Polyamory in Canada: Research on an Emerging Family Structure

John-Paul Boyd, M.A., LL.B.

Executive Director
Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (University of Calgary)

 
The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family began a study of perceptions of polyamory in Canada in June 2016. The project is only midway through its course, but the data collected so far have important implications for law and policy in the coming decades, as the meaning of family continues to evolve.

The term polyamory is a mash-up of the Greek word for much or many and the Latin word for love. As these roots suggest, people who are polyamorous are, or prefer to be, involved in more than one intimate relationship at a time. Some polyamorists are involved in stable, long-term, loving relationships involving two or more other people. Others are simultaneously engaged in a number of relationships of varying degrees of permanence and commitment. Still others are involved in a web of concurrent relationships ranging from short-term relationships that are purely sexual in nature to more enduring relationships characterized by deep emotional attachments.

 

Polyamory
The practice or condition of participating in more than one intimate relationship at a time. It is usually not related to religion and it is unrelated to marriage.

Polygamy
The practice or condition of having more than one spouse, typically a wife, at one time, usually for religious reasons.

 

Polyamory and polygamy

For many people, TLC’s Sister Wives and the religious community in Bountiful, British Columbia are what come to mind when polyamory is mentioned. However, there are a number of differences between polyamory and the polygamy practised by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that being the common connection between Sister Wives and Bountiful. Polygamy in this sense refers to marriages – the “gamy” of polygamy comes from the Greek for marriage – between one man and many wives that are mandated by scripture and distinctly patriarchal.

In contrast, surveyed polyamorists involved in relationships with two or more other adults place a high value on the equality of their partners, regardless of gender or parental status. They tend to believe that their partners should have a say in changes to their relationships and should be able to leave those relationships how and when they wish.

Although Statistics Canada doesn’t track the number of Canadians who are polyamorous or engaged in polyamorous relationships, in just three weeks we received 547 valid responses to a survey on polyamory advertised primarily through social media.((Survey data have not been weighted.)) More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said that they are currently involved in a polyamorous relationship, and, of those who weren’t, two-fifths (39.9%) said that they had been involved in such a relationship in the last five years. More than four-fifths of respondents said that in their view the number of people who identity as polyamorous is increasing (82.4%), as is the number of people openly involved in polyamorous relationships (80.9%).
 

If the number of people involved in polyamorous relationships is indeed growing, the potential economic and legal implications are significant, as almost all of Canada’s most important social institutions are predicated on the assumption that adult relationships come only in pairs.

 
If the number of people involved in polyamorous relationships is indeed growing, the potential economic and legal implications are significant, as almost all of Canada’s most important social institutions are predicated on the assumption that adult relationships come only in pairs. The Canada Pension Plan pays survivor’s benefits to only one spouse; the Old Age Security spousal allowance can only be paid to one partner. The forms we use to calculate our liability to the Canada Revenue Agency likewise assume that taxpayers have sequential but not concurrent relationships, an assumption shared by the provincial legislation on wills and estates and, for the most part, the provincial legislation on domestic relations.
 

Polyamorists in Canada are generally younger, and live in diverse relationships

Most of the respondents to our survey live in British Columbia (144), followed by Ontario (116), Alberta (71) and Quebec (37). Respondents tend to be younger than the general Canadian population, with 75% of respondents being between the ages of 25 and 44, compared to 26% of the general population, and only 16% of respondents being age 45 or older, compared to 44% of the general population.

Most of the respondents to our survey had completed high school (96.7%), and respondents’ highest levels of education attained were undergraduate degrees (26.3%), followed by post-graduate or professional degrees (19.2%) and college diplomas (16.3%). Respondents reported achieving significantly higher levels of educational attainment than the general population of Canada: 37% of respondents reported holding an undergraduate university degree, compared with 17% of the general population; and 19% of respondents reported holding a post-graduate or professional degree, compared with 8% of the general population.
 
 

 
The respondents to our survey also tended to have higher incomes than their peers in the general Canadian population. Fewer respondents (46.8%) had incomes under $40,000 per year than the general population (60%), and more respondents (31%) had incomes of $60,000 or more per year than the general population (23%). Although almost half of our respondents had annual incomes of less than $39,999, almost two-thirds of respondents were not the sole income-earner in their household (65.4%) and more than three-fifths of respondents’ households (62.3%) had total incomes between $80,000 and $149,999 per year.

Slightly less than one-third of respondents identified as male (30%) and almost three-fifths identified as female (59.7%); the rest identified as genderqueer (3.5%), gender fluid (3.2%), transgender (1.3%) or “other” (2.2%). A plurality of respondents described their sexuality as either heterosexual (39.1%) or bisexual (31%).

Most of the respondents to our survey described themselves as atheists (33.9%) or agnostic (28.2%). Of those subscribing to an organized faith, most said that they were Christian (non-denominational, 7.2%; Roman Catholic, 3.2%; Protestant, 1.3%). However, more than one-fifth of respondents (22.1%) described their faith as “other,” including Quakers, pagans and polytheists.

We also asked our respondents about their relationships and living arrangements. Almost two-thirds of the respondents answering this question said that their relationship involved three people (64.6%), 17.9% said that their relationship involved four people and 13.8% said that their relationship involved six or more people. Only one-fifth of respondents said that the members of their relationship lived in a single household (19.7%). Where the members of a family lived in more than one household, most lived in two households (44.3%) or three households (22.2%).

 


 
Where the members of a family live in a single household, three-fifths of respondents’ households involved at least one married couple (61.2%), and there was only one married couple in those households. Where the members of a family lived in more than one household, almost half involved at least one married couple (45.4%), and 85% of those households involved one married couple while the remainder involved two married couples (12.9%), three married couples (1.4%) and more than three married couples (0.7%).

Almost one-quarter of the survey respondents (23.2%) said that at least one child under the age of 19 lives full-time in their household under the care of at least one parent or guardian, and 8.7% said that at least one child lives part-time in their household under the care of at least one parent or guardian.
 
 

 
To summarize, the respondents to our survey tended to be younger, with higher levels of education and higher employment rates than the general Canadian population. Twice as many respondents identified as female than male, and roughly equal numbers of respondents described themselves as heterosexual and bisexual. Most respondents involved in polyamorous relationships at the time of the survey were involved in a relationship with two other people. However, a significant number of respondents were involved in relationships with more than three other people and the members of most respondents’ relationships live in two or more households.
 

Surveyed polyamorists highly value equality in relationships and family decision-making

The survey also explored attitudes toward polyamorous relationships and the people involved in them, and about their perceptions of the attitude of the general public toward polyamory.

On the whole, respondents strongly endorsed the equality of members of their relationships, regardless of gender and parental status. More than eight in 10 respondents (82.1%) strongly agreed and 12.5% agreed with the statement that everyone in a polyamorous relationship should be treated equally regardless of gender or gender identity. More than half (52.9%) strongly agreed and 21.5% agreed with the statement that everyone in a polyamorous relationship should be treated equally regardless of parental or guardianship status.

Likewise, a large majority of respondents agreed that all members of their relationships should have a say about changes in those relationships. About eight in 10 (80.5%) strongly agreed or agreed that everyone in a polyamorous relationship should have an equal say about changes in the nature of the relationship, and 70.3% strongly agreed or agreed that everyone in a polyamorous relationship should have an equal say about introducing new people into the relationship. More than nine in 10 respondents (92.9%) strongly agreed and 6.3% agreed with the statement that each person in a polyamorous relationship should have the right to leave the relationship if and when they choose.

Respondents’ conviction in the equality, autonomy and participation of the members of their relationships likely explains another important finding from our research: 89.2% of respondents strongly agreed and 9.2% agreed with the statement that everyone in a polyamorous relationship should have the responsibility to be honest and forthright with each other.

The views of the general public toward polyamory have doubtless been complicated by the popularity of television shows dealing with polygamy, such as Sister Wives, My Five Wives, another TLC offering, and Big Love, from HBO, and by the publicity attracted by the recent criminal prosecution of a number of community leaders from Bountiful under s. 293 of the Criminal Code. The views of respondents themselves have also been influenced by the Criminal Code, sections 291 and 293 of which respectively prohibit bigamy and polygamy.

