SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON CHILD CUSTODY AND ACCESS, 1998

The Situation:  The following is an excerpt of my testimony before a hearing of the Parliament of Canada.

In 1998, Senators Cools and Jessiman succeeded in getting a Special Joint Committee of both houses of Parliament to study custody and access, and recommend significant reform.  That was a creative, courageous move to impede passage of a child support bill that avoided far more important reform in the law of child custody and access.

The committee travelled to numerous places across Canada, holding public hearings that were the first opportunity for fatherhood advocates to defend fathers and everyone who loves them from the outrageous bias of the Canadian family courts.  The issues were often framed as a debate on "shared parenting" as the goal for law reform, and that language reflected the position of the movement at the time.

There were hundreds of witnesses who testified before the committee.  Their stories would make an important study by themselves, but there were two basic camps:  government--funded feminist groups waving the bloody blouse of domestic violence disinformation, and father-friendly or actual equality-seeking people who didn't qualify for public funding because of their officially incorrect, non-feminist ideas.  The excluded, non-feminist voices had received sufficient notice and applied to be heard because of a new factor:  the internet.  Previously isolated groups were sharing timely information through the cheap new medium, and their number of witnesses for the defense of fatherhood at a government consultation matched the government-funded feminists for the first time in Canadian history.

Personally, I was at a turning point in my own thinking at that time, and I had started talking to my network of other advocates about "equal parenting", because the term would be more difficult to corrupt for politicians and people actively hostile to fatherhood.  I was pushing for a national organization to demand complete human rights as parents, so I addressed the committee as a representative of Equal Parents Of Canada (EPOC).  Unfortunately, I was not advanced enough in my thinking to talk in terms of equal parenting.  (I also submitted a brief to the committee on behalf of Human Equality Action and Resource Team.)

.  - Eric Tarkington

http://www.parl.gc.ca/infocomdoc/36/1/SJCA/Meetings/Evidence/sjcaev13-e.htm#T1315

SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON CHILD CUSTODY AND ACCESS 

COMITÉ MIXTE SPÉCIAL SUR LA GARDE ET LE DROIT DE VISITE DES ENFANTS 

EVIDENCE 

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus

Tuesday, March 31, 1998



The second witness is from Equal Parents of Canada, Mr. Tarkington. You have five minutes, please.

Mr. Eric D. Tarkington (Equal Parents of Canada): Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking the committee for this opportunity. I assume that others have thanked you before, but I would like to add my thanks. 

Although men's and father-friendly groups in Canada have some doubts about the beneficial outcomes of this process, given the past history, the fact remains that this is a unique opportunity for men's and fathers' voices to be heard, and it indicates the maturity on the part of the government that we have long been hoping for. We continue to hope for further improvements in that maturity. 

My name is Eric Tarkington. I'm a software engineer. I'm not any kind of special advocate, but I do serve as a communicator for EPOC. 

EPOC is Equal Parents of Canada. It is an organization in the process of formation, and its goal is to have a thoroughgoing national representation with representatives in every province of Canada. To this point, we do have directors from four of the provinces and we are continuing to pursue additional representation. 

Thanks to the fact that I'm sure you've heard a great deal from previous speakers about the problems with the existing system, I find that there's no necessity for me to rehash those problems. Men have a great insight, fathers have a great insight, and I'm sure that you have already heard enough so that you begin to understand the direction that we would take in assessing the problems before us. 

What I would like to do is focus on solutions, and in focusing on those solutions, I want to talk about initiatives to replace the adversary system. 

The first initiative that you're going to hear virtually every men's group in Canada advocating is shared parenting. We advocate shared parenting in the belief that fathers and mothers are both equally valuable to children and that it is incorrect at a very fundamental level, when the matter of custody and divorce arises, to split the child down the middle in order to make a winner or a loser where, from the child's perspective, the family unit continues to go on. A child continues to have a father, continues to have a mother, continues to have reasonable expectation for financial and psychological and developmental support from both parents. 

In order to achieve shared parenting, we believe the primary modality is going to be mediation. But we witness a mediation milieu presently that is based on mediators who have gone through a process of training that I would characterize as excessively gender feminist as opposed to egalitarian feminist. This creates a situation in which men, although they are calling for mediation, are calling for it with great fear and trepidation, and much will have to be done in order in improve the discipline of mediation itself before mediation can become an effective tool to establish good circumstances of shared parenting for children in Canada. 

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We should also have a presumption that there will be long-term support and flexibility for families using shared parenting to achieve the maximum benefit for their children. There may be times when families will have to go back to mediators. This should not be a traumatic experience. It should be normal, it should be expected. 

Within the courts as they currently stand, we do urgently need changes. We have to stop the presumption of mother custody that currently operates in the courts. Mothers have no reason to cooperate in good faith with mediation if they know that at the end of the mediation process, should they refuse to accept the results, they can go to a court system that has a strong favourable bias for them. We cannot leave this situation in place. 

You will hear people who say you must not build presumptions into the law. I must point out that the law currently acts with a presumption that clearly indicates mothers are ten times as good as fathers as parents for children. And there is not a shred of evidence to justify that position. 

We therefore say that there must be a presumption of shared parenting and it is the duty of the courts and it is the duty of legislators to find the ways that are necessary to implement shared parenting in practical ways. We have to call for the elimination of bias. 

I know the judges, assessors and lawyers want to preserve their independence, but that independence is not the only valuable aspect to the system. We have to have openness. We have to have processes that review, that will permit us to ensure that judges, assessors and lawyers bring an understanding of the value of fatherhood to the process of establishing reasonable family arrangements after separation and divorce. 

We have to restore the primacy of the child's best interest. Often laws seem to state that the child is the primary consideration, the most important party in all of these matters. In practice that isn't so. In practice, the child's interests are subsumed into the interests of the mother. The child is treated as an appendage of the mother with no separable individual rights. This must stop. 

There are some voices in the courts that clearly recognize this. The Gordon v. Goertz decision was a good one, but in fact the courts in practice continue to exercise the bias against fathers that undermines this fundamental principle. I am going to also suggest something that is radical in terms of the people in the court system. 

The Joint Chair (Mr. Roger Gallaway): Your time's almost up. 

Mr. Eric Tarkington: I will finish soon. We need cameras in court and we need corresponding measures to ensure the openness of the courts so that they can be reviewed in terms of their processes and in terms of their freedom from bias. There are many other things we need to discuss, even headings that I haven't been able to get to in these five minutes, but I am very encouraged by the existence of this committee and I am very encouraged by the opportunity I see before me to continue to submit our ideas in forums after this one. 

The Joint Chair (Mr. Roger Gallaway): Thank you, Mr. Tarkington.