seems, at the highest levels. And presto — I'm sure that young lady isn't necessarily interested in how handsome and virile her new partner is. She also has her eye on some assets.
But guess what. Under the new law, all those assets that came into the union are excluded. She's out of luck. I think it's going to make this a lot harder for us old guys to attract the interest of younger ladies. But so much the better.
So "excluded property" will include, among other things, gifts and inheritances received by a spouse and property that a spouse brings into the relationship. So there you are. I would say that in West Vancouver that clause will receive a lot of attention.
Furthermore, the property division regime applies to all married spouses as well as unmarried spouses. Indeed, I would suggest that in this law, the very term "marriage" loses some of its meaning because de facto marriage occurs after you have lived together for two years. That's just it. It's automatic. Two years — you're husband and wife in the eyes of the family law.
Pensions. Again, a topic of particular importance in my riding. It clarifies the law of pension division upon separation. The most significant change is what I've just alluded to. The pension division provisions will be extended to common-law spouses who fall under the definition of "spouse" in the proposed act.
Indeed, the law, I thought, was somewhat presumptuous, directing pension administrators how to administer such assets. I just wondered, for those of us who've moved around the world a bit and have a small pension here and a small pension there, how willing a pension administrator in some far-off land might be willing to obey British Columbia law, but that is indeed the presumption. We are going to impose our will on pensions, regardless of source.
Family violence. We hear these terrible, terrible stories. A couple from Afghanistan allegedly put their three teenage daughters and a first wife in a car and pushed it into the Rideau Canal. That's the allegation. Who knows what the truth is. The courts will decide — an extreme case of family violence.
This law tries to deal with family violence and safety issues. Again, from my reading of the dailies, it frequently starts with protection orders. "You are forbidden…." Typically — let's face it — it's a violent male coming within a half-mile of your former wife's home. How many times have we read that the violent male ignores that, and all sorts of unfortunate consequences occur? I don't think the court orders in that regard have received particular weight.
The family law adds weight. It says that ignoring such restrictions will now be an offence under the Criminal
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Code. It starts to get serious. It isn't just a slap on the wrist.
Finally, with all of this and much else, the old Family Relations Act will be repealed. The new act, if we pass it, will be phased in over the next 12 to 18 months.
So I was thinking the other night: "Well, how would I explain this new act? It's kind of complicated." Frankly, my constituents aren't going to sit there and listen to a speech as long as the one I've been launched on here, and I notice some of the eyelids flickering on some of you on the benches opposite. This is kind of heavy stuff. So I reduced it down to a few slogans, just to maybe paraphrase what it meant to me. I may have misinterpreted, but I'll give them to you anyways.
Slogan 1: "Kids first." Okay. We understand that. Number 2: "Who's your daddy?" And the related phrase: it's a wise man who knows his own father. That's gone back for centuries. Jaw-jaw good; judges bad. I was trying to find alliteration on that on j's. That wasn't completely successful, but you get the idea.
"First wives win." That's my interpretation at least. I could be wrong, but we bump into these cases where the first wife puts her husband through medical school. I've run into these cases; they've been my friends. Her husband, the doctor, is very successful. She's at home raising the kids, and he finds somebody more attractive and younger, and he's gone. She gets some sort of a settlement. But boy, he's off into the social stratosphere, and the first wife doesn't do so well. My hunch is that this law will help discourage that kind of behaviour. I hope it would.
"Failure to protect can be criminal." Well, I've explained that.
Finally: "Responsibilities trump rights." The law, I think, emphasizes that where your sperm ends up is kind of important and that you should pay attention because it's going to come home, because it is dragging a lot of responsibilities along with it, wherever it goes. If you think you've got the right to walk out or that the product of a union is a piece of property, well, this law doesn't emphasize that. It's talking about responsibility.
You read the op-ed pieces, saying that with Mr. Trudeau it was all about rights and entitlements and not much about responsibility, and "Poor Canada — we've been the worse ever since." I'm not sure that's true, but that's a common theme. I think, maybe in a small way, dealing at least at the family level, this is a small step to reverse that balance.
Finally, as I've already said, the terms "custody" and "access" suggest there are winners and losers when it comes to parenting. Well, there are no winners or losers except the children, and the idea that the parents can be winners or losers is irrelevant. We should not think of it in those terms. It's what is good for the child that is the only — the only — consideration, this new law says.