Although most respondents said that public tolerance of polyamory is growing (72.6%), more than eight in 10 (80.6%) agreed that people see polyamorous relationships as a kind of kink or fetish. Furthermore, only 16.7% of respondents agreed that people see polyamorous relationships as a legitimate form of family

Polyamorous families have a unique and complex relationship with the law

The responsibilities of people involved in long-term, committed polyamorous families tend to be complicated, especially when those responsibilities must intersect with people outside the family, government services and the law. The difficulties faced by polyamorous families, especially those with children, cover every aspect of life in Canada:

  • Who will schools recognize as parents and guardians, entitled to pick children up from school, give permission for outings or talk to teachers about academic performance?
  • Who can get information from and give instruction to doctors, dentists, counsellors and other health care providers?
  • Who can receive benefits from an employee’s health insurance? Who is entitled to coverage under provincial health care plans (e.g., OHIP in Ontario or MSP in British Columbia)?
  • Who is entitled to claim public benefits such as the Old Age Security spousal allowance or Canada Pension Plan survivor’s benefits?
  • What are the rights and entitlements of multiple adults under the provincial legislation on wills and estates, or the federal legislation on immigration?
  • How many adults may participate in the legal parentage of a child under the legislation on adoption and assisted reproduction?
  • What are the rights and entitlements of individuals leaving polyamorous families under the provincial legislation on domestic relations?

 
Many of the answers to these questions come down to how the applicable laws, policies and rules define terms such as parent, spouse and guardian, adult interdependent partner in Alberta, or common-law partner under most federal statutes.

The responsibilities of people involved in long-term, committed polyamorous families tend to be complicated, especially when those responsibilities must intersect with people outside the family, government services and the law.  

Although schools and hospitals tend to look at the nature of the relationship between the individuals in question rather than a textbook definition of “parent,” agencies providing benefits tend to cleave more rigidly to narrowly defined terms. Some polyamorous families, for example, have been required to decide which of the adults in their family will be deemed to be an employee’s “spouse” for the purposes of health care and prescription coverage, resulting in the coverage of the employee and the family member selected as his or her spouse, but the denial of benefits to others.

The most urgent of these questions, however, likely relate to individuals’ entitlements and obligations under the provincial legislation on domestic relations. When committed polyamorous relationships come to an end, the same range of problems tend to arise as those faced by people ending monogamous relationships. Depending on the circumstances, the departure of one or more members of a polyamorous family may result in disagreements about: where children will live, how parenting decisions will be made and how much time the children will have with whom; whether child support must be paid, and if so who must pay it; whether a person is entitled to spousal support, and if so who is responsible for paying it; and how property and debt will be distributed, and whether an individual is entitled to an interest in property owned only by other family members.
 

When committed polyamorous relationships come to an end, the same range of problems tend to arise as those faced by people ending monogamous relationships.

 
On the whole, the legislation of the common law provinces tends toward the generous extension of rights and duties relating to children but takes a more parsimonious approach to spousal support and the division of property.

In keeping with the child-first approach of the Child Support Guidelines, the statutes of Canada’s common law provinces all impose a liability for child support on persons who are step-parents or stand in the place of a parent to a child, whether anyone else is subject to a pre-existing child support liability or not. As a result, all members of a polyamorous family are potentially liable to pay support for a member’s child, particularly where the child’s primary residence was the polyamorous household.

A dependent adult family member may be entitled to spousal support from another member of a polyamorous family if:

a) the person is a married spouse of the other member; or,

b) the person qualifies as an adult interdependent partner (Alberta), an unmarried spouse (British Columbia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan), a partner (Newfoundland and Labrador) or a common-law partner (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia) of another member.((Note that the legal situation in Quebec is different than in the rest of the rest of Canada’s provinces since it is governed by civil law rather than the common law system used in the other provinces. As such, it is beyond the scope of this article.))

A dependent adult family member may be entitled to spousal support from more than one family member where the legislation is not written so as to preclude the possibility of concurrent spousal relationships, as it is in Alberta, or the person qualifies as an unmarried spouse or partner of those members, as may be the case for families living in British Columbia.

In all of the common law provinces but Alberta and Manitoba, a child’s parents may share custody of the child, as well as the associated rights to receive information about the child and make decisions concerning the child, with:

a) other family members who fall within the statutory definition of guardian (British Columbia, Nova Scotia) or parent (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Prince Edward Island); and,

b) any other family members where the legislation does not require a biological relationship to apply for custody (British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan).

The legislation of British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador additionally allow more people than the biological parents of a child to have standing as the legal parents of that child when the child is conceived through assisted reproduction.

In all of the common law provinces except Manitoba, a child’s parents may share guardianship of the child, and the associated obligations as trustees of the child’s property, with one or more other family members.

With the exception of British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, statutory rights to the possession and ownership of property are restricted to married spouses in the common law provinces, limiting the relief available to the unmarried members of a polyamorous family to:

a) the legislation generally applicable to co-owned real and personal property; and,

b) whichever principles of equity and the common law might apply in the circumstances of the relationship.

The statutory property rights available to the members of polyamorous families in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan arise from the application of the legislation to unmarried spouses (British Columbia, Saskatchewan) and common-law partners (Manitoba), and the failure of the legislation to preclude the possibility of concurrent spousal relationships.
 

A look down the road

The traditional model of the Western nuclear family, consisting of married heterosexual parents and their legitimate offspring, which prevailed almost unaltered for more than 1,000 years, has been evolving at an ever-increasing pace since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, along with the legal concepts and structures that support it. The legal disabilities of married women, such as their inability to own property or conduct business in their own names, were the first to go, followed by the disabilities associated with bastardy, such as the inability to inherit or assume their father’s title.

The federal Divorce Act first allowed Canadians to end their marriages other than by dying in 1968, and the baby boomers, the oldest of whom turned 65 in 2011, are the first generation to have lived almost the whole of their adult lives under federal divorce legislation. Not only has the stigma associated with divorce largely evaporated, but the rate of remarriage and repartnering has continued to rise over the last two decades, as has the number of blended families, which seem to now be as commonplace as unblended families.

Sexual orientation became a prohibited ground of discrimination in the mid-1990s, following which same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario in 2002, and in eight other provinces and territories in rapid succession thereafter, until the introduction of the federal Civil Marriage Act in 2005 legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. Legislation giving unmarried cohabiting couples property rights identical to those of married spouses became law in Saskatchewan in 2001, in Manitoba in 2004 and in British Columbia in 2011.

In Canada, family is now thoroughly unmoored from marriage, gender, sexual orientation, reproduction and childrearing; the presumption that romantic relationships, whether casual, cohabiting or conjugal, are limited to two persons at one time is likely to be the next focal point of change.

The scant data currently available on polyamorous relationships suggest that the number of people involved in such families is not insignificant and may be increasing: according to a 2009 article in Newsweek, Loving More, a magazine aimed at polyamorous individuals, has “15,000 regular readers,” and more than 500,000 Americans live in openly polyamorous relationships; in Polyamory in the Twenty-First Century, author Deborah Anapol estimates that one in 500 Americans are polyamorous; and the website of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, polyadvocacy.ca, identifies two other national organizations supporting or connecting people involved in polyamorous relationships and eight similar regional organizations based in the Maritimes, 36 in Quebec and Ontario, 23 in the prairie provinces and 22 in British Columbia.
 

We have successfully accommodated significant, transformational change to how we think of family in the past, and we will do so again.

 
If the prevalence of polyamory is indeed increasing, a significant number of our most important social customs and institutions will need to evolve. This will require a reconsideration of how we think of parenthood and how we distribute the liabilities parenthood entails. It will also have an impact on how we demarcate those committed adult relationships that attract legal entitlements and obligations and those that do not, as well as how these entitlements and obligations are distributed among more than two people.

Although the magnitude of potential change is significant, it is not pressingly imminent; we have time to acclimate and adapt to the rising number of polyamorous individuals and families. We have successfully accommodated significant, transformational change to how we think of family in the past, and we will do so again.

 


John-Paul Boyd, M.A., LL.B., is the Executive Director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, a multidisciplinary non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Calgary.

