Bill would give grandparents more access to kids

Posted on April 24, 2008 in Child & Family Debates – – Bill would give grandparents more access to kids
Maria Babbage April 24, 2008

A proposal that would see Ontario join other provinces in giving grandparents more access to their grandchildren gained widespread support in the legislature today, prompting several politicians to drop their usual defences and share deeply personal stories.

The private member’s bill, which passed second reading Thursday and was sent to committee for further review, asks courts to recognize the importance of grandparents when making decisions in the best interests of children.

The bill received support from all parties and sparked an unusually frank debate about the importance of grandparents in children’s lives.

Liberal backbencher Kim Craitor opened up about his past in making a case for his bill, speaking eloquently of the elderly couple who took him in when he was a child in the custody of the Children’s Aid Society.

“To me, they’re my parents,” said Craitor, who never knew his real parents and lived with the couple until he was 16.

“But in fact, if you look at their age, they were really grandparents. And I often wonder in my life where I would have been and what would have happened to me if those two kind people hadn’t taken me in.”

When he heard the horror stories of grandparents blocked from seeing their grandchildren, it touched a nerve, Craitor said.

Private member’s bills rarely become law, but the show of support by the NDP and Progressive Conservatives gave him hope that the legislation has a real shot at becoming law.

“This is the third time that I’ve introduced the bill, and I think each time we’ve gained more momentum,” he said outside the legislature.

“So I’m feeling pretty good, but mostly I’m feeling good for the grandparents.”

The issue stirred up an emotional response from NDP critic Cheri DiNovo, who paid tribute to her grandmother for keeping their family together.

“We grew up in a very fractious house with a lot of trauma, and my grandmother was one of those incredible grandparents … who actually provided the stability that we needed, both financial and emotional,” said DiNovo, who lived on the streets for a time as a troubled adolescent.

“She provided the example, I think, that allowed us to grow and to grow with some strength, and to overcome hardship and adversity.”

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon all have similar laws that help grandparents, Craitor said.

But the law isn’t on the grandparents’ side when they find themselves separated from their grandchildren in Ontario, said Betty Cornelius, president of the advocacy group CanGrands.

Cornelius, 56, raised one of her granddaughters, now 14, after spending thousands of dollars to gain custody of the abused girl from her drug-addicted parents.

Cornelius said she doesn’t even know where her other granddaughter lives, despite repeated attempts to contact her. Their only meeting took place years ago, when she spotted the girl in a park. In desperation, she followed the girl and her mother to a store.

“I bent down, I looked right into her eyes, and I asked her her name, and it was my granddaughter,” Cornelius said, her voice breaking.

“And I couldn’t do nothing because I would scare her.”

When she asked the girl’s mother if she could be a part of her granddaughter’s life, she was rejected, she said. She’s hasn’t seen the girl since.

“There was a little girl born the same week as my granddaughter in the church,” Cornelius said.

“I see her and I look at her, and every week, I think, ‘Oh, is my granddaughter doing that?”‘

Other grandparents have drained savings trying to rescue their grandchildren from abusive environments, only to have them end up in foster care, Cornelius said. She’s heard other stories of children cut out of their grandparents’ lives because they won’t give money to the child’s parents.

Attorney General Chris Bentley said he’s working with Craitor, but wouldn’t say whether the government will support the bill.

“The law exists now to provide access to grandparents, to consider the great benefit that having access to your grandparents brings to the lives of children,” he said.

“I’ve been working with Kim to determine whether the law, as it exists, is enough, or whether we need the additions that Kim’s bill presents.”

Concerns have been raised by opposition parties that the legislation may require amendments to ensure that child abusers can’t use it to gain access to children.

The Progressive Conservatives support the bill in principle, but it’s best to give families the opportunity to sort out such matters first, said critic Tim Hudak.

“I think Kim Craitor’s greatest enemy on getting this bill passed is Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal cabinet,” he said.


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