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CBC News, 19 June 2008
In depth: Criminal Code proposal
Why the Senate wants to hit spanking parents with law change
By Brian Kemp
It's the age-old question: when children misbehave, do you punish them with a slap on the bum?
Thus far, it has been a personal decision for parents, but now the Canadian Senate is moving an anti-spanking bill to the House of Commons that, if adopted, could take the option of spanking out of parents' hands.
Bill S-209, which needs MPs' approval to be made into law, proposes to get rid of Section 43 of Canada's Criminal Code, which allows parents and teachers to use reasonable force to discipline a child and correct their behaviour.
Opinion is divided on whether spanking is needed, and the Supreme Court in 2004 denied a challenge to Section 43. Regardless, the bill is moving ahead.
The spanking debate has been around Parliament Hill for more than a decade, and the opinions on both sides are well staked out.
The arguments for and against spanking
Hervieux-Payette, the leader of the opposition in the Senate and a former cabinet minister in the Pierre Trudeau government, appeared before the Senate standing committee on human rights last year. She told her fellow senators of a visit she had with 60 elementary school students who sat in the Senate seats and debated the spanking issue.
"I am pleased to report that they unanimously voted to repeal this legislative provision," she said.
She later testified: "Children have told me that if they have done something wrong, their parents can punish them by telling them not to play with their video [games] or not watching television. Children know there are different ways of disciplining. You do not have to attack their integrity; you still must respect them as individuals."
When asked by a committee member about why there are stumbling blocks to the proposed legislation, Hervieux-Payette brought up the Old Testament.
"I understand some people, but there are those I hardly understand -- for example, the religious belief that we should apply the Old Testament, which says that if you love your children, you abuse them physically and hit them.
"We are talking about something that was written some thousands of years ago. The science of sociology did not exist when the Old Testament was written.
"There is a school of thought that you correct children because you love them. However, it does not work, and there is no evidence whatsoever that it works. There are many studies that contradict this tradition."
Hervieux-Payette said a child who is hit by an adult "certainly does not have a lot of self-esteem."
"The most heart-wrenching situation of all is the children who commit suicide. When a loving parent strikes his child, it is difficult for the child to trust the parent. Not so long ago, lawmakers moved to address the problem of spousal abuse. Provinces enacted measures to support families."
During Senate testimony in May of this year, Hervieux-Payette said: "When it is an adult who is hit, we call it assault. When it is an animal, we call it cruelty. And when it is a child, we call it discipline. We need to change that perception."
Corinne Robertshaw, founder and co-ordinator of an advocacy group called Repeal 43 Committee Toronto, told the Senate committee that parents set a bad example when they hit children for correction.
"The example contributes to other domestic violence and the general level of violence in our society," she said. "Fear is not a good basis for self-discipline. Discipline that relies on punishment is not the way to teach children to discipline themselves."
But Dave Quist, the executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, an Ottawa-based lobby group, argued before the committee that spanking was necessary.
"There are so many issues that contribute negatively to our society -- social influences, biological factors, poverty, substance abuse and so on. There is no empirical evidence that the removal of Section 43 will deal with any of these negative influences," he said.
"We can all agree that every child is unique and different. Because of this uniqueness, every child needs to be disciplined in a way that is most effective to them. Typically, this will be on a graduated basis -- most often, distraction techniques for infants, verbal clarification, time outs, loss of privileges, natural and logical consequences and spanking. It is important that we focus on the actual outcomes of the research and discipline.
"In considering this issue, we must ask ourselves, does the state have a role in the raising of our children? I believe the state only has a role in limiting society's rights and freedoms if those rights and freedoms are deemed to be harmful to society and its members. There is no evidence that the state needs to interfere in this issue."
Quist pointed out that Sweden and New Zealand have been referred to as countries that have benefited from a no-spanking policy.
"However, the full data and latest research does not support that premise," he said. "Some data suggests that since 1979, when the Swedish spanking ban was put into place, youth-to-youth violence is actually on the rise."
Some in legal community oppose change
Some members of the legal community have come out against the elimination of Section 43 and have made their submissions to the Senate committee that studied the bill.
Lawyers say they are afraid of the legal repercussions for parents who decide to spank their children.
"By prohibiting the use of reasonable force by a responsible adult who might step in where it would be otherwise reasonable to do so, it might actually represent an increased risk to children, either from their own behaviour or from the unrestrained behaviour of other children," said Greg DelBigio, chair of the Canadian Bar Association's national criminal justice section, in a news release.
The association said in its release that the change "would result in an unwarranted expansion of criminal liability, over-criminalizing behaviour of parents, teachers and authorities attempting to deal with troubled children in extremely difficult circumstances."
"It would also grant immunity to children and teenagers for dangerous behaviour while having no impact on actual assaults on young people by parents and authority figures," the release said.
Mark Lapowich, of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, argued before the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs in May of this year that the removal of the corporal punishment provision would open parents up to charges of assault.
"A valid defence is being removed. This defence is currently available to parents and teachers who are doing their best to raise and educate their children in stable family and school settings through guidance and the appropriate use of discipline," he said.
"If Section 43 were repealed, make no mistake that the assault provisions of the Criminal Code would apply to parents or teachers who use any force against a child without the child's consent."
Hervieux-Payette tried to reassure senators on the human rights committee that parents are not the targets.
"My objective in proposing this measure -- and my personal goal as a lawmaker -- is not to embarrass parents or drag them before a court of law," she said. "Rather, I want to resolve the issue of the harm done to children, to protect their rights and to make sure that parents who are not properly educated about this receive some support."
It's wrong to spank children: professor
In an interview, she said spanking makes kids become increasingly angry and resentful toward parents over time, "and they tend to take it out on other people."