To learn more about John-Paul Boyd’s research into polyamorous relationships and family law, see “Polyamorous Families in Canada: Early Results of New Research from CRILF” from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family.

Download this article in PDF format.

Published on April 11, 2017




Infographic: Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada

Caregiving is a fact of life and a common family experience in Canada. At some point in their lives, most family members have provided – or will provide – care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need. However, Canadians don’t share a single narrative or caregiving experience, as social, economic, cultural and environmental factors shape who is expected to provide care, what kind of care they provide and the consequences of managing caregiving in addition to paid work.

And while the gap between women and men has lessened over the past generation, caregivers have historically been disproportionately women, and this remains true today. Research also shows that on average, women in Canada devote more time to caregiving tasks than men and are more likely to experience negative consequences as a result of their caregiving.

Our new infographic Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada explores family caregiving and work in Canada with a focus on women.

Highlights include:

  • 30% of all women in Canada reported that they provided care in 2012.
  • Women aged 45 and older reported having spent an estimated 5.8 years providing care throughout their lives, compared with 3.4 years for men.
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to report having spent 20 hours or more per week providing care (17% and 11%, respectively).
  • An estimated 72% of women caregivers aged 45 to 65 in Canada are also employed.
  • Women reported experiencing a variety of employment impacts as a result of their caregiving responsibilities: 30% reported missing at least one full day of work; 6.4% retired early, quit or lost their paid job; and 4.7% turned down a job offer or promotion.
  • Estimates show that women caregivers in Canada lost an aggregated $221 million in wages annually between 2003 and 2008 due to absenteeism, reducing work hours or leaving employment entirely.
  • Among women caregivers who have access to flexible work arrangements, half (47%) feel they cannot utilize these options without it having a negative impact on their careers.

 

Download the Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada infographic from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Learn more about women, family caregiving and work in Canada:

 


Published on March 28, 2017




A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada

At some point in our lives, there is a high likelihood that each of us will provide care to someone we know – and receive care ourselves. Family members are typically the first to step up to provide, manage and sometimes pay for this care.

Families are highly adaptable and most of the time people find ways to manage their multiple work and family responsibilities, obligations and commitments. However, juggling work and care can sometimes involve a great deal of time, energy and financial resources, and employers can play an important role in facilitating this care through accommodation, innovation and flexibility.

In A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada, we explore some of the family realities and trends that shape the “landscape of care” across the country. This resource highlights how our family, care and work responsibilities intersect, interact and have an impact on each other.

Highlights include:

  • 28% of Canadians (8.1M) report having provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need in the past year.
  • Three-quarters of family caregivers (6.1M) were employed at the time, accounting for 35% of ALL employed Canadians.
  • Most (83%) surveyed caregivers say their experience was positive, and 95% say they are effectively coping with their caregiving responsibilities.
  • 44% of employed caregivers report having missed an average 8–9 days of work in the past 12 months because of their care responsibilities.
  • More than one-third of young carers (36%) arrived to work late, left early or took time off due to their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Employers across Canada lose an estimated $5.5 billion annually in lost productivity due to caregiving-related absenteeism.
  • Research shows that caregiving provides a variety of benefits to caregivers, including a sense of personal growth, increased meaning and purpose, strengthened family relationships, increased empathy and skill development.

 

Reconciling care and work requires understanding, respect and recognition from employers that sometimes an employee’s family circumstances need focused attention. Research shows that family caregivers and their employers benefit from policies that are inclusive, flexible and responsive, and when employees have a clear understanding of the process for handling individual requests for accommodation and customizing work arrangements.

For nearly all Canadians, caregiving is inevitable at some point over the course of their lives. Care is not always predictable and does not always arise outside working hours. Open communication and creative approaches to harmonizing work and care in a flexible manner benefits employees, employers, the economy and society.

Download A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Learn more about family caregiving and work in Canada:

 


Published on February 21, 2017




Supporting the Health of Mothers and Their Babies in the Context of Incarceration

Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin and Brenda Tole

When a friend told Ruth Elwood Martin that there was a need for a part-time family physician to work in a women’s correctional centre, her immediate thought was that there was no way she could work in a prison clinic. She perceived that it was the lowest kind of medical job, only for those doctors who were unable to find any other type of work.

Ruth is not sure what drew her to start practising medicine in a prison, but she did. On that first day in 1994, she felt like she was visiting another planet, passing through those gates, experiencing another world and learning from the people inside it. Ruth saw more pathology and more tragic medical diagnoses than she had seen in a year in her regular family practice in Vancouver’s West Side.

In the clinic, women told her about traumatic events they endured as children, young teenagers and women. Ruth would put down her pen, bearing witness to their lives, and listen to medical and social histories she could not imagine enduring. That first day in her new position changed Ruth’s life forever and she knew that prison health would become her calling. Ruth has often reflected that if she had been dealt the same childhood cards as the women she met, she might be sitting in their chairs.

In 2003, Brenda Tole was assigned to oversee the remodelling of an older facility that had housed provincially incarcerated men and to open it as the “Alouette Correctional Centre for Women” (ACCW), a medium-security facility to house provincially sentenced women. If you are a parent with school-aged children, you will have noticed how the school principal greatly influences the overall ethos of a school. In a similar manner, the warden of a prison influences the ethos of the institution, which in turn influences the overall health of the inmates.

From the day it opened in 2004, Brenda shaped the tone and ethos of ACCW. She maintained that if you expect both staff and incarcerated individuals to treat each other with respect, they will rise to meet those expectations, at least most of the time. That’s how she planned and that’s how she ran ACCW, not on the basis that 1% of the population may breach those expectations.

Brenda knew that the more she gave people opportunities, the more they valued the opportunities and responded positively. The more she gave responsibility to the women for doing things themselves, and the more she talked with the staff about her plans, the better the situation would be for everyone.

During a meeting of key health care players planning for health care delivery at the new ACCW, Brenda met Sarah Payne, the director of Fir Square at BC Women’s Hospital, a maternity unit for substance-using mothers. Babies who remained with moms at Fir Square had positive health outcomes compared with the health of babies that were taken away from their moms at birth.((Ronald R. Abrahams et al., “Rooming-in Compared with Standard Care for Newborns of Mothers Using Methadone or Heroin,” Canadian Family Physician 53:10 (October 2007), http://bit.ly/2k4K29I.)) Sarah asked Brenda to consider the possibility that babies born to incarcerated mothers who came to the BC Women’s Hospital for their delivery might return with their mothers to ACCW, in order to foster breastfeeding, attachment and nurturing.

Separation through incarceration negatively affects the health of new mothers and their infants

With peer-reviewed academic literature growing on the subject, Brenda had good reason to consider this proposal. Evidence shows that one of the most compelling motivators for incarcerated women is pregnancy and their children. International correctional practices that promote contact between women and their children have shown benefits for both. Positive results have been seen in visits, email, tapes, telephone calls and letters. Children of incarcerated women are negatively impacted if the contact with their mother is limited or absent. Although it is accepted around the world that nursing infants and/or small children benefit from remaining with their incarcerated mothers, this was rarely seen in Canada at that time.

Many incarcerated women have dependent children. Worldwide, an estimated 6% of incarcerated women are pregnant while serving prison time.((Marian Knight and Emma Plugge, “The Outcomes of Pregnancy Among Imprisoned Women: A Systematic Review,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 112:11 (December 2005), doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2005.00749.x.)) An estimated 20,000 children each year are affected by the incarceration of their mothers in Canada,((Alison Cunningham and Linda Baker, Waiting for Mommy: Giving a Voice to the Hidden Victims of Imprisonment. London, ON: Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System, 2003.)) where women tend to be held in correctional centres that are large distances from their children and families due to the limited number of correctional facilities for women across the country.

The provision of mother–child units to women in prison who have given birth to their infants while incarcerated is considered normal practice in most countries in the world. Published reports of such units exist for 22 countries, including England, Wales, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, some US states, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Egypt, Mexico, India and Chile.((Helen Fair, “International Profile of Women’s Prisons,” World Prison Brief (February 7, 2008), http://bit.ly/2knx0BM.))((Kiran Bedi, It’s Always Possible: Transforming One of the Largest Prisons in the World. New Delhi: Stirling Paperbacks, 2006.))((Women’s Prison Association, “Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives,” Institute on Women & Criminal Justice (May 2009), http://bit.ly/2hwPK0L.))