To wrap up, this law has received an unusually mellow reception in this House. Maybe it's a new era in the functioning of the British Columbia Legislature. But perhaps, more aptly, we should concede that a very long and extensive consultation process, non-partisan, listening to the best ideas from those very experienced in the social sector — those who have seen, live and up close and personal, the consequences of family breakdown — the ideas of our advocate for children and youth, who has not always been the greatest admirer of everything this government has done….
All of these ideas have been put into a great big mixing bowl, and I think that the best of what British Columbia experts and concerned legislators in this sphere can devise is now before us.
I presume that this bill is heading for adoption. I certainly hope so. We will have further debate. But I think it's, as I see it, a statute that we can all be proud of, and I certainly intend to vote for it.
G. Gentner: I, too, rise to speak on Bill 16, the Family Law Act, and will be supporting it. Before I start, though, I have to say that families are like fudge — mostly sweet with a few nuts. I think we all can understand that. We have the ability, with all of our families…. I have a great family where we do support each other.
But this bill does recognize that there are families that are in trouble and need support. As the member for West Vancouver–Capilano eloquently suggested, there are changes, and we are addressing those changes. I do have a quote here that I do want to read to you that seems to bring everything, or much of it, into context, "Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation" — Margaret Mead.
That's, in many ways, where we are at. The family has changed. Support systems are waning. This legislation, hopefully, will address a lot of that. But you know, we can't necessarily legislate family values. Those are cultural situations. But we can stop violence, and we can give support to those who need it.
Taking a page out of the whole anti-bullying stance, it's "Take a stand. Lend a hand." Well, this bill is certainly taking a stand. However, what we have to understand is that to lend a hand will need some financial assistance. That's what will make this bill work, in my estimation.
I do have some happy news before I go, relative to family. At Christmas I'll be going off to the southern part of Florida to welcome into my world two twins, as a grandparent. I am looking forward to that as an addition to my family, which allows me to talk briefly about the power of grandparenting.
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I've tried to read through it. There are little bits and pieces that may equate to the need of grandparenting, but there seems to be a lack of it in there in a society that is…. We see extended families, and there are cultures that are very welcoming to the help of grandparents. But I have to tell you, too, that in my constituency more than just once or twice I've had grandparents that need help with their grandchildren.
It comes along this line. Their children are drug- dependent, and they're addicts, and they're irresponsible parents, and the children are caught, some of which have fetal alcohol syndrome. The grandparents want to help, but somehow, through various agencies, they're caught in kind of like a maze, and the grandparents have been denied the ability to help.
Grandparents and seniors are a huge, rich resource that can aid, I believe, families, and they can be surrogate grandparents, as well. I'm hopeful that perhaps soon we can help that idea along as well.
Now, the bill expressly states that it's "the best interests," and the member for West Vancouver–Capilano pointed out that it is the interests of the child that come first. We're not talking about the interests of a child demanding a Slurpee every other day. What's in the best interests is somewhat determined by the parent itself, and I don't think that's what the intent is.
The bill creates a range of remedies — shall we call them tools? — and those tools will be an interesting way of how we work them out for non-compliance. I think, of course, that some of the tools…. We have, as the member mentioned before, what we call deadbeat fathers, who have got to come up to their responsibilities. I mean, that may be an overgeneralization, but they have got to be held to account.
It leads me to something Dave Barrett said many, many years ago, and he got in a little trouble with it. He said: "You know, we spend a lot of resources, and we make it very easy to get divorced. But you know what? It's so easy to get married."
He said: "We should turn the practice right side up. It shouldn't be that easy, necessarily, to get married. There should be counselling and help before you make that decision so you know where you're going. And when you do make the decision and do have children, you need even more support systems."
You know, it's a long journey creating a family from beginning to end, and we have to find ways and means as a society to help along with that, particularly with what's now going to be known as guardianship and parental responsibilities.
But those tools for failing to comply with agreements or orders for time with a child are seen now in this act. These include participation in family dispute resolution or counselling; reimbursing expenses such as travel, child care, lost wages by the parent unable to have time with the child; and payment of a fine by the parent denying the time — making British Columbia the first province to add relocation provisions to its law to assist parents and the courts in resolving issues when a parent wishes to move with the child.
That's all and good, but as I said earlier, we can talk about taking a stand, but lending a hand means having the money in place to implement this legislation. I want to bring to your attention, though…. I don't want to put any aspersions on the government in this respect relative to this new legislation, but I have to display a little history of what's happened, particularly after the core reviews of the provincial government of 2002.
