Quebec opposition parties want family law mega-bill split up to pass transgender updates first

(Freestocks)

The only way Bill 2, Quebec's attempt to reform family law, can be adopted before the current legislative session ends on June 10 is to split it up, the opposition parties said in unison on Wednesday.

At the eleventh hour, the Liberal Party of Quebec, the Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire have joined together to ask Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette to agree to split the huge bill, which contains some 360 ​​articles plus appendices and runs to over 100 pages.

They say they'd rather see this done in order to adopt at least part of it, rather than seeing it die as a whole.

The three parties said they believe there isn't enough time to seriously study a reform on this scale of magnitude, which also addresses many delicate social issues.

At a press conference, the three parties asked the minister to separate out, in particular, the articles of the legislation dealing with questions of sexual identity, which are under a well-advanced detailed study.

Under this plan, transgender and non-binary people would be more assured of getting a better legal framework in the short term -- something they've demanded for years.

For example, on official state documents, no one would be required to identify themselves as male or female. They could check an "X" box. A non-binary person who gives birth to a child could also identify simply as the baby's "parent," instead of "father" or "mother."

There are myriad other issues contained in the bill, including the supervision of surrogate pregnancies, the rules of filiation and parentage, parental forfeiture, and the right of children born from sperm donors or surrogates to know their origins.

But those would be the subject of another bill that could be studied by the end of the session if time permits.

'THE COMMODIFICATION OF THE FEMALE BODY MUST BE AVOIDED'

If the portion of Bill 2 devoted to sexual identity were moved into a separate bill, there would still be at least 140 articles to study, with barely a few days of parliamentary workdays available.

"We cannot legislate like that, with such important issues, while then having the feeling that, if everything is not adopted, we will lose everything, even though we're working well," said the PQ's Véronique Hivon.

It's "impossible" to do such important work in such a short time, added the Liberals' Jennifer Maccarone, giving the example of the ethical issues related to surrogate pregnancies.

"The commodification of the female body must be avoided. It is very important to protect the women concerned," she argued, adding that strict guidelines had to be defined for them to follow, and also for the intended parents.

She maintained that from the start, the opposition has cooperated fully with the government, but that does not seem to be enough. She said she regrets that the minister "wants to proceed at high speed" on such delicate issues.

During a brief press scrum in a hallway of the National Assembly, Jolin-Barrette did not completely close the door to the opposition's proposal, but he said he's convinced that if the opposition collaborates well in the next few days, Bill 2 can still be passed in its entirety, despite the tight deadline.

"By working together, we can do it," he said, stressing the importance of this update of family law, which has been anticipated for decades.

But according to the opposition, it is an almost impossible mission.

"The observation that we're making is that it will be difficult, maybe even impossible" by June 10, said Solidaire spokesperson Alexandre Leduc.

"We don't want to play the wrong part here -- we want to do our job, like everyone else. There are serious issues, with serious questions, which we have the right to ask, then we want to give ourselves the freedom to be able to ask them," he added.

COURT RULED THAT GENDER-RELATED CHANGES HAD TO HAPPEN THIS YEAR

The Liberal opposition had already made a proposal to the minister that he split up his ambitious bill, but in vain.

Jolin-Barrette tabled the bill on October 21, but its detailed study only began last week.

Quebec had no choice on whether to introduce a bill on the specific issue of gender during the current session -- it had to do so to comply with a judgment of the Superior Court, delivered by Judge Gregory Moore on January 28, 2021, which rendered null and void several articles of the Civil Code that he deemed to discriminate against non-binary people.

If he does not succeed in having Bill 2 passed by the end of this parliamentary session, Minister Jolin-Barrette will have to ask for a second extension to comply with the Moore judgment.

Bill 2, which will modify the Civil Code, will overall come as the first modernization of family law in four decades in Quebec, during an era during which much has changed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 25, 2022.

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