One of the reasons for keeping incarcerated mothers with their newborn babies is that it facilitates breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization reports has health benefits for the infant and new mother.((World Health Organization, “Infant and Young Child Feeding,” Fact Sheet (September 2016), http://bit.ly/1o6MEg8.)) According to international health experts, babies should be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old if possible, and then continue to be breastfed on demand until they are two years of age. Babies who are not breastfed may be at increased risk for diabetes, allergies and gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.((Health Canada, “Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months,” A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (2013), http://bit.ly/LTH03C.))

In addition to the well-known health and nutritional benefits, some research has shown that breastfeeding can contribute to psychosocial development((Grace S. Marquis, “Breastfeeding and Its Impact on Child Psychosocial and Emotional Development,” Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development (March 2008), http://bit.ly/1cESBkC.)) – the associated physical contact, eye contact and the quality of feeding promote mother–child attachment. However, establishing and maintaining breastfeeding on demand is not possible unless mothers and babies can be housed together with 24-hour contact.

Typically, mothers who return to prison without their babies after giving birth are prescribed milk-binding pills and are often prescribed antidepressants. In this situation, many mothers experience profound grief and debilitating guilt, despair and hopelessness. Many resort to substance use as a coping strategy. 

Mother–child unit developed to support well-being of incarcerated mothers and their babies

In 2005, Brenda asked Ruth, “As the prison physician, what is your opinion about the idea of incarcerated women who deliver babies in hospital being able to return here with their babies?” Ruth felt it was the most sensible idea she had heard in years, and she then expanded her prison medical practice to perform new roles, such as newborn examinations, breastfeeding coaching and addressing medical questions about newborns.

Through collaboration and partnership with several other ministries and community agencies, a mother–child unit was developed at ACCW based on the best interests of the child. With the support of Corrections Branch Headquarters, the ACCW health care team, correctional staff (both managers and frontline staff) and other provincial ministry personnel, it was decided ACCW could facilitate the return of mothers and babies to ACCW when recommended by BC Women’s Hospital and agreed to by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), who had final authority over the placement of the child.

The decisions to place the mother and child together at the correctional facility were made by an interdisciplinary team consisting of the key staff from BC Women’s Hospital, ACCW health care, ACCW administration and the MCFD. If the mother was Indigenous, the pertinent Indigenous communities were consulted, when applicable. The mother and her family were included in all stages of this process. The support and services that Fir Square offered the mother before and after the birth fostered the mother’s confidence in parenting and in participating in the planning of her future and that of her baby. All checks and balances were put in place to ensure that ACCW was a safe and positive environment for the mothers and babies, with the cooperation of the mothers, other incarcerated women and correctional staff.

Incarcerated women who gave birth and who were deemed by MCFD able and willing to provide appropriate parental care were allowed to keep their infants in their care while in prison. During the initiative’s duration (2005–2007), 13 babies were born to incarcerated mothers, nine of whom lived in prison with their mothers and stayed there until their mother’s release. Eight babies were breastfed for the duration of their mother’s prison stay. Fifteen months was the longest stay of any infant in prison. The babies’ health and development was monitored by the community public health nurses, ACCW health care providers and MCFD social workers.

Release planning for the majority of the mothers and babies included placement at a residential supportive residence for women with substance use histories of the Fraser Health Authority, which took mothers and their young infants. The residential placement staff aimed to facilitate the transition of these women into the community.

Being involved in the initiative with BC Women’s Hospital had a profound positive effect on the women directly involved, the correctional staff and other incarcerated women, and the ministries and community agencies who partnered with ACCW.

Mother–child unit facilitates maternal involvement

Initially, other agencies and ministries were surprised and cautious regarding the proposal of the newborn babies returning to the facility with their mothers. The team at ACCW and BC Women’s Hospital took the time and facilitated many discussions and held meetings for all stakeholders to contribute to the program’s success.

Initially, the rights of the infant to be with the mother for attachment, bonding and breastfeeding was overshadowed for some by the feeling that this “privilege” should not be afforded to incarcerated mothers. As the initiative continued, the attitudes of many began to shift from cautious and guarded to comfortable and supportive. Community agencies were willing to provide supportive services to the children and mothers within the correctional facility. The collaboration reduced the need for ACCW to develop programs and services specific to the incarcerated population.

The mothers involved expressed great joy and were grateful that they could continue to breastfeed and nurture their babies at the correctional facility. They participated in parenting classes provided by a community agency through visits by the public health nurses and the MCFD worker. They also participated in health examinations by the ACCW physician to ensure the safety and health of their babies. Several of the mothers were permitted to go out into the community on escorted passes, both before and after the birth of their babies, to participate in various programs offered by community agencies that welcomed their participation.

Other women who did not have the opportunity to be with their children had to deal with the reminder of the pain they suffered as a result of being away from their own children. Seeing the babies at ACCW triggered feelings of loss, but a general feeling of hope permeated the entire population and the atmosphere at the facility was more positive in many ways. Incarcerated women wrote about their experiences as part of a prison participatory health research project, and their writing was later published in a book titled Arresting Hope.((Ruth Elwood Martin, Mo Korchinski, Lyn Fels and Carl Leggo, eds., Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside Out. Inanna Publications, 2014.))

Seeing other ministries and agencies support this initiative had an impact on many of the incarcerated women. Most had very little trust in government agencies due to previous negative interactions. Seeing the agencies working together to ensure the babies stay with their mothers gave them a different perspective from which to view these groups. Some voiced a new interest to work with agencies to initiate contact with their own children with whom they had lost contact, or to work to improve their own lives to make a better life for their children.

For many, seeing the mothers and babies thrive at the facility and be released into the community together continued to reinforce the feeling that this initiative was not only the child’s right but also the right thing to do for the child.

Mother–child unit upheld by BC Supreme Court

In 2008, Brenda retired from ACCW and the BC Corrections Branch Headquarters shut down the prison mother–child unit. Amanda Inglis and Patricia Block, whose babies were born after the unit had closed, became appellants in a five-year legal case that led to a BC Supreme Court hearing in May 2013. During the women’s compelling testimony, Patricia told the court that there were as many as five different people caring for her daughter while they were separated. She tried to continue to breastfeed her baby while in prison, she said, but had difficulties in doing so.

At one point, her daughter’s foster mother stopped using the breast milk that Patricia had pumped because she worried it “wasn’t good milk.” Patricia had to inform the MCFD, who then ordered the foster mother to provide the breast milk to her baby. Patricia said that pumping milk in her prison cell for her newborn baby, who was then staying with relatives, gave new meaning to the phrase “crying over spilt milk.”

In December 2013, Honourable Judge Carol Ross ruled in Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety) that the cancellation of the mother–child unit infringed the Charter right to security of the person (section 7) of the mothers and babies affected by the decision, and that the infringements were not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice. The ruling also held that the cancellation constituted discrimination and violated section 15(1) of the Charter, the right to equality of the members of the affected groups, namely provincially incarcerated mothers who wished to have their baby remain with them while they serve their sentence and the babies of those mothers.

The judge directed the government of British Columbia to administer the Correction Act Regulation in relation to this issue in a manner consistent with the requirements of sections 7 and 15(1), and she gave six months to provide an opportunity for the government to correct the unconstitutionality of the present situation and comply with the Court’s direction.((Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety), 2013 BCSC 2309 (SC), H.M.J. Ross, http://bit.ly/2jiUVk0.))

Guidelines developed to facilitate program adoption across Canada

The Collaborating Centre for Prison Health and Education (CCPHE) hosted a two-day working meeting in March 2014 at the University of British Columbia to generate best practice evidence-based guidelines to inform the implementation of mother–child units across Canada. Experts were invited to present during four panel discussions entitled “The Rights of the Child,” “The Correctional Context,” “Pathways and Programs” and “Evaluation.”

Thirty stakeholder organizations were invited to contribute to the writing of the guidelines by selecting delegate representative(s) to participate in the working meeting. Delegates included those from BC Corrections Branch, Correctional Service Canada, New Zealand Corrections and Women in2 Healing (formerly incarcerated mothers).