We saw a major closure of family and youth courts. Today Bella Bella is unstaffed. You must go to the Vancouver Provincial Court system. The Burnaby court system's location was closed. Youth, family, small claims were transferred to Robson Square. Now, that's all and good in the city, if you live in Burnaby — we do have a transit system to go there and get that counselling — but it is something more onerous, particularly for those that are struggling.
In Castlegar the location was closed. All family court matters were transferred to Nelson, and I know that there's no direct transit system to Nelson. In Creston it was understaffed, so you had to go to Cranbrook.
In my constituency — I remember this well — the youth and criminal matters and youth court and family were transferred to Surrey. It caused a huge concern for us, because there was very poor transit service out to the Surrey court system, which was way out by 152nd and Highway 10.
Those families are struggling, and as the bill suggests, we're going to look at trying to resolve those issues, hopefully through some counselling and hopefully, again, through the courts. It was a huge imposition on families, and because of it, families in my community never really found a way of resolving their difficulties.
In Fernie — way out there, of course — the location then was closed in 2002. All youth court matters were referred to Cranbrook, which was a heck of a drive. I'm doing this for the record so that we understand where we've come from 2002.
In Grand Forks the location was closed. The matters were referred to Rossland. Invermere — the location was closed, referred to Cranbrook. That was an incredible drive. Kimberley court systems were transferred to Cranbrook. We'll give them that one. It wasn't that far away.
Kitimat was closed, transferred to Terrace. Lillooet closed, matters transferred to Kamloops. Lytton court service closed, matters transferred to Kamloops. Maple Ridge court services closed, matters transferred to Port Coquitlam. Merritt court systems closed, matters transferred to Kamloops. Oliver court systems closed, matters
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transferred to Penticton. Parksville court systems closed, matters transferred to Nanaimo.
Princeton, which became understaffed, had to go to Penticton. Revelstoke court services closed, and matters were transferred to Salmon Arm. Sparwood became unstaffed, had to go to Cranbrook. Squamish court systems closed, and matters were transferred to North Vancouver. Vanderhoof youth court services closed, and matters were transferred to Prince George.
Deputy Speaker: Member has a point of order.
Point of Order
J. Les: Yes. Madam Speaker, I've been listening carefully to the member's comments, and I believe that none of the comments I have heard are relevant to the bill that's under debate. I'd like you to bring the member back to order.
Deputy Speaker: I remind all members of the House that we are on second reading, which does allow for wider discussion of the bill, but I would remind the member to direct his remarks to the confines of the bill, if he would, please.
G. Gentner: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
It just brings into the position that with this bill and the need to create that transportation system and participation of family in counselling resolutions, hopefully the government will reinstate all those youth courts that were closed in 2002. That's what I'm speaking about when I talk about the need to take a stand, which this bill certainly does, but there is a need, shall I say, to lend a hand.
In view of family violence, the bill expressly states that the best interests of the child must be the only consideration in making decisions involving a child. I think that is a major step not only for the province…. I commend the government regarding that. I think that it's a very important position to take, because the children, of course, are our future.
The bill creates a new protection order, which is designated to help the courts more effectively deal with a family violence situation, and breaching a protection order will be a criminal offence. Again, that's why, indeed, we have to put money into the court system — to ensure that that is dealt with. And we have to enhance our court systems. Many of the courts, of course, were closed some time back, and it's become quite onerous for many families to be able to transport to those services.
The bill supports ways for parents to resolve family matters outside of the courtroom, where applicable, through agreements, mediation, parenting coordination and arbitration. That will be wonderful, if we know that there will be no real major delays in offering that type of counselling.
I have to say, though, that in order to make this work, we're going to need a bolstered legal aid system, which has been devastated by the government opposite. We've seen a hundred million dollars cut in services to legal aid over the last number of years, and it's quite a paltry sum of what is needed to fulfil the needs of Bill 16.
We have to understand that the Ministry of Women's Equality has been eliminated. Perhaps the government may want to reconsider that in the need to bolster the best parts of this particular bill. Child care subsidies have been lowered and have been made less accessible. We've seen that funding for children's centres has been eliminated. The B.C. Human Rights Commission has been scrapped and welfare rates and benefits made more difficult to access.
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member, please. We're on Bill 16. Would you please direct your comments to the bill before us.
G. Gentner: Thank you, hon. Chair.
Therefore, to support the bill, we do need a financial obligation on behalf of the province, and I'm hopeful that the province will do that.
