Former Justice Minister Allan Rock was forced to establish the parliamentary committee on custody and access in 1997, in order to gain passage of his bill amending child-support legislation. Liberal Senator Anne Cools joined with the Tories in the Upper Chamber to stage a coup against what she saw as discrimination in the way reforms were being implemented in the realm of child custody – discrimination that threatened the best interests of children.

Senator Cools told The Interim that families have won “a victory” with the committee’s report. The central issue, she said, was the recognition that children want and need both parents whether or not the parents remain legally married. The committee recognized this with a number of recommendations, including Divorce Act reform, to make shared parenting the standard model in place of today’s custody-and-access approach to post-divorce relations.

This recognition of the equality between the sexes in terms of parenting is a major blow to feminists, who have advocated a adversarial notion of husband-wife relations in which women and children are considered safer together without men.

Recognizing the importance of the issue, feminist lobbyists waged a bitter attack on the parliamentary committee, personally vilifying Senator Cools on a number of occasions. In fact, in a Senate speech on Dec. 10 after the release of the report, the Senator said that “this committee, for me personally, has been the ‘committee from hell’ … because of the persistent derision and maligning directed towards me from certain quarters.”

Judging by the deafening silence from feminists in response to the release of the report, they have conceded defeat in the face of Senator Cools’ resolve – at least for now.

The senator says that critics of shared parenting want to minimize the significance of the shared parenting recommendations, but she argues that, if applied, they will result in a real and fundamental shift in the way children of divorce are treated in Canada. “They recommend a major shift in the divorce law and the divorce culture of Canada,” she told the Senate on Dec. 10. To herald that “major shift,” Senator Cools has coined the motto: “Two parents by the year 2000.”

The outspoken senator, once thought of as a leading feminist, reminded her colleagues that she has been fighting this battle since the early 1980s. She read from a speech on Dec. 4, 1984 in which she advocated shared parenting and issued a warning about the possible threat radical feminism would be to such a solution for families experiencing divorce.

She noted with satisfaction that a public opinion poll released in November indicated overwhelming support for the views she has been defending for a decade and a half. She read the results of the poll into the official record of Parliament in her Dec. 10 speech.

That poll, she said, “told us that 70 per cent of Canadians believe that children of divorce receive too little attention (and) 80 per cent of those surveyed felt it was very important for children of divorced parents to maintain an ongoing relationship with the non-custodial parent.”