The CCPHE contracted Sarah Payne to write an initial guideline framework based on her analysis of the meeting proceedings. A “content analysis” method was used to ensure that all themes developing from the meeting data were captured in the emergent guidelines. As a final stage, international resources and research publications, which had been presented by experts as evidence during the working meeting, were reviewed.

The resulting Guidelines describe 16 guiding principles and best practices required for optimal child and maternal health inside a correctional facility, including the correctional context, pregnancy, birth, education, correctional and medical care, discharge planning and community partner engagement. Delegates from BC Corrections Branch and Correctional Service Canada, who attended the writing meeting, incorporated the Guidelines’ principles and best practices into their respective organizations’ policies and procedures.

Follow-up evaluations of the mother–child unit currently under way

The ACCW mother–child unit was established on the principle that babies should accompany their mothers back to the ACCW, which was supported by the 2013 BC Supreme Court ruling that deemed it unconstitutional to separate the two. Currently, the “new” BC provincial program and the federal program (as well as programs in the U.S.) are based on the principle that it is a privilege for the incarcerated mother rather than a right: incarcerated pregnant women have to submit an application and go through a difficult, stressful and protracted approval process.

Some infants now currently reside with their mothers in federal women’s correctional facilities across Canada. However, bringing babies to live with their mothers inside provincial correctional facilities has been slow, even though a refurbished mother–child unit opened in July 2014 at ACCW. More education and understanding about the cultural, epigenetic, legal and permanent health impacts of a decision to remove a baby at birth can help support maternal and infant health in prisons across Canada.

A 10-year follow-up evaluation of the ACCW mother–child unit that ran from 2005 to 2007 is currently under way. Through in-depth interviews with mothers whose infants lived at ACCW, this evaluation is exploring their experiences and the current health and social development of their children.

Each of the mothers interviewed to date have reported that the decision to have her baby live with her in prison transformed her life. Each woman attributed the quality and quantity of time that she spent with her baby in ACCW to making a positive long-term impact on the mother–child relationship, and each reported that she now has an exceptionally close relationship with her child. Each woman also spoke very affectionately about her child’s attributes, with kindness and a caring nature as foremost.

 


Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin is a Clinical Professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and recipient of the 2015 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Brenda Tole is the former warden at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women from the time it opened in 2004 until her retirement in 2008.

Download this article in PDF format.

Published on February 7, 2017




Circuits of Care: Mobility, Work and Managing Family Relationships

Dr. Sara Dorow and Shingirai Mandizadza, PhDc

Fort McMurray and the oil sands industry of northern Alberta have become a quintessential destination for long-distance labour commuters: workers who regularly travel from and to a distant home base on rotational work schedules, usually of a week or more, and who more often than not stay in work camps located near bitumen extraction and processing projects. They come from as far away as Halifax and Detroit to work at jobs ranging from safety coordination to pipe maintenance to camp catering. In 2015, the more than 100 work camps in the area had the capacity to house some 70,000 workers.((Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, “The Municipal Census 2015 Report” (2015), http://bit.ly/2h5ZukE.))

Such “mobile work” involves some fairly complex dynamics of support, as workers and their families care for each other at home and then across distances; as camp staff provide for the food, sleep and leisure needs of workers; and as camp staff and oil workers (both of whom are “mobile”) devise forms of self-care within and across all of these spaces. Interviews with more than 75 mobile workers in four work camps in the region have revealed a nexus of care involving relationships that are stretched out across the distances of the labour commute while simultaneously intensified on each end of the commute, at home and in camp.

Communication helps to ease emotional challenges of being away from family

How do workers manage familial networks while away from home on their work rotations? Staying connected through phone calls, texts or video chats is, of course, a key feature of the practices that help to sustain the worker and maintain family relations. First and foremost, these communications help to ease the emotional challenges of being in camp and away from family, and they contribute to making time in between shifts bearable. A camp housekeeper told us that she talked to her son and daughter every day “to try to stay sane,” while a trades worker from Eastern Canada used a more colourful description: trying not to go “shack wacky.”

 

Staying connected through phone calls, texts or video chats is … a key feature of the practices that help to sustain the worker and maintain family relations.

 

Communications were thus, in many ways, about managing the time away from home. Sometimes this involved counting down the rotation together. As one male camp cook put it, “What I do with my wife is, for instance,

[each day when we talk] we will count down the days till I’m coming back.” For some workers, schedules for making contact are followed rigorously, at the same time every day. A construction worker named Derek called his wife four times a day. And for Phyllis, a camp housekeeper, the fact that she could regularly call her husband and “see” her grandchildren made everything “all good.”

One young trades worker from Eastern Canada, when asked as he sat alone eating dinner if he would be interested in a short interview, glanced at his phone and said he wouldn’t have much time: this was the only window of time during the day – after his shift in Alberta and right before her bedtime in Newfoundland – when he and his girlfriend were both free to talk. Sure enough, two minutes later his phone rang.

Talk of time also included planning together how it would be spent when workers returned home on their days off. Tim, who talked about “pushing through” his seven days, said that when talking to friends and family on the phone, “We try to line up some stuff to do for that week off, so I’ll have something to look forward to when I go home.”

Communication facilitates remote parenting and alleviates “FOMO”

A second and related facet of long-distance communication is the quest to keep current on what is happening in the lives of family and friends far away, often driven by FOMO (fear of missing out).

One seasoned housekeeper pointed to the crucial rhythms of keeping information flowing with her adult children and grandchildren: “I might go two to three days without talking to them, you know, which is not a big deal. They know mom’s fine and everything else, but, I mean, after the third day, something’s gotta be new, you know? Like, the other day, they went for a bike ride, so they got to tell me everything about the bike ride they went on – my daughter and my granddaughter – so, she was just, you know, excited. Something new to tell me.”

For those with children, communicating across the distance served yet a third purpose: remote parenting. An ironworker in a joint custody arrangement described the series of activities across space and time that were enfolding around his teenage daughter’s tendency to skip school. A phone call from the school led to a phone conversation with his daughter, which paved the way for the conversation they would have face to face when he returned. With a mortgage, a truck, and a daughter and ex-wife to support, mobile work in the oil sands seemed his only option, and this, in turn, brought practical ways of stretching out and intensifying relations of care while away and at home.

“Too much” communication can be distracting

However, managing and maintaining one’s mental health and well-being in camp can also mean keeping long-distance family and social relations “in their place.” For a portion of these workers, and more commonly for men in the trades, family life was a distraction that needed to be held at bay if one was to stay in work mode. Sometimes it was the heartache of being too regularly reminded of distance from family that was distracting.((Christopher Jones and Chris Southcott, “Mobile Miners: Work, Home, and Hazards in the Yukon’s Mining Industry,” The Northern Review 41 (June 15, 2015) http://bit.ly/2hTXytu.))

Ricky, a day labourer from Eastern Canada who often stayed in camp for months on end, described how painfully bittersweet it was to watch families enjoying time together when he drove into the city of Fort McMurray on weekends. And for others, it was the headache of dealing with ongoing family matters at a distance that was distracting. Omar, a camp custodial worker, described how stressful things could be in his home and family life. Drawing his hands up alongside each side of his head to mimic blinders, Omar said that when he was on rotation, “It’s just about work.”

Community “back home” helps workers manage family responsibilities

Mobile workers sometimes dealt with the problem of distance through forms of reciprocity and exchange with friends, neighbours or extended family back home. For male long-distance commuters with families, these arrangements helped to ease concern about how family back home would cope while they were away for weeks at a time. One trades worker described how a male friend back home helped his wife with chores such as yard work during his two-week rotation; he then reciprocated by carrying out maintenance and home repairs for the friend after he returned home from rotation.

 

Mobile workers sometimes dealt with the problem of distance through forms of reciprocity and exchange with friends, neighbours or extended family back home.

 

In some instances, it was spatial rearrangements of care work back home that accommodated mobile work. Marco, a construction manager, relocated his young family to the Caribbean to take advantage of the favourable weather and the cheaper childcare. Together, these factors made life easier for his wife during his long absences and easier for him on his return home.

