Grandparents push again for access to grandchildren in custody disputes

Some grandparents in Ontario are making another attempt to change the province's Children's Law Reform Act to ensure they get access to their grandchildren when parents separate or divorce.

Six previous versions of the bill have died

An estimated 75,000 Ontario grandparents have been denied access to about 112,000 children, which they say causes needless alienation, pain and suffering. (Shutterstock)

Some grandparents in Ontario are making another attempt to change the province's Children's Law Reform Act to ensure they get access to their grandchildren when parents separate or divorce.

An estimated 75,000 Ontario grandparents have been denied access to about 112,000 children, which they say causes needless alienation, pain and suffering.

A private member's bill from New Democrat Michael Mantha that would ensure courts give grandparents a chance to make a case for access to children during custody disputes has received second reading in the legislature.

"This bill is really focused on grandchildren's rights as well, because denying them access to their grandparents is detrimental to their well-being, to their upbringing," said Mantha, who represents the Algoma—Manitoulin district.

 "Many children find being with grandpa and grandma is a safe and trustworthy environment, and environment of love."

Ottawa group pushing for change

Sonya Cianciullo, of Ottawa, is with Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, a group that has been pushing to change Ontario's "antiquated" law since 2005.

We are here to fight for the rights of our grandchildren because they do not have a voice.- Sonya Cianciullo

Members of the group want their grandchildren to know they did everything they possibly could to have a loving relationship with them, said Cianciullo.

"We are not here to fight for ourselves," she said. "We are here to fight for the rights of our grandchildren because they do not have a voice and their rights are sometimes not respected."

Wanda Davies of Toronto said using children as pawns in divorces by denying them access to their grandparents and isolating them from family members amounts to psychological and emotional abuse.

"The pain inflicted on our grandchildren and grandparents is beyond description," she said. "It's a living bereavement."

Grandparents say they can provide guidance and security that is sometimes lacking at home, but the courts refuse to give them any special consideration in custody cases, even when the parents have died or given up their rights.

"Grandparents can be indispensable in reducing and preventing increased cases of delinquency and adolescent maladjustment by giving grandchildren attention, love and someone to talk to," said Frank Cianciullo.

"We just want the opportunity to love our grandchildren."

Other provinces have passed laws

The NDP said Ontario lags behind Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Yukon and Quebec, which all passed legislation to address grandparents rights.

Mantha's bill would ensure the courts consider the merits of individual cases and determine the granting of access based on whether contact would be appropriate in the circumstances.

Children benefit from the love, guidance and stability that their grandparents can provide, and should have the opportunity to bond with them, he added.

"We're trying to accomplish something that is in the best interests of the child," said Mantha.

Six previous versions of the bill to give grandparents more rights to access their grandchildren received second reading as well, only to die on the order paper when elections were called or the legislature was prorogued.

"There is no reason why there should be an eighth time to come back and present this bill," said Mantha. "We're hoping this is the last time this bill is introduced and it will become law."

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi's office said the government supported Mantha's bill on second reading and is looking forward to discussing it at committee.

"A grandparent already has the ability to obtain an order for access to their grandchild, if it is found to be in the child's best interests," said Naqvi's press secretary, Lauren Ramey. "We want to ensure that, in cases where grandparents are capable, loving and caring guardians, grandparents are given the legal authority to care for children."