Now, under division of property, the bill clarifies how property is divided to improve fairness when couples break up after being in a marriage-like relationship for more than two years. It's involved in modernizing, providing new property division rules, so that certain types of property, such as pre-relationship property and inheritance, will be excluded from the 50-50 division of property upon separation.
That's going to be a testy one. I understand the principle, and I agree with it, but we'll have to fully see the implication of this relative to the courts. I think this is welcome, particularly in the view that we're in the 21st century. As the member for West Vancouver–Capilano pointed out, the definition of marriage certainly is changing.
In conclusion, I have to point out that we certainly need coverage of committal hearings in family court — leaving low-income persons in jail under the committal hearing process, unable to get a lawyer or any legal representation. I think those significant cuts will undermine this legislation, but I'm hopeful, indeed, that the intent of the bill will suffice and that, with its good intentions, it will allow the government to re-examine the budgets forthwith that will support a wonderful family-supported system, particularly, it would seem, in this Bill 16.
B. Penner: It's an honour to get up and speak to Bill 16, the Family Law Act — which, as a previous speaker
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from the government benches indicated, has been a long time coming and is the work of many hands. Many people have played a significant role in developing this legislation. People in the ministry have been beavering away on it for over five years. I think it's closer to six years now.
During my tenure as Attorney General I think it took up more of my time than any other single issue in terms of getting immersed in the policy briefings and getting an opportunity to give some drafting instructions to the lawyers working on this particular piece of legislation.
It was also an honour for me to have the opportunity to brief my then critic, the opposition Attorney General critic, the member for Nanaimo, on the bill. My discussions with him were useful, and I look forward to seeing what I anticipate will be his expressed support when we have an opportunity, hopefully, to vote on this bill before the end of either today or the end of the session.
This bill did take a long time to come before the Legislature. It had been my hope as Attorney General in the spring that we could get it into the House before the end of the spring session, but time did not permit. I think, actually, the extra time did allow for a few minor further adjustments to the bill, which ultimately will prove beneficial in the long term. So although it took a bit of extra time, a few more months, I think the end result is a better product.
I again want to thank everybody who has worked away on this very important but also wide-ranging project. It was not an easy one. The length of the bill and the number of sections is an indication of that, and it will impact British Columbians in a significant way, far more than most things that we do in this chamber.
The work that we do in this chamber is very significant, but very few things will come as close to people's individual lives in so many ways as this piece of legislation, particularly when you note that about 40 to 50 percent of relationships today end in divorce. That will trigger many of the provisions of this bill, when you get into property division, and what to do if there are children of the relationship and what kind of spousal support or maintenance is required at the end of that relationship.
However, despite the fact that I am proud of this legislation and despite the fact that I recognize a lot of good work and good intent went into it, I also want to confess that I hope never to have to make use of it. It's certainly not my intention to ever have to turn to the pages of this legislation. Unfortunately, the reality is that for many families, family breakup does happen, so we have to provide for the legal framework to assess what should happen and what will happen when those unfortunate things take place.
The member who just spoke, the member for Delta North, was lamenting or expressing concern that people wouldn't be able to get into court as often as he would like. That maybe contrasts our philosophy with the NDP philosophy, which can be boiled down to this. We hope that people don't have to go to court.
A large impetus in the bill is to try and devise ways to prevent people from having to hire lawyers, to spend large amounts of the family income and the family assets on fighting over children, over custody, over child support, over spousal support, over the division of assets.
My experience from having practised family law for a number of years is that when that happens, everybody loses — except, possibly, the lawyers, if they're getting paid — because at the end of all of that it's simple math. There is less money left for the family because so much of their resources have been spent pursuing remedies through the legal system.
Perhaps the opposition justice critic and myself are speaking against our own self-interest when we say that we hope this legislation will divert a certain number of disputes from the court system and render it unnecessary for people to be as lawyered up as they've had to be in the past in order to try and resolve their differences.
The other observation I'll make — and I believe the member for Nanaimo shares this too, based on our private conversations we had earlier, this spring — is that the longer a dispute is left to linger, the more the respective sides are lawyered up and dig in and go through examinations for discovery and are asked and challenged by the opposing lawyer to defend their position, to explain their financial circumstances, ask whether or not they're hiding assets.