While there are not many women with young or school-age children participating in mobile work in the oil sands, it was often the care of grandparents and especially grandmothers that made mobile work a viable option. A housekeeper named Martha felt that being away for three weeks at a time from her two school-age children back in Nova Scotia was “worth it because I’m making more money here than back home.” It was also doable because her parents, who lived nearby, actually moved into her home with the children while she was away.

Flexible circuits of care help accommodate employee mobility

These circuits of care help us see that a big part of managing and surviving camp life is about maintaining long-distance familial and social networks. It’s these relationships of care and support that help oil sands workers to manage their multiple responsibilities.

Our research thus addresses some of the existing research on long-distance labour commuting and family in ways that we hope open up further inquiry. First, we start from the perspective of mobile workers while they are away from home. Second, we include both resource sector workers and service sector workers, thus broadening the gendered scope of analysis and complicating the normative imagery of mobile work (man on the move, wife and children back home). And finally, we do not assume that mobility has only or mostly negative impacts on care or family relations. Such arrangements can have both advantages and disadvantages for workers and their families((Mark Shrimpton and Keith J. Storey, The Effects of Offshore Employment in the Petroleum Industry: A Cross-National Perspective (Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Environmental Studies Program, 2001).)) and entail a mix of transformations and entrenchments of gender and family arrangements of care.((Brenda S. A. Yeoh and Kamalini Ramdas, “Gender, Migration, Mobility and Transnationalism,” Journal of Applied Statistics 21:10 (November 2014) http://bit.ly/2gk1DIa.))

A team of research assistants contributed to this project. We especially acknowledge and thank Marcella Cassiano (PhDc) for conducting many of the interviews in work camps.

 


About the On the Move Partnership

The On the Move Partnership is a research initiative that includes the Vanier Institute of the Family and 40 researchers from across Canada and around the world. This project is investigating how employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) affects households and communities, and how it influences and impacts prosperity across Canada. To learn more about the On the Move Partnership, visit our project page.

 

Dr. Sara Dorow is Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Alberta, where she teaches and conducts research in the areas of globalization, race and culture, gender and family, qualitative methods and the idea of community. She currently heads the Alberta team for the On the Move Partnership.  

Shingirai Mandizadza is a Sociology PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She currently works with Dr. Dorow in the On the Move Partnership on a project that explores the gendering of work-related mobility in the oil sands of northeast Alberta.

Published on January 10, 2017




House and Home: To Keep or Not to Keep the Living Room and Dining Room

Avi Friedman

Speculative builders refer to houses as product, whereas homebuyers see their lives unfolding in residences surrounded with life and living. Builders have a near horizon; buyers, a long-term view. Builders have to create inventory, sell product quickly and move on to the next project; handing over the keys to a buyer is their ultimate goal. A model home – the showcase of a new development – must be inviting and inspirational. It ought to draw a “wow,” making an unsure or timid buyer fall in love at first sight and edge out the competition. A hotel-sized kitchen, beautifully lit with stainless steel appliances, will be an anchor; a spacious marble-tiled bathroom with trendy fixtures and a Jacuzzi will be an attention grabber. It’s all about first impressions.

To many of us, living rooms and dining rooms are the primary settings where family life plays out, communal places where family meals and gatherings take place. As families and family life evolves, so too does the family home. Our living spaces shape, and are shaped by, changing social, economic, cultural and environmental trends.

The months of January and February are traditionally the busy season in the home-building business, since people tend to buy houses for summer occupancy. The number of sales during these months determines the year’s overall activity. So designs are rushed, finalized, and made ready for buyers to see and purchase.

 

The use of space at home has also become gradually more decentralized. Do we really need, then, to retain a separate room for an occasion that may occur only once or twice a year?

 

After a recent conversation with a builder who suggested we eliminate the living room and dining room from a design I was working on, I reflected on the suggestion. In contemporary family life, is there still a place for living and dining rooms in family homes? New lifestyle trends have shifted traditional family schedules, and for many people today, it’s hard to find time for a formal meal in the dining room on a weeknight. Setting up the table, carrying the food there, taking time to discuss the day’s events, cleaning up, and moving to the living room for coffee and dessert while listening to music – that all seems like an evening from a long-gone era. The use of space at home has also become gradually more decentralized. Do we really need, then, to retain a separate room for an occasion that may occur only once or twice a year? Shouldn’t the new trends dictate a new priority list in how homes are used?

In his book History of Domestic Space, Peter Ward points out that the living room, which was also called a parlour, salon, sitting room, or front room, was once the place where the family met acquaintances and presented itself to the outside world. It was the home’s most public space. When North Americans made their transition from the colonist’s one-room house to a home with several rooms, the parlour was added. It could be found even in relatively small homes at the turn of the century. Unlike European homes in the Victorian era, whose parlour was clearly a formal space, on this continent, and mostly in modest residences, the living room had a touch of informality.

Sitting in the living room circa 1900

Sitting in the living room circa 1900

This was also the room in which a family would display their material accomplishments and treasured mementos. Paintings, family heirlooms, silverware, and photos were hung on walls and put in glass cases. A piano, according to Ward, was also common in middle-class homes in both Europe and North America. It was a mark of culture and a signal of wealth. Women’s musical and vocal talents were highly valued, and playing for guests was part of formal hospitality.

Another key feature in the living room was the fireplace, or hearth, which had several roles. Since it was ornate and expensive to construct, it represented wealth. It also provided warmth and served as a visual focal point, just as the television would in later years. Extended family members or visitors would gather after dinner to chat, play cards, and listen to music played on the piano.

The dining room likewise served a formal function. Its seating arrangements signified the family’s hierarchy; the two heads of table had more comfortable chairs than the ones alongside. In Victorian England and later in North America, the well-to-do could afford a cook and a butler who served meals in well-appointed rooms that boasted elaborate ceiling edges, expensive furnishings, china cabinets, and chandeliers hanging over a large table.

The transition to a less formal arrangement took place half a century ago in small post-war homes. Instead of a dining room, builders created a dining space, an area adjacent to the kitchen that was a step up from eating in the kitchen itself. Formality was reinstituted in the 1960s when the overall area of homes increased and a separate dining room started showing up in new houses destined for middle-income homebuyers. This evolution was supported by demographic trends. By the 1960s, the early baby boomers had grown up to become adolescents. Family dinners provided an important social function: creating a formal setting for family exchange, reflection on the day’s events, socialization of children and a forum for a get-together. More than a room to house the table and chairs, the dining room became a bonding place. Families would discuss, often debate (this being the sixties), important matters before Dad handed over the car keys to a teenager of driving age after dessert. In large family gatherings, guests would continue to sit long after dinner ended to talk, giggle over photos, or simply catch up with the events of each other’s lives.

The mid-1980s saw families and lifestyles transform. Households became smaller and children grew up. Some migrated to follow job opportunities. It became hard to fill up all the empty chairs around the table, and thus the dining room’s decline began. Its former glory was restored only a few times a year, its charm being revisited on holidays and special occasions.

In many homes today, the dining room has taken on new roles: kids use the large table surface to do homework; Mom or Dad sets up a computer in a corner to run a freelance business out of the home; receipts and bills litter the table at tax time. With the increase in the number and nature of tasks that a modern family has to perform, the dining room often becomes, at least temporarily, a substitute for a study.

Combined kitchen, dining and living areas

Combined kitchen, dining and living areas

The living room experienced a similar fate with the rise of informality. A regular weekday or weekend visit by extended family or acquaintances became a rarity. As the price of sound systems and televisions went down, they appeared in several rooms and no longer did the family need to gather in the living room for entertainment. Central heating eliminated the need for the warmth of fireplaces.

Internationally, with present and expected future growth in apartment living and the shrinkage of the average household size, small will dominate. The introduction of micro-units (less than 50 square metres or 500 square feet) in cities such as New York, London and Vancouver marked the disappearance of the dining room and the slashing of the living space. Some projects offer shared living and dining room, which residents need to reserve. In addition, coffee houses styled to look like a living room with sofas and fireplaces have become the meeting place of choice for younger apartment dwellers.

