It’s Time for a Royal Commission on the Family



October 26, 2007

By Mark Penninga

“Married people outnumbered for the first time” rang out a recent CBC news headline. The story came in response to Statistics Canada releasing its survey of the Canadian family. That survey revealed that for the first time ever in this country, unmarried people over the age of 15 outnumber those who are married. Some other findings were that:

– For the first time ever there are more families without children than with children.
– There are 1.4 million common-law families, an increase of 18.4 per cent since 2001.
– Of the families with children, 26 per cent have only one parent.
– There are over 45,000 same-sex couples, half of which live in Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal.

We don’t need statistics to convince us that the institution of the family is on shaky ground. We can see it all around us and many of us are affected directly within our own families. Numerous reasons can be ascribed to the breakdown of the family. The push to get Christian principles out of public life, the influence of the media, and the sexual revolution are but a few of the precursors to the sad state that we now find the family in. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons is the poor decisions that our leaders and officials have been setting. Our courts and governments are subjecting marriage and the family to an unprecedented social experiment.

Three Parent Case

A good example of our court’s reengineering of the family came at the beginning of this year. The Ontario Court of Appeal came down with a decision that should have made Christians stand up in protest. A judge agreed to let a five year old boy have 3 legal parents – his biological mother, her lesbian partner, and the biological father who is a friend of the women. This decision only makes sense for a court that has chosen to make its decisions apart from any standard of right and wrong. The reasoning is that if these people want to live like a family, why shouldn’t they get the same rights as other families? Our courts have decided that family is defined by our preferences rather than any objective reality.

The result of this way of thinking is that there is no reason to stop at three parents. In a story on this court decision in Today’s Family News, Dave Quist, the executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) brought up some potential situations where this precedent could open the door to many other types of “families.” “If partners separate and join up with somebody else and they ask for legal status, where does it end? Do we get three, four, five, six parents legally involved? If a lesbian couple wanted to have children and they had a sperm donor, what if the biological dad wanted to be a legal parent but [unlike in this case] the lesbian couple said no?” There is no doubt that having three or more parents can be nothing but problems for a child. When a family like that breaks apart, will the child get shipped to each of the parent’s homes? Broken homes with two parents competing for a child is bad enough.

Ending the Experiment

What would it take to get our governments and courts to stop the social experiment? Given their infatuation with rights, the future looks bleak. But as Christians who are called to be a witness in this world, we should not just write our country off. Instead, we can use this opportunity to witness about the wonderful nature of marriage and the family as God made it. We can do this first by being an example. Nothing is more powerful than living how we were meant to – with godly families that live in accordance to the principles that God set out. When our neighbours see how healthy and flourishing family life can be, it will serve as a testimony to the importance of upholding traditional marriage and families.

But aside from being an example, is there anything else we can do? The IMFC brought forward an interesting idea earlier this year that few people have given much thought to. Why not have a Royal Commission that studies the state of the family in Canada?

What is a Royal Commission?

A Royal Commission is a major public study of a problem that our country is struggling with. Often it deals with controversial issues, such as the status of women or which reproductive technologies we should legalize or criminalize. These commissions meet with experts as well as the general public, and attempt to come up with specific recommendations to deal with the problem being studied. As the name suggests, it is officially requested by the Governor General (as the Queen’s representative). However, she makes this call as a result of notification from our federal cabinet. Royal Commissions have an enormous amount of power, but this power is limited to coming up with a report. It is up to Parliament to decide if they actually want to follow the recommendations. Library and Archives Canada lists over 200 Royal Commissions which have occurred since Confederation.

How Would This Help the State of the Family?

What would be the benefits of having a Royal Commission on the family? We know that there are many good reasons to uphold the traditional family. This is supported by academic studies which testify to the importance of stable, two-parent families. By examining these studies on the family, both our leaders and the public will have more awareness about why it is so important to protect it, rather than subject it to a social experiment in the name of rights. Royal Commissions may not have any power to implement their recommendations, but they sure have influence. When the government has to make a decision, it looks to the research that has already been done. It will be able to draw on the recommendations of this Royal Commission to stop the social experiment and promote the traditional family unit.

There is no way to confirm that a Royal Commission would indeed come to the conclusion that we need to stop breaking down the family. We know that studies can be twisted and opposite conclusions can be justified with other studies. However, if there has ever been a good time to engage in this, it is now. Our current federal government would be most likely to appoint decent people to oversee this commission. A commission may be appealing to this government because it will allow it to address an issue which many of its MPs care deeply about, while at the same time keeping a distance between the government and controversial family issues (such as the definition of marriage or divorce). Furthermore, a commission would provide Christians with another opportunity to become engaged in the consultative process and testify to why we believe families must be protected. Organizations like local ARPA’s can meet with the commission on behalf of Reformed churches. Non-political organizations such as Christian counselling agencies could also offer input about the importance of promoting traditional families.

Making this Suggestion a Reality
In October, our local ARPA group in Southern Alberta met with our Member of Parliament Rick Casson. This proposal for a Royal Commission was one of the suggestions that we brought forward. We were very encouraged by his favourable reception to this idea. It seemed that he had not heard of this idea before. Mr. Casson explained to us that the most effective way to make a difference is to meet with him and that it would be wise to get others to do this with their MP’s across the country. Whether you have a local ARPA in your area or not, now is an opportune time to get a few people together and schedule a meeting with your MP. If a number of MPs are bringing this suggestion to the Minister of Justice or Prime Minister at the same time, it may have a powerful effect. You can also write a letter or make a phone call to your MP or the Justice Minister. We can all work together to promote a proactive solution to the state of the family in Canada.
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