She’s intelligent, informed and recently divorced — so I was startled when my acquaintance said, after reading news stories about the Joint Committee on Custody and Access: “Gee, I guess my ex and I are the rare exceptions. Let’s face it, we don’t like each other, but we settled custody issues very smoothly because it was best for the kids.”
In fact, MOST divorcing parents in Canada do not engage in a legal slugfest for custody of the kids. About 80 per cent of them settle those issues out of court. And when fathers do petition for custody, they end up with sole or joint custody of their children more than 50 per cent of the time.
Yet the fathers’ rights lobby and their female spokespersons (girlfriends, second wives, grandmothers) have mounted such a high-decibel barrage of disinformation, and the media have repeated their claims so uncritically, that many people like my recently divorced pal have a totally distorted picture.
That’s frightening. A misinformed public is the worst possible basis for democratic change.
On April 18, after I wrote about the hostile, fathers’ rights shenanigans at the Committee hearings in Toronto, some men wrote to me to complain that I hadn’t mentioned the good and loving fathers.
That’s true, and that’s part of what is so frustrating about the way the agenda has been commandeered by the fathers’ rights activists. The tenor of their attack is so extreme, and their allegations are so far-fetched, that the whole debate gets shoved to the far end of the scale. In tackling all their misrepresentations, I couldn’t afford to spend a word or a line of column space to acknowledge those loving and responsible fathers I believe to be in the majority.
Consider the Hansard accounts of the two days the committee spent in Toronto. In that little, closed, temporary world of the hearing room, the level of venom and hatred toward women rose to a pitch of hysteria. The few MPs and Senators who began in neutral soon revved up to match the heat of the prevailing rhetoric. Eventually, even they were eagerly throwing little sops to the witnesses, condemning “radical feminists” for all the misery in divorce.
Sensible or dispassionate witnesses were mercilessly badgered by Senators Anne Cools and Duncan Jessiman, while the ignorant and the clearly unbalanced were incited by them to greater and greater heights (or depths) of folly.
Cools, who spoke often in transports of overweening humility, thanked the men “very very personally… for the anguish and suffering you have endured”. And she was moved to wonder aloud, evidently shocked to her core, about the fact that women may be as “violent …evil…deceitful” as men. This, she said, is a “massive” philosophical debate with”enormous” moral overtones. Above all, she wondered “What is this fear that grips?” The fear that grips and “silences the country” is, apparently, fear of feminists.
Wendy Dennis, author of an article called ‘The Divorce from Hell” about her boyfriend’s custody battle, agreed. Feminists, she said, had “vilified” her boyfriend, an ideal dad. “The feminist position offends me as a woman, a citizen, a mother, a human being,” she declared.
Senator Cools suddenly took the occasion to muse about women killing their newborn babies.
Walter Fox, criminal lawyer, then advanced the debate, first comparing feminism to McCarthyism, and then noting: “The current form of feminism is really a replay…of the side that lost the second world war, where we’re sort of refighting that ideology in a different form…I don’t want to equate feminism with Nazism….”
Wendy Dennis interjected that men get convicted of assault for no reason. “When a woman says ‘that man hit me’, that notion is sold. You don’t need evidence …” An award-winning Star series on domestic violence last year documented, in gritty and painful detail, the exact opposite. But reality had no standing in the committee hearing room.
It was left to seasoned family lawyer Michael Cochrane to puncture the bizarre balloon of hot air. “Having to listen to that frankly lunatic discussion about feminism is kind of tough,” he said, pointing out that, with all the “disturbed passion” thrown around “supposedly in defence of children …the children’s emphasis tends to fall off the table.”
With rare exceptions like Cochrane, the committee hearings so far have been an insult to reason.
You don’t have to be pro-feminist to be revolted by the hate-mongering and ignorance on display. And this same committee will be recommending new custody laws to Parliament. That’s why I have so little room to speak in praise of good fathers.