Christmas gathering, 254 Olivier Ave., Westmount, Quebec, 1899

Christmas gathering, 254 Olivier Ave., Westmount, Quebec, 1899

The dining room represents such a space. Whether it’s once a week or several times a year, eating there can put people into a festive mood. Wearing our Sunday best and eating comfort food off the “good” dishes in a formal setting constitute a ritual that many cherish. On special occasions and holidays, it’s the room where relatives from near and far congregate. Like the best suits we don for special occasions and jewellery we wear once or twice a year, the dining room is a special place. And even when it’s not being used, the formal setting, with the table in the middle and chairs all around, sends a clear message about the institution of family. Yet, living and dining rooms still play an important role in the lives of families. They always have been and are as much social and cultural icons as they are functional spaces. The social perception of and economic justification for a formal living or dining space is undergoing a re-evaluation. But as current lifestyle trends result in greater family seclusion, it’s important to have uniting symbols.

The living room should continue to play a similar role. After-dinner conversations in a relaxed setting, sitting on an armchair or a sofa while listening to quiet background music, is a sign of civility we seem to have lost. Both living and dining rooms can be gathering places for small or even extended families. The spaces could be transformed, perhaps, with their original purpose remaining intact: comfortable rooms that provide a transition between the world outside and within.

 


Avi Friedman is an architect, professor, author and social observer. The essay is an excerpt from his recently published book A View from the Porch: Rethinking Home and Community Design, Véhicule Press. He can be reached at avi.friedman@mcgill.ca

Published on December 13, 2016




The Canadian Debate on Spanking and Violence Against Children

Kathy Lynn

Just as families have evolved across generations, so too have our ideas about parenting, children and the social norms regarding discipline. While there is always diversity in what people feel is appropriate, there has been a significant shift across generations away from authoritarian parenting styles toward a more compassionate view that treats children as rights-bearing individuals rather than property.

Despite this societal shift, the use of corporal punishment in the form of “spanking”((The term “spanking” is used in this article to include corporal punishment and the use of “corrective” physical force against children.)) is legally protected under section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code, also known as the “spanking law.” Section 43 reads as follows:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances. R.S.C., 1985, c. C-4

This defence first appeared in the Criminal Code in 1892 and has changed little since.((Laura Barnett, “The ‘Spanking’ Law: Section 43 of the Criminal Code,” Parliamentary Information and Research Service (June 20, 2008), http://bit.ly/2d3ZvWi.)) Discussions about what to do with section 43 have an interesting and active history stretching back to the 1970s and earlier, but it is still on the books today.

“Spanking” in the Courts

Section 43 has been challenged a number of times over the past 30 years. In 1998, the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law started a rights-based legal action in the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of section 43 of the Criminal Code on the basis that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The challenge was dismissed by the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal. Despite the dismissal, the government argued that physical force should be discouraged as a normative technique of correction. The case then moved on to the Supreme Court of Canada, but, in its January 2004 decision, the Supreme Court held that section 43 did not infringe on the Charter. It did, however, set out a series of judicial limitations (which do not appear in the Criminal Code) on corporal punishment:

  • Only parents may use reasonable force solely for purposes of correction.
  • Teachers may use reasonable force only to “remove a child from a classroom or secure compliance with instructions, but not merely as corporal punishment.”
  • Corporal punishment cannot be administered to children under two or to teenagers.
  • The use of force on children of any age “incapable of learning from
    [it] because of disability or some other contextual factor” is not protected.
  • Discipline by the use of objects or blows or slaps to the head is unreasonable.
  • Degrading, inhuman or harmful conduct is not protected, including conduct that raises a reasonable prospect of harm.
  • Only minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature may be used.
  • The physical punishment must be “corrective, which rules out conduct stemming from the caregiver’s frustration, loss of temper or abusive personality.”
  • The gravity of the precipitating event is not relevant.
  • The question of what is “reasonable under the circumstances” requires an objective test and must be considered in context and in light of all the circumstances of the case.((“What’s the Law?” Corrine’s Quest, accessed September 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dwYIJ2.))

The current legal context has led to confusion and conflict due to contradictions between the definitions of assault outlined in criminal law and definitions of child abuse found in provincial and territorial law, as outlined by the Ontario Public Health Association:

“… a provincial or territorial child welfare authority may investigate a report of parental physical abuse of a child, conclude that she is at risk in her family and apprehend her. When this happens, police may lay a charge of assault. However, section 43 provides parents with a legal defence against such a charge. This has led to situations which seem to defy logic, in which the definition of “a child in need of protection” in provincial and territorial law leads to the child’s apprehension, but the protection afforded to parents under section 43 of the Criminal Code leads to their being acquitted of assault.”

There have been many legislative attempts to have section 43 repealed or amended, with 17 private member’s bills being tabled in Parliament since 1994, though none have succeeded. Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette has introduced numerous bills; however, to date, all have died at various stages of reading due to elections and prorogations of Parliament.((Coalition on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth, “Physical Punishment Update #16,” Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth (March 2016), accessed September 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/1WJKWEN.))

Pressure to repeal section 43 has also mounted from the international stage since Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 2 of the Convention states that signatories “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”((United Nations, “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Treaty Series (November 20, 1989), http://bit.ly/1fGCcXV.))

In response to reports from Canada regarding the action it has taken to meet the requirements of the Convention, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that physical punishment of children in schools and families be prohibited and that section 43 be removed from the Criminal Code. However, no action was taken and the law remains on the books. To date, 51 countries have banned the physical punishment of children in all settings.

Most recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended repealing section 43 as the sixth of its final report’s 94 calls to action. “The Commission believes that corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past,” it reads, “and has no place in Canadian schools or homes.”((Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Canada’s Residential Schools: The Legacy,” The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (December 2015).)) The federal government has since committed to accepting all calls to action outlined in the TRC report.

“…corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past, and has no place in Canadian schools or homes.”

– Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 

 

“Spanking” research

A most compelling body of research has been developed around the question of physical punishment of children. In June 2016, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, published a literature review that includes a wide range of studies on corporal punishment of children. They found that the research has been consistent. Spanking is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to children.((Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, “Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses,” Journal of Family Psychology, 30:4 (June 2016), doi:10.1037/fam0000191.))

A series of meta-analyses have demonstrated that in addition to increases in aggressive behaviour in children, spanking has been associated with increases in mental health problems into adulthood, impaired parent–child relationships, delinquent behaviour and criminal behaviour in adulthood.((Elizabeth Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review,” Psychological Bulletin, 128:4 (July 2002), doi:10.1037//0033-2909.128.4.539.)) There is also research showing that a risk that initial “corrective” spanking can progress to child abuse.((Joan Durrant et al., “Punitive Violence Against Children in Canada,” Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare (March 31, 2006), http://bit.ly/2czf1mO.))

The research shows that hitting children is ineffective – instead of teaching children the reasons their behaviour needs to change, it simply causes the child pain and engenders fear. Studies have shown that children need to internalize reasons for behaving in appropriate ways.((Elizabeth Gershoff, “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children,” Child Development Perspectives 7:3 (July 10, 2013), doi:10.1111/cdep.12038.)) Spanking teaches them to behave in order to avoid physical punishment. When the threat of physical punishment is gone, children find no reason to behave appropriately. Spanking can lead to some children considering violence toward others as a problem-solver. A violent attitude can also work to reduce family cohesion.

The future of “spanking” in Canada

Evidence shows that children do not learn appropriate behaviour from being physically hurt. While children need to be accountable for their behaviour, modelling positive behaviours and teaching them to self-regulate, communicate their feelings and ask for help are more effective. Parents play an important role in socializing children, teaching how certain actions and behaviours are not acceptable and providing opportunities to develop the skills to function well in society.

For teaching children to grow and mature into responsible, capable and contributing adults, spanking is not the way. Violence against children should be against the law, not defined by it. We know there are more compassionate and effective ways to raise children to be capable young adults.

 

Corinne Robertshaw: A Committed Advocate

Corinne Robertshaw was a lawyer with the federal government in the 1970s. She became concerned about injuries and deaths of children caused by parents. She determined that section 43, which provides legal defence for assault against children, was a factor contributing to these injuries and deaths. She produced a study on child deaths caused by physical punishment (Discussion Paper on Child Protection In Canada, February 1981).