The longer that whole adversarial process goes and the deeper it gets and the closer to court it gets, the more people's resentment builds towards each other. Ultimately, it's not just those individuals who suffer from that — the adults or sometimes the so-called adults in that process. My biggest concern is what happens to the children when there's such a poisoned relationship between their parents. It can't help but be a negative thing for the children when their parents are fighting tooth and nail to try and beat each other in court.
There are plenty of good reasons to try and put in these extra measures to encourage more mediation, more dispute resolution, to try and resolve these differences before the parties become so bitter, so entrenched and in some cases so broke from fighting each other when ultimately, the objective should be the same. Let's find a way to amicably move on if the relationship is not salvageable, and for heaven's sake, let's do what's best for the child or the children of the relationship.
So I'm pleased about those provisions. I also think, from having practised family law, there are few things
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that cause more grief than when after a court order has been obtained or an agreement has been reached about visitation rights or shared parenting rights or whatever term you want to apply — the former term is access — then those access provisions are frustrated or somehow blocked or hindered, or there's a feeling that they're being blocked or hindered.
As a very new parent myself, I can't imagine what it would be like for myself to be prevented from seeing my daughter for any extended period of time. Yet quite often as a lawyer practising family law, you will be called upon by prospective clients who say: "My former spouse is preventing me from accessing my rights as a parent to visit with my child."
That's heartbreaking, and that also deepens the divide and the animosity between the two parents. Again, it's the child that's right in the middle of that.
So the proposed Family Law Act, Bill 16, contains new remedies and enforcement tools to bring to bear for those parties responsible for failing to comply with agreements or orders respecting spending time with the child. I think that's a significant step forward.
That is a response to many years of complaints by advocacy groups, often representing fathers, but not only fathers. Quite often it is fathers who complain that their ability to visit their children has been frustrated, deliberately or otherwise, by their former spouse.
Another area of contention in the practice of family law is when the now former partner or spouse who has the primary day-to-day custody of the child decides to move further away. Sometimes it's as simple as moving from Chilliwack to Abbotsford or maybe from Chilliwack to Kelowna, and that raises concerns about the other parent's ability to see their child as often as they had grown accustomed.
Then today, in our more mobile society, increasingly we're finding parents moving to other provinces, maybe other countries. This raises all kinds of issues around the perhaps unintended but nevertheless very real frustration of a parent's right to see their child and spend quality time and fulfil their duties and role as a parent in providing guidance and love to their child.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
The new Family Law Act takes into account the reality that people will from time to time legitimately move to another jurisdiction. It gives the courts a way to assess whether or not that moving further away from the other spouse is really legitimate or is an underhanded way of depriving the other parent of their lawful right to spend time with their child or their children.
That is another significant step forward. It's not, probably, something that is the top-of-line issue. Certainly, in the media coverage it wasn't. But I think it's a very important and meaningful new provision to give the courts more guidance in sorting out claims by one parent or the other that the other spouse that has custody of the child on a day-to-day basis is merely moving away in order to frustrate the other spouse's or parent's legitimate right to visit their child.
The Attorney General correctly points out that this provision and many others are leading in Canada in terms of providing courts new direction on how to deal with some of these thorny questions that arise when relationships go sideways.
Just like the Family Relations Act, in 1978, was talked about for years, if not decades, in law schools and in other circles as leading in terms of responding to social change, I believe that the Family Law Act, Bill 16, if passed, will also be commented on for many years to come and will be followed, in large measure, by other provinces. We are, again, establishing a leadership role in British Columbia in terms of innovative legislation with this bill, just as we did in 1978 with the Family Relations Act.
As has already been pointed out more ably than I'm able to by previous speakers, there are many ways that this bill is helping to modernize the law in British Columbia as it pertains to relationships and how we should deal with children — by putting children first, foremost and only on the list of things to be considered when assessing what to do with children and how they should be looked after. That's a change that is well overdue and that, again, I think will be commented on for years to come as a very important improvement.
Those, in a nutshell, are my primary comments on the bill. There are many aspects to the bill. It's comprehensive. It's difficult to give a thorough summary in just a few minutes. I've tried many times over the last eight months to tell people in an elevator or in a taxicab exactly why the new Family Law Act is important.
You can single out any particular thing. The fact that there are going to be new protection orders that will, I hope, be easier for the police to track and monitor through their computer system so that people who need protection from an aggressive, violent former spouse or partner will be better protected — that's an important improvement.
The provisions around division of assets are an important improvement, by capturing even non-legal marriages under the federal Civil Marriage Act, capturing what we would call in formal terms common-law marriages.
