Here’s Why Family Law Should be an Ontario Election Issue
If you ask your neighbours to define the family, responses might range from the natural family unit - a mother and father and their biological children – all the way to any social grouping they want it to be. While the way society or the government defines family does not change the reality of the family as instituted by God, how the family is defined in law does indicate where our society is headed in its denial of the family as an independent, fundamental, and the most basic unit of society. This denial or lack of understanding has serious implications for children.
In 2016, the Ontario government under Premier Kathleen Wynne introduced the All Families are Equal Act. The bill was touted as one that would be good for children in Ontario, and which would create equality for all types of families. In reality, it radically redefined the family and what it means to be a legal parent in a way that reflected what adults want instead of what is good for children. The new law came into force on January 1, 2017, and has been in effect for just over 5 years. Although there are many significant issues with this law, we have chosen to focus on four points.
Four Key Issues
If you look up what a family is according to Ontario law, it can be confusing. There are various laws that deal with the family. The Children’s Law Reform Act (the law that was amended by the All Families are Equal Act) defines legal parentage. The law used to state that “for all purposes of the law of Ontario a person is the child of his or her natural parents and his or her status as their child is independent of whether the child is born within or outside of marriage,” with the only exception being adopted children. This has been simplified to state, “A person is the child of his or her parents.” Another Ontario law defines a child as “includ[ing] a person whom a parent has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of his or her family.” This is the first issue: the legislative change ultimately disconnects parentage from any objective standard and allows for various ways to become a legal parent (outside of adoption).
The second issue is that the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’ no longer exist in Ontario law. Mothers are referred to simply as the “birth parent.” The birth parent is typically legally recognized as the parent of a child … unless a surrogate is used. Fathers also do not exist in the law but are referred to as “the person whose sperm resulted in the conception of a child conceived through sexual intercourse.” The spouse or partner of the birth parent is generally recognized as the parent of the child as well. However, the law allows the biological father of a child to opt out of being a legal parent to the child.
Third, the law permits various arrangements by which multiple adults can sign an agreement to become legal parents of a child. The first type of contract is a ‘surrogacy agreement.’ Adults can sign an agreement with a surrogate mother who carries the child and agrees to give up her legal parentage within seven days of the child’s birth. Additionally, the number of possible legal parents is not limited to two but can include up to four or five adults, none of whom must have a biological connection to the child being born.
The final issue is one that intersects with the three issues mentioned above. Ontario law fails to connect children with their biological parents and instead bases parenting on ‘intent.’ In other words, the desires of adults dictate what a family is, rather than the needs of children. With legal and medical advancements around surrogacy and in vitro fertilization, it has become easy for adults to ‘acquire’ a child in various ways, and also easy for parents to distance themselves from their rightful responsibility for their offspring. While Ontario’s adoption system recognizes that adoptive parents should be screened to determine if they are fit to parent a child, other ‘intent-based parenting’ as defined in Ontario law includes no such screening or safeguards.
The most stable family structure is a mother, a father, and their biological children. Mothers and fathers are both critical to a child’s upbringing, and biology is the only objective starting point when defining legal parentage. Multiple studies show that children fare best when living with their married, biological parents. Children are at an increased risk of abuse when living with unrelated adults and having up to four unrelated adults as ‘parents’ only compounds that risk.
To lose a father or a mother is never good for a child, whether because of death, divorce, abandonment, or ‘intent-based parenting.’ Of course, sometimes circumstances that cause a child to lose their parent(s) are tragic and unavoidable. Likewise, sometimes children must be removed from their biological parents due to neglect or abandonment. But the basis for the natural family remains the same.
Some might argue that alternative family arrangements, such as four-parent households, surrogacy agreements, in vitro fertilization, or other parenting situations, are no different than adoption. But there are three fundamental ways in which adoption is different:
- Adoption seeks to mend a broken situation and to provide a family for a child who has been separated from his or her biological family. On the other hand, surrogacy agreements and intent-based parenting create a broken situation where adults intentionally facilitate the removal of a child from his or her biological parents.
- With adoption, the child is the one who is being served, making sure that a child has parents who can care for them. With other alternative arrangements, the adults are the ones being served and the child has to make sacrifices to ensure that adults can have a child without the safeguards of the adoption process.
- Adoptive parents support an adopted child through their loss and are not the cause of the trauma of the child losing their family. In alternative family arrangements, children are living with the adults who caused them to be removed from their biological family and must accommodate and support the adults. Adoption is a critical and necessary solution to situations where children lose their biological parent(s). However, it is vastly different than the additional solutions provided in Ontario law.
In his book The Mission of God, Joe Boot writes, “The family has great power for good toward the well-being of society and it has power in the church and through the church. That is why to attack the family is the surest way to destroy Christianity in a culture or nation and it is why the family must be protected and fought for” (pg. 422). This also has relevance for how the family is defined in law.
Make Family Law an Election Issue
Family law is not a new issue in Ontario, as the radical changes in the law have been in place for five years already. However, it is a critically important issue and the negative effects of such a law are not being discussed. That’s why we are focusing on some of these key issues regarding family law in Ontario.
Ontario has an election on June 2, 2022. We’d like to encourage you to take this opportunity to learn about family law and discuss these issues with your MPP and candidates during the election campaign. Stay tuned for further information and action items on this topic prior to and following the upcoming election period.
Note: This is a brief re-introduction to the issue of family law in Ontario. When the All Families are Equal Act was passed in 2016, ARPA Canada provided written commentary which can be found here and here for further information.