In 1990, she retired and dedicated the rest of her life to seeing the repeal of section 43. She created a national, multidisciplinary committee to mobilize Canadians interested in the issue and to continue to develop evidence and arguments in favour of repeal. She died in January 2013 and Corinne’s Quest: End Physical Punishment of Children was formed to continue her work and honour her legacy.

 


Kathy Lynn is a parenting speaker, author and chair of Corinne’s Quest.

This article was reviewed by Rina Arseneault, C.M., Associate Director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research (MMFC) at the University of New Brunswick.

Published on November 15, 2016




New Resource for Family Physicians Working with Canadian Military Families

(Vancouver, BC, November 9, 2016) Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan joined representatives of the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle today to release a new resource called Family Physicians Working with Military Families for health professionals to enhance awareness of health care issues specific to military and Veteran families in Canada.

For 40,000 Regular Force military families and 14,000 Reserve Force families in Canada, access to health care is challenging due to frequent geographic relocations, long-term separations from their loved ones and work-related risks of physical and mental illness. Families of active military members do not receive medical care through the military and must access services through provincial and territorial health care systems. Combined, these issues make it difficult to secure a family physician and maintain routine health appointments, immunizations and preventive care. Access to specialists often requires longer wait times and difficulties getting to appointments that may be hours away from where military families are stationed.

Current statistics from Family Physicians Working with Military Families:

“We depend on the women and men of our Canadian Armed Forces to defend and protect Canadians. It is important that they, and their families, are supported with the health care services needed for active, productive lives,” says Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan. “I applaud the commitment of the partners who have collaborated to produce the new resource being released today. Sharing their collective skills and expertise makes a real difference.”

“This unique partnership and the new resource are positive and important steps to building awareness and providing reliable information for family physicians about the unique health care requirements of military families,” says CFPC Executive Director and CEO Francine Lemire, MD CM, CCFP, FCFP, CAE. “Only then can we impose positive change. The CFPC is proud to participate in this partnership and help enhance access, resources and care for all.”

“It can be challenging for many Canadian families to find family physicians and other health care providers, especially in small and remote communities. Since military families move so frequently, they often face special challenges finding a family doctor when they relocate to a new community, or a new province,” says Colonel Dan Harris, Director, Military Family Services, and Co-Chair, Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle. “Military Family Services, as a member of the Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle, is happy to collaborate with the College of Family Physicians of Canada on this initiative to enhance military literacy among family physicians in Canada.”

“The true value of the Leadership Circle comes to the forefront when committed members work together to build awareness, capacity, competence and community by producing tangible resources such as this for caring community providers across Canada,” adds Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family and Co-Chair of the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle.

This resource was developed by a panel of experts drawn from civilian practice and the military and Veteran community, including the CFPC, Military Family Services, National Defence Health Services Group, Veterans Affairs Canada, Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research and the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Download Family Physicians Working with Military Families.

 


See also:

A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada




A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada

Canada’s military and Veteran families are diverse, resilient and strong, and they are a great source of pride for the country. They engage with – and play important roles in – their workplaces, communities and the country at large.

Like all families, military and Veteran families access a variety of programs and services in their communities, including (but not limited to) child care and eldercare, health and mental health, community recreation and leisure, and education and employment. However, these programs and services are often delivered by professionals and practitioners who have little or no understanding of, or experience with, military and Veteran families.

This lack of military literacy – awareness of the unique experiences of military and Veteran families and the “military life stressors” (mobility, separation and risk) that affect them – can result in negative experiences for both service providers and the families they seek to support.

To enhance the understanding of military and Veteran families, the Vanier Institute has published A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada – the third in our new series of publications providing statistical analyses of diverse family experiences and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape family life.

Highlights include:

 

Download A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 


Suggested reading:

Military and Veteran Families in Canada: Collaborations and Partnerships Compendium 1.0

Building Inclusive Communities for Canada’s Military and Veteran Families

The Current State of Military Family Research

 




Annual Report 2015–2016: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Nora Spinks and Victor Duret

The past 18 months have been a significant and transformative period for the Vanier Institute of the Family. We celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2015 – a milestone that provided us with an opportunity to pause and reflect, to respect and celebrate the past, to understand and appreciate the present, and to anticipate and prepare for the future. We have taken full advantage of this opportunity, recognizing how far we’ve come over the past half-century while charting our future. Throughout 2016, we have started this new journey rooted in a tradition of learning about and understanding Canada’s diverse families.

With that in mind, we’re proud to now release our new annual report, where you can learn about what we’ve been doing to explore and celebrate Canada’s diverse families.

Building on our history of understanding families

Governor General Georges P. Vanier and Madame Pauline Vanier founded the Vanier Institute in 1965 to act as a “Royal Commission that should never be discharged.” Their Excellencies believed families deserved focused attention into the future due to their importance to society.

Last year, we built upon this tradition of focused attention on families. We continued to reach out directly to families in Canada through the national Families in Canada Listening Tour, where we learned about diverse families and family life from coast to coast to coast. The conversations at these events informed and shaped our projects, publications and special events.

We continued to publish articles, reviews and fact sheets in Transition, covering diverse topics such as family law, children with disabilities, family health and well-being, caregiving, modern motherhood, financial literacy, and respect, reconciliation and resilience. In January 2016, Transition evolved into an online publication providing easy-to-share articles and resources on a more frequent basis.

Bringing together those who study, serve and support families

We honoured the past, explored the present and envisioned the future by hosting the Families in Canada Conference 2015 – an informative and inspirational event that brought together a diverse group of leaders and researchers who study, serve and support Canada’s families.

Through catalytic conversations, keynote presentations, videos and music, we explored families and family experiences across the country. This historic event built on our conversations about family over the past 50 years, and was a springboard for current and future growth for the Vanier Institute.

We built and strengthened relationships through our many partnerships and collaborations, working with others to enhance the national understanding of families, family experiences, expectations and aspirations in Canada.

One of the highlights was the creation of the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle, a partnership between the Vanier Institute of the Family and the Canadian Armed Forces to build awareness, capacity, competency and community to ensure military and Veteran families have equitable access to services and programs in their neighbourhoods. In January 2015, we co-hosted its inaugural meeting, where we developed a strategy for collaboration and communication across organizations studying, serving and supporting military and Veteran families across Canada.

The second meeting in January 2016 was a resounding success, with the Leadership Circle and its related initiatives growing to reach more Canadians. We have continued to work together with organizations such as Military Family Services and the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman to enhance the understanding of Canada’s military and Veteran families.

We continued to mobilize knowledge, sharing news and resources about initiatives such as the On the Move Partnership, which is exploring and highlighting the ways in which employment-related geographic mobility (ERGM) affects households and communities, and influences and impacts Canadian prosperity.

We engaged in a number of new partnerships such as the eQuality Project, which is exploring the impact that digital media and commercial data practices have on young people, and Health, Wealth and Happiness: Dynamics of Families and a Good Old Age?, which is increasing understanding of how evolving family demographics affect the financial, social and health outcomes of Canadians in later life.

We will move forward with these initiatives, and many others on the horizon, to explore families in Canada and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts in which they live.

Bridging our reputation with our future growth

Looking ahead, we will continue to expand the depth and breadth of our reach as we continue to ensure our relevance and enhance our rigour. We will continue to explore leading and promising practices while listening to and telling the stories behind the statistics. We will continue to examine the evolving structures and forms of family as this diversity builds and as our data on it expands. Finally, we will continue to focus on knowledge translation, interpretation and mobilization, building on our reputation as a national resource for those interested in or involved with Canada’s families.

This is an exciting time for us – a time to rejuvenate and refresh. We are proud of the work we have done and the legacy that the Vaniers left for us. Our 50th anniversary was a milestone, a tribute to our history and a source of inspiration for the future. Now, we are continuing on our journey. We invite everyone with an interest in families and family life to join us as we engage in conversation to understand families in Canada.

Download The Vanier Institute of the Family: Fifty Years of Understanding Families in Canada annual report for 2015–2016


Victor Duret is Board Chair at the Vanier Institute of the Family

Nora Spinks is CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Published on November 2, 2016