I think that's an important improvement so that people in those relationships, when they break down, don't have to hire a lawyer at considerable expense to build a case of constructive trust in order to make sure that they are properly looked after at the end of the relationship and are fairly compensated for their efforts in building the assets that accrued during that relationship.
The fact that now you don't have to argue whether or not there is a constructive trust arrangement in place —
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rather, you can rely on these statutory provisions around the presumption of a division of assets — I think will help save people money in terms of legal expenditures and will provide more certainty for people in those relationships about exactly what their rights and obligations are towards each other.
Again, it's hard to single out just one specific issue. There are so many in this bill, because it is wide-ranging, but also, in all cases it's very significant.
With that, I hope we will be able to vote on this matter soon — second reading — so that we can move this bill forward into committee stage.
B. Routley: You know, after having some 25 years' experience representing forest workers, one of the things that we learned early on was the need for an employee and family assistance program.
I, too, join the chorus of voices who support this bill. I think it's definitely a progressive move in the right direction. Time will tell whether there's sufficient time, money and actually people made available to do what this bill talks about.
Particularly, some of the notes I have here that I want to refer to, to start with. This bill provides a range of remedies and enforcement tools for folks who fail to comply with agreements or orders for time with the child, and these include participation in family dispute resolution or counselling.
Now, I want to camp there for a little while. The issue of counselling I'm very familiar with. When I first started out in the forest industry in 1970, there weren't such things as employee and family assistance programs, sadly. Too often people ended up in workplace situations, whether they were either fired or disciplined. Often issues of family would show up in people being late for work. Often it would affect productivity and even business interests.
When people are having trouble at home and struggling, I believe the best line of defence is prevention. Sadly, we live in a world today where all too often we're dealing with the aftermath of a system where there's a cycle of violence. Often too many men have grown up in family situations where they've seen or witnessed family violence. That becomes a cycle, and sadly, there's not enough time, energy or money, in my belief, to do the kind of work that we could or need to do if we're really going to break that cycle of violence.
You know what it is? I heard a spokesman at a violence-against-women conference talk about the need for men to stand up and speak out on these issues — to stand up and be counted and say: "We can break the cycle of violence." But it's going to take effort. It's going to take offering preventative opportunities. It's going to come down to that counselling that is contemplated in this bill, the opportunity for counselling.
I've got a bit of a theme here. I'm going to call it the good, the bad and the ugly of dealing or not dealing with people that have family issues or have violent tendencies — that kind of thing. I want to start with the good, because it's burned into my memory, seared in — the wonderful experience of actually going to a dinner where people who had been involved in the employee and family assistance program for some 20 years, some of them in the early stages, showed up at this dinner.
I can honestly say that it brought tears to my eyes to hear a man stand up and talk about how he was able to break the cycle of addiction that he had. He was addicted to alcohol, in this individual's case. He stood up himself and started to have tears, and that brought the whole crowd to a situation where we were very emotional, listening to the speaker talk about the fact that he had changed his lifestyle because of the support of the employee and assistance program.
How are we going to break the cycle if we don't pay attention and actually provide educational tools? In his particular case it took actually sending him away to a treatment centre. Do we have enough treatment centres in British Columbia? I don't think so. We need more facilities to help with treatment — drugs, alcohol — and, certainly, prevention.
But this bill is a step in the right direction. It talks about offering family dispute mechanisms, mediation and arbitration. Those are all good things. I know from experience, having seen mediation work in family situations. That's a wonderful thing to do, rather than get the courts involved.
I hope not to upset any of my lawyer friends. I talked about the good — the celebration of people that had changed things — but I want to talk about the bad. In some cases, the bad that I've seen has been that the legal system ends up creating conflict amongst families when you end up with two competing lawyers looking for as much cash as they can grab.
Not all lawyers are that way. I know there are good lawyers. I've met some of them. I know all of my colleagues are among the group that are the finest lawyers I've ever seen and wonderful people to deal with, but there are folks out there, sadly, that will take advantage of a family breakup situation to mine for their own gold, so to speak — to try to grab some of the cash from the family instead of offering a plan to help.
There are lawyers, I should add, that will direct people to help, and they will try to mediate and be helpful. I'm grateful for those folks too. But there's the good, the bad and the ugly.
I want to talk about a situation. Again, in my years in…. I had to deal with situations. Fortunately, I was able to help with people that had drug or alcohol addiction. I adopted a philosophy that I did not want to be an enabler.
