Report on Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultations on Custody, Access and Child Support in Canada
This summary report was prepared by IER Planning, Research and Management Services, which was retained to support and assist the nationwide federal-provincial-territorial consultations on custody and access and child support. The findings in this report will be used to inform the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Family Law Committee's discussions on its child custody and access project and will form part of the background to the report to Parliament that the federal Minister of Justice will table before May 2002.
The consultation sought specific comment on a consultation document developed by the Family Law Committee, entitled Putting Children's Interests First: Custody, Access and Child Support in Canada. In a parallel process, workshops were held in all provinces and territories in Canada, including specific workshops for Aboriginal stakeholders and youth.
The report on the consultations comprises two main parts: the summary report and the appendices.
This report summarizes comments on the options, key messages and recommendations received from Canadians, and reflects their understanding of laws and issues related to custody and access and child support in Canada.
As noted under "Methodology" below, the material summarized in this report was provided through briefs, letters, feedback booklets and workshops. Because of the nature of the consultation process and topics, comments in this report are not attributed to any one person or organization.
The appendices are separate reports summarizing the input received at workshops for youth (Appendix A), for Aboriginal people (Appendix B) and in each province and territory (Appendix C). Appendix D contains a list of written submissions and explanatory material received by IER.
IER developed most of the appendices from notes taken at the workshops in each province and territory, supported by notes from IER staff who attended each session, with the exception of Nunavut. Some provinces and territories (namely Quebec, Newfoundland and Northwest Territories) wrote their own report on the consultations that took place and submitted it for inclusion here. The report on youth was compiled by the facilitators of the youth workshops in Winnipeg and Toronto, with support from facilitators of the youth workshops in Moose Jaw and Montreal. Key findings from all these reports are included in the summary report.
The Family Law Committee is a long-standing committee of federal, provincial and territorial government officials who are well acquainted with family law. The committee has a federal co-chair and a provincial co-chair and reports to the federal, provincial and territorial deputy ministers responsible for justice issues. The committee's work supports and is approved by the Deputy Ministers and Ministers responsible for Justice across Canada.
The Family Law Committee is reviewing legislation and services to find ways to help families work out the best arrangements for children during and after separation and divorce. It has adopted an integrated, child-focused approach to its work. The Family Law Committee's child custody and access project encompasses research, analysis, and policy and program development among federal, provincial and territorial policy advisors and service providers. This project is also looking at the recommendations of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access. The project is to be completed by spring 2002. The Family Law Committee developed the consultation document to support the consultations on custody and access and child support.
The purpose of the consultation was to seek advice, input and comments on options related to custody and access and child support in support of the Family Law Committee's custody and access project.
Key elements of the methodology for the consultations included the following:
- design of the consultation program;
- development and distribution of the consultation document and feedback booklet;
- development and use of the workshop discussion guide;
- receipt of briefs and letters from individuals and groups; and
- implementation of the workshops in each province and territory.
The Department of Justice Canada initiated a nationwide bidding process for a contractor to help it, in collaboration with the Family Law Committee, design and implement the consultations. IER, an independent consulting firm specializing in consultation and communication since 1971, won the contract.
IER presented the Family Law Committee with several options for the design of the consultation program. IER then helped develop a coordinated approach to the workshops in each province and territory. This included writing a logistics guide for the organization of the workshops, a facilitator manual for coordinated facilitation of the discussion topics, and a discussion guide for facilitators and participants at the workshops. More information on the discussion guide is provided below (see "Development and Use of the Discussion Guide"). IER held two facilitator training sessions, one in Prince Edward Island and one in British Columbia, to coordinate the facilitation of the workshops.
The Family Law Committee developed a consultation document entitled Putting Children's Interests First: Custody, Access and Child Support in Canada. Approximately 10,000 consultation documents were distributed by the Department of Justice Canada, the provinces and territories. Copies were also sent to members of Parliament. The consultation document was also available on the Internet and on request from the Department of Justice Canada. Each document included a feedback booklet and a postage-paid envelope to make it easy for people to return their comments. The document was also produced in Braille, and two such copies were requested.
