Interim special

Pro-family forces are monitoring the actions of Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs of Manitoba who recently moved second reading of a bill making it a crime for parents to use corporal punishment against their children.

Carstairs’ Bill S-14 would repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code which allows the use of force in disciplining a child. Section 43 also exempts parents, teachers and guardians from being charged with assault if they use “reasonable” force in dealing with children.

“Research has shown that corporal punishment of children in harmful in numerous way,” Carstairs said in defending S-14. “It leads to the injury and death of children; it contributes to juvenile delinquency and it normalizes violence as a way of resolving conflict.”

While Carstairs said it is not her intention to criminalize parents who discipline their children, she said Section 43 of the Criminal Code is overly permissive.

She asked how Canadians can condone the use of corporal punishment of children, in light of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Carstairs’ action does not have the immediate support of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the Liberal cabinet. A spokesperson for Justice Minister Allan Rock said the government has no plans to change Section 43.

Nonetheless pro-life and pro-family group wonder about Carstairs’ motivation in introducing Bill S-14. They point to Carstairs’ spotty record on life issues, particularly her pro-choice position on abortion and her support of legislation allowing assisted suicide. They also criticized the bill as an attack on traditional parental authority.

“This bill would lead to unnecessary state interference in family life and would undermine parents’ efforts to direct their children’s upbringing,” said the Focus on the Family organization. As well, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada suggested the current law is adequate in dealing with parental discipline of children.

Reform Party MP Sharon Hayes also criticized Bill S-14, calling it an attempt to violate the rights of responsible parents to raise their children.

Hayes said links between corporate punishment and violence remain unsubstantiated. “No person, government, or agency has a right to interfere in the exercise of (parental) duty, as long as the actions of parents do not constitute abuse or neglect,” Hayes said.

The Carstairs effort is similar to Bill C-296, introduced in December, 1994, by B.C. New Democrat Svend Robinson. The bill failed House of Commons February 6 but Robinson said he is committed to re-introducing it.

Pro-life supporters note the irony in the efforts of Carstairs and Robinson.

While both claim to oppose violence against children, they remain committed to the pro-choice position which poses the greatest possible violence to the unborn.