More than 250 Canadian feminist organizations are calling on Ottawa to reform the Divorce Act and ban the concept of parental alienation in family law cases.The National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), a law reform organization working to improve women’s rights in Canada, held a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday to urge Minister of Justice Arif Virani to ban the “sexist and unscientific theory.”When one party alleges they are the victim of parental alienation during a custody battle, they are saying the other parent is turning the child or children against them through manipulation, lies or repeatedly putting down the other parent.Suzanne Zaccour, director of legal affairs at NAWL, says parental alienation is “pseudoscience” that ends up having judges give custody to the father, having made the judgment that the mother’s story that he abused her is false.“Across the country, victims of family violence are being disbelieved, silenced and punished,” Zaccour said. “Mothers who dare speak up about the fathers’ violence are treated with great suspicion and children who express their wishes to not reside with an abusive father lose their voice, as they’re thought to be confused, lying or brainwashed.”The coalition sent letters to Virani and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday morning, asking them to address what Zaccour called a “Canada-wide crisis that is destroying countless lives.”A UN report published last summer called for reform to stop family courts from dismissing credible allegations of domestic violence or coercive control. The report said that “parental alienation” was one of a few “pseudo concepts” that left “grave consequences” for parents and children.Nneka MacGregor, executive director of WomenatthecentrE, a survivor-led organization aiming to end gender-based violence, said five women in her organization have seen their children taken away from them and placed in the custody of ex-partners due to the use of the parental alienation argument in court.“Parental alienation accusations are not about protecting children, but are about covering up for abuse,” she said in the press conference. “By design, parental alienation accusations are a tactic to silence survivors, a way for the abuser to shift the narrative, shift the focus away from their violence,” said MacGregor.The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto offers legal representation and interpretation services to women who have experienced abuse. In the press conference, the clinic’s executive director Deepa Mattoo said parental alienation cases are an increasing phenomenon.“This trend adds complexity to the legal cases, making it increasingly challenging for survivors, particularly women, to find a path to safety,” Mattoo said. “The rise in accusations underscores the urgency of implementing legislation to safeguard survivors and promote a fair and just legal system.”Mattoo said that marginalized and racialized women, as well as those from immigrant communities, “bear the brunt of these accusations.”The World Health Organization has stated that parental alienation is not a health-care issue, only something “relevant to specific judicial contexts,” adding that “there are no evidence-based health-care interventions specifically for parental alienation.”Zaccour said feminists have been complaining about parental alienation losses in court for a long time.“For years, feminist experts and researchers have raised alarm bells about this issue,” Zaccour said.“In the last decade, there have been a few experts or custody evaluators bringing these concepts to the courts and not letting the courts know that this is a controversial concept.”In 2023, it was announced a Quebec mother, who had been deprived of contact with her children for more than three years after she was accused of parental alienation, was suing a regional health authority, the youth protection system and the Quebec Human Rights Commission. She alleged that the youth protection workers were not properly trained and that her claims of her ex-husband being physically abusive were ignored.Petition e-4517, launched by Julie Rioux of Stittsville, Ontario last fall, called for the UN report on parental alienation to be considered and for "legislative changes to prohibit reunification therapy and its associated concepts." The petition, tabled by Liberal MP Pam Damoff (Oakville North—Burlington) got 1140 signatures.