The Court of Appeal of Ontario has upheld Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows parents and teachers to use reasonable force to correct and discipline children in their charge. “No country in the world has criminalized all forms of physical punishment of children by parents, which is what accepting the appellant’s position would entail,” the court ruled unanimously. And in a sensible world, that would be the end of it. Of course, in a sensible world, this case would have never made it to a lower court, let alone an appellate one, but we don’t live in a sensible world.
The people pushing for repeal of Section 43 are ideological extremists without, (at least based on their rhetoric) enough sense of reason and proportion to distinguish between a slap on the bum of an unruly and defiant child by a loving parent or caregiver, and a brutal beating by a dysfunctional, bullying one. To these individuals, any form of corporal punishment is unacceptable violence. For example, Marvin Bernstein, director of policy development for the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, which supported the CFCYL’s court challenge, was quoted by the National Post referring to spanking as “lawful physical assault.” And Harold Beals, head of the Nova Scotia Social Workers Association, was quoted by the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, asserting that Section 43 amounts to a licence for letting child abusers “off the hook,” and that he and his organization oppose the use of physical force in discipline even if children aren’t injured.
I have no enthusiasm for spanking kids. My own children received occasional smacks on the behind for exceptionally obstreperous behaviour when they were young, but non-violent disciplinary methods were both our preference and usual practice. Spanking should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances, either when other disciplinary methods have failed or where the consequences of persistent disobedience (say, running out into traffic or hurting another child) are too serious to permit experimentation. Routinely or excessively hitting little kids is indeed abusive and counterproductive behaviour.
However, as Mr. Justice David McCombs of the Ontario Superior Court noted in his July 5, 2000, decision that the appeal court ruled on this month, government must not tread on the “sphere of authority” that has been historically accorded to mothers, fathers, and deputy caregivers. “Criminalization is often too blunt and heavy-handed an instrument with which to address many of the problems concerning the welfare of children,” Judge McCombs wrote in his lower court decision.
Most Canadians think that’s obvious common sense. While only 21 per cent of Canadian parents say they corporally punish their children, a 1995 Toronto Star poll found that, by a ratio of almost six to one, people said spanking was acceptable as discipline in certain situations. So did 73 per cent of respondents to a 1995 Canadian Living poll. Over 80 per cent of the respondents to an informal 1998 CTV Sunday Report poll supported retention of Section 43.
Using typical political correctness propaganda techniques, self-appointed social engineers like Mssrs. Bernstein and Beals, and the CFCYL, have endeavoured to cloud the distinction between real child abuse and legitimate corporal punishment. Excessively violent parents who abuse their children are already dealt with under Section 26 of the Criminal Code: “Everyone who is authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible for excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.” No statutory reform is necessary, and the anti-spankers’ crusade is a shameful waste of court time and taxpayers’ money.
Unfortunately, more waste is likely to come. Reportedly, CFCYL lawyers are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Happily, there is cause to believe that the high court might finally put an end to this political-correctness-driven farrago.
The Ontario appeals court decision quoted Claire L’Heureux-Dube, who is one of the more liberal Supreme Court justices, ruling in another case that, “Parents must be accorded a relatively large measure of freedom from state interference to raise their children as they see fit.” I don’t often agree with Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dube, but I’ll wholeheartedly go along with her on that one.The ideological notion that striking a child can’t be justified under any circumstances, contradicts of thousands of years of parenting experience, and assertions that corporal punishment teaches violent behavior fly in the face of historical fact that when spanking was used much more liberally than it is today, levels of social violence were far lower.