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As a representative of workers, it does one no good to enable behaviour that's unacceptable in the workplace. I believed that the best way I could help workers on the job was not to enable them but to make sure that if they were disciplined and they were going to be fired, they were told straight up: "Look, the only way we're going to be able to help you is to get the treatment for the issue that you're dealing with."
Under this bill, the family dispute resolution and counselling…. Those are the kinds of things, the tools, that can be brought to bear that will help.
Again, under the ugly, I had this situation where a mom came to me. If you can imagine this mom coming to me in tears, saying she didn't know what to do. I'm not a counsellor, but she knew that I dealt with workers all the time, so she came in the door and talked about an alarming situation.
Her daughter was around five years old at the time. Her husband had too much to drink. He'd also been doing drugs. He actually told his five-year-old daughter that…. They were apparently watching some video. Imagine the family sitting around, watching a video of the daughter, who's going to be up dancing soon at the dance class, and the father, who is in a drunken, crazed stupor, says to that five-year-old girl: "If I don't see you up there dancing in the next few minutes, I'm going to kill your teacher."
Can you imagine what that did to a five-year-old girl? Of course, when I heard that story, I said: "Well, wait a minute. Does your husband have guns? Is he capable of carrying out those kinds of things?" And I was alarmed to hear that he had not only guns but bullets.
It probably wasn't the smartest thing I ever did, but I said, "You know what? The first thing we've got to do is…. I'm going to follow you home and get those guns and those bullets, because he's still at work. We've got to take care of that. Then we've got to talk to the RCMP," which we did. We sat down and told them.
I took her in to meet with the RCMP, because I knew this was a crisis situation. As a representative, I could not turn a blind eye to a situation like that. Again, it would be enabling to do anything else but to lead her to the proper authorities to get the kind of help that families need.
This bill talks about the kinds of interventions that are possible, that we can do to move in the right direction, rather than just intervening after the fact. Unfortunately, whether it's courts or, sometimes, arbitration or mediation, it's kind of an intervention after the fact.
I phoned one of the counsellors from the old south Vancouver Island employee and family assistance program, which has now been renamed the Vancouver Island Counselling situation, and I asked him how things were going. He talked about…. Wouldn't it be great if, rather than just dealing with the interventions that he deals with all day long, he could actually do more prevention work — if he could get out into schools and talk to kids about good-relationship stuff, if he could go into workplaces and talk more about employee and family assistance types of programs.
I hope that this can be the start of something even better. Again, it has a lot of good elements to it, and I don't want to take away from all of the work so many people have done, because I believe it is good work. There's no question about that. But the idea of having a comprehensive type of prevention plan that is the first line of defence would be the ultimate…. It would be my belief that it would be the ultimate in moving even further towards reducing court time.
What if we could prevent families from ending up in divorce? I've seen it. That employee and family assistance program was somewhere between 70 and 80 percent successful in dealing with families in crisis. Think of that. They had a tremendous success rate. Why? Because when the workers learned that if they were having problems at home or with their kids or with family issues, they had someplace to go where they could vent and talk about their issues.
Do you know what? When people get laid off, which happens all over B.C., particularly in the forest industry, they have a huge spike in the number of people that need those family assistance–type programs. Again, it's the kind of prevention that this bill talks about — the opportunity for dispute resolution and counselling — and I'm excited about that opportunity.
What would some of the elements of that kind of program be? A comprehensive plan would include that families who are struggling to balance increasingly complex demands, who…. By the way, the statistics show 15 to 20 percent of workplaces — people who care about business, and that includes me, should listen carefully to this — all over British Columbia are impacted by family issues and crisis issues that could be resolved in many ways by counselling.
I know that my time is limited here. I wish I could speak more. There's a lot more to say on this issue, but I'm thankful for the opportunity to talk about this important bill. I think it's, again, a step in the right direction. Fortunately, there's nothing about this bill that has any jiggery-pokery in it, so I won't need to even talk about that.
Deputy Speaker: You've made the members very happy.
D. Donaldson: I'm happy to take my place in second reading of the bill and to spend a few minutes, because I know time is limited, on Bill 16, the Family Law Act, and speak in support of the bill. I know it has
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sections on custody, mediation, division of property and new rules about assisted reproduction, which are an important part of society these days. But in a limited amount of time I'd like to just focus on the family violence section.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Domestic violence is a scourge in society. It's a blight on our society. I know that in the areas I represent, we have on a proportional basis a very, very high incidence of domestic assault, and it's totally unacceptable. And it's not just the people who are impacted directly by it but indirectly as well. It has its repercussions throughout the community.