IER received 2,324 completed feedback booklets. The initial deadline for receiving written comments was June 15, but this was extended to July 6. Approximately 55 percent of the booklets received contained identical answers. The key points in the responses, whether submitted once or many times, are included in the main report.
IER developed a discussion guide based on the consultation document to introduce in-person workshop participants to the workshop topics and the discussion questions. There were two parts to the discussion guide: the first included the custody and access topics to be discussed at the workshop; the other listed government services available in each province and territory. The discussion guide was produced in modules so that each province and territory could select topics for discussion at the workshops and the appropriate listings of government services.
Receipt of Briefs and Letters
Many participants in the consultation program provided their comments on custody, access and child support in the form of written submissions. A total of 71 submissions were received by the extended deadline of July 6. These submissions were reviewed, and the key points are summarized in this report. Written submissions received after July 6 were forwarded to the Department of Justice Canada for information and are not included in this report. Appendix D lists the titles and authors of all the written submissions.
Workshops in the Provinces and Territories
In all but two provinces and territories, justice ministry officials invited the participants, organized the workshops and arranged facilitation services.
For the workshops in Manitoba and Ontario, IER organized workshops, invited the participants, and provided facilitation services when requested. IER developed initial lists of potential participants with an interest in custody and access and child support issues. These lists were expanded through referrals from initial contacts and from suggestions by provincial, territorial and federal officials. Names of additional participants suggested by some organizations were included in the invitations when it did not result in organizations having more than one representative at each consultation. Potential participants were then contacted by telephone and e-mail to determine interest and availability.
Between one and six workshops were held in each province and territory, for a total of thirty-eight. Eight other workshops were held on youth and Aboriginal perspectives; see below. Representatives from the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments attended each of the sessions. Staff from IER also attended the workshops, except in Nunavut.
Participants invited to the provincial and territorial workshops represented a range of interests in custody and access and child support matters: social service; education; enforcement; legal community; child welfare; women's groups; men's groups; grandparents' groups; and Aboriginal organizations, among others. Approximately 750 people participated in the workshops. The organizations that participated in the in-person workshops are listed in each provincial or territorial report in Appendix C.
The workshops took place between April 10 and June 28, 2001. Each provincial and territorial jurisdiction addressed the topic of roles and responsibilities of parents. Other workshop topics were selected by each province and territory from those listed in the consultation document, as follows:
- best interests of children;
- family violence;
- high conflict relationships;
- children's perspectives; and
- meeting access responsibilities.
Some provinces and territories also held discussions on child support issues.
Workshops for Youth
Seven workshops for youth were held: one organized by the Saskatchewan government in Moose Jaw, and six organized by the Department of Justice Canada: two in Winnipeg, two in Toronto and two in Montreal in June 2001. The 69 youth participants ranged in age from 10 to 17 years. For the workshops organized by the Department of Justice Canada, the participants were initially identified through random calls by local market research firms, and then selected according to criteria that ensured a range of age groups, and that gender, ethnicity and other factors were considered. Appendix A reports on the youth consultation, including the selection process and criteria.
In addition, workshops for youth organized by an independent firm were held in Quebec City, Montreal and Trois-Rivières in May and June 2001. The results are found in the report on the consultations in Quebec in Appendix C.
Workshop on Aboriginal Perspectives
A workshop was held in Ottawa to obtain Aboriginal perspectives on custody and access and child support issues. The workshop included opening and closing ceremonies led by an elder of the Bear Clan, and the workshop facilitators were Aboriginal. The following topics were discussed in the workshop: custody and access issues concerning Aboriginal peoples; best interests of children from the Aboriginal perspective; and roles and responsibilities of parents. A total of 18 participants attended. Appendix B is a report on the workshop.
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