I know that this bill deals with creating a new protection order designed to help the courts be more effective to deal with family violence situations. As well, it has provisions about breaching a protection order. It will be a criminal offence. I welcome these provisions, and I also support the insights of the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund. It says: "These provision will mean little unless there is the ability of women to enforce their rights." Unless that happens, because they don't have access to legal aid or adequate transition services.
That was reflected in the Finance Committee's public hearings this year. Again, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund provided a written submission where they said: "While inadequate legal aid affects us all, the lack of legal aid has a devastating and disproportional impact on women, particularly women living in poverty, women of colour, aboriginal women, women with disabilities and other marginalized women."
That's the crux of the matter as far as the court time and the court aspects of this bill go. Now, I was happy to report that the Finance Committee endorsed unanimously a number of recommendations relating to legal aid and the court system, so that's there.
I also wanted to just touch on family violence from the aspect of part of what's behind it. A few years ago Jackson Katz was brought to our community. He's a well-known speaker on gender violence prevention amongst men and boys, and Northern Society for Domestic Peace brought him to our community, as well as the Bulkley Valley Credit Union, the chamber of commerce and school district 54.
He presented a very good discussion. At the core of it was how we raise our men and boys in society and how that ends up impacting the family violence situation. I'll quote him briefly here. It's about the guy and his need to assert his power, and it's not just individualized men; it's a cultural problem. This is in relation to violence perpetuated by men on women. "Our culture is producing violent men, and violence against women has become institutionalized. We need to take a step back and examine the institutionalized policies drafted by men that perpetuate the problem."
It had a very strong resonance in the communities I represent, especially this last part. I'm quoting Jackson Katz here: "I come from a social justice perspective that if you are a member of the dominant group and you don't speak up in the face of others in your group when they are abusive, your silence is a form of consent and complicity." So it is really important that men's programs, which the Northern Society for Domestic Peace does not have funding to address anymore, ensure that men transfer that message to other men — and to boys, especially, because that's the future.
So with that, I wanted to say that I'm pleased to see the number of groups that have come out in support of this bill, the consultation that has been done by the government side, and I congratulate the government on putting this bill together and introducing it to the Legislature this session. With that, I'll wrap up my comments and say that I'm in support of Bill 16.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the Attorney General closes debate.
Hon. S. Bond: I think that today and over the last couple of days, as we have watched British Columbia's reaction to the Family Law Act and also heard the voices of members on both sides of the Legislature, we recognize what a significant moment and opportunity this is for us here in the Legislature.
This week we introduced comprehensive new family law legislation. It addresses the very issues that B.C.'s families and courts are dealing with. We've heard stories in this House that are personal. We've heard expressions of passion and, for the most part, a sense of unanimity about the need to make changes.
One of the most important things we need to recognize is that the world is a very different place than it was more than 30 years ago. What's very unfortunate about that is that separation and difficulties for families and divorce are more common in our society than they were then. That's why we need to bring forward new legislation. It's to support B.C.'s families through what are often very emotional and difficult circumstances.
One of the key principles, as I spent time working on the bill, is to look at ways we can do that that are less confrontational, that are less painful. We need to move those circumstances for discussion and opportunities outside of courtrooms, wherever possible. There has been lots of discussion here today, and I know we will continue that through committee stage, about resources and about all of the things that are necessary to make this work.
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But the first step in making it work is that legislators in this House will make a conscious decision to support a bill that improves the chances that B.C.'s families will be given opportunities to face the challenges they have to address in a way that is far less painful and confrontational than the one we have today.
We can debate the discussion about the test that is at the heart of this bill. But from my perspective as a mother, as a grandmother, as someone who cares deeply for the family that I have, the best interests of the child are always and should always be at the centre of the discussions that adults have when they're looking to solve the problems that face them.
I have been encouraged by the discussion. It's one of those opportunities. I think that, together, we have the opportunity to make a significant change, and I have been very, very appreciative of the thoughtful comments that have been made by members on both sides of the House. I look forward, with my staff, to answering some of the questions that will come in the days that lie ahead. As the opposition critic pointed out, that is the role of this place — to ask those questions, to make sure we have dotted the i's and crossed the t's in a way that makes this bill last and work effectively long into the future.
With that, I move second reading of Bill 16.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 16 be referred to the Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 16, Family Law Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. P. Bell moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 5:50 p.m.
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