Spanking, she said, is linked to higher levels of anxiety and substance abuse, as well as eating disorders.
"When you look at youth violence, sometimes people will say, 'Those children haven't been spanked enough.' But actually, those children have been exposed to quite a high level of violence."
The argument made by some parents that they were spanked and turned out just fine is flawed, suggested Durrant, who is also a child clinical psychologist.
"That may be quite true. Most people of a certain age were spanked as children and may not have any difficulties," she said. "But we don't make policy decisions on an individual self-perception. We make policy decisions on the basis of what we know to be true in the population."
She pointed out that dozens of studies have shown that spanking has negative effects on children and that there are other ways to discipline kids.
"This isn't about telling parents what to do, or telling them how to raise their children," Durrant said. "It's about understanding that physical punishment places children at risk. â€¦ We need to act together as a society and replace it with things that do promote children's health."
Twenty-three countries have prohibited corporal punishment, and Canada needs to catch up, said Durrant.
Winnipeg Sun, Manitoba, 21 June 2008
Kill this 'Nanny State' bill
By Joseph Quesnel
Canada's Liberal-dominated Senate wants to turn my parents into criminals and I don't appreciate it.
This past week, legislation criminalizing parents who use reasonable corporal punishment on their children passed through the Senate. Hopefully, this Nanny State initiative will die in the House of Commons.
I don't know what it is with starry-eyed liberal reformers who believe abolishing spanking will produce a violence-free utopia.
It clearly has not changed anything in schools. School boards across this country abolished corporal punishment decades ago and it has emboldened some of the worst behaved students. I will not argue there is a causal link between banning the strap and increased violence in our schools, but it sure is coincidental both have risen together. When I was young, I could expect a hand or a belt to greet me if I committed offences against the law and order in our home. I also remember receiving light slaps on the bottom at school for tormenting others. In my mind, it was a way of differentiating whom [sic] was in charge and what was right and wrong.
Utopian education reformers and sociology professors try to make dubious arguments linking physical discipline and general violence. It creates a spiral in society, they claim, where people learn it is OK to hit others because they were struck themselves. This claim cannot be empirically proven and nor does it make the critical distinction between lawfully-executed discipline and assault or child abuse. The difference is in the motive and identity of the person doing it. It is as basic as why we allow courts to jail people against their will. They have done something that warrants coercion.
The argument made by "children's advocates" (read: professional baby snatchers) is that parents use the Criminal Code exemption for corporal punishment to shield child abuse. Sadly, this does happen. Some parents do, unfortunately, interpret the right to strike too broadly and smack their kids when they are angry or simply because they do not like their face.
This allows sociologists to paint all parents with the same brush. Parents who spank sparingly and with the motive of correction are lumped in with parents who burn their children with cigarettes or break bones. Like obscenity, I think most people know abuse when they see it. In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the right of parents to use reasonable force in disciplining children. It laid down guidelines, ruling that children under two years and teenagers were not to be spanked, and that objects were out of the question. During the hearings, Justice Charles Gonthier said repealing Section 43 could make parents liable to criminal charges each time they spanked their children.
This recent bill adopted by the Senate allows parents or teachers to use "reasonable force other than corporal punishment, but only in three specific circumstances: preventing or minimizing harm to the child or another person, preventing the child from engaging in conduct of a criminal nature, or preventing the child from engaging in excessively offensive or disruptive behaviour."
But, who will enforce this? Will parents need to create a checklist every time they think of using any force on their children? These important elements always escape the mind of the utopian reformer.
Copyright © 2007, Canoe Inc. All rights reserved.
Telegraph-Journal, St John, New Brunswick, 26 June 2008
Anti-spanking lunatics are BaaaaaCk!
By Charles Moore
Four years ago, in a commentary on the Supreme Court's 2004 6-3 majority ruling upholding Section 43 of the Criminal Code - the "spanking law-" I opined: "I think we can safely assume this one has been settled for the foreseeable future." I was overly optimistic.
Last Tuesday, a bill spearheaded by dogged Liberal "children's rights" nut-job Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette passed final reading in the Senate, proving at least two things. First, never mind "sober second thought," a majority of current senators have demonstrated themselves incapable of sober first thought. Secondly, it's time for Prime Minister Harper to put his campaign for structural Senate reform (commendable in principle) on hold and get on with some functional Senate reform by appointing small-c conservative-minded members to the Upper House while he has the opportunity.
Hervieux-Payette's bill would, if it makes it through Parliament, strike down Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which provides that any parent, schoolteacher or parental authority "is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child" over the age of two and under 13- years old, "if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances," which, as the Canadian Bar Association noted during Senate committee hearings, would criminalize parents and teachers for exercising traditional forms of corrective discipline on offspring and charges.
Fortunately on this misbegotten piece of legislation Parliament will be the instrument of second thought, and sober or otherwise, parliamentarians operate under the reality constraint of accountability to voters, which should help temper political-correctness lunacy among the opposition. Reportedly Stephen Harper will make it a free vote, cost-free for him as I doubt any Conservative MPs would support Hervieux-Payette's bill anyway, and hopefully enough opposition members will be amenable to common sense to handily defeat it.
Surveys indicating some 80 per cent of Canadians support retention of spanking should help impose some degree of sobriety on deliberations.
I mean, given the increasing mayhem and anarchy being wreaked on our society by out-of-control young offenders, how can anyone with half a brain possibly imagine that we need less, rather than more, youth discipline? Criminy! - what are the nitwits that propelled this bill through the Senate thinking? Perhaps "thinking" excessively dignifies their mental processes.
Certainly, guidelines prescribed in the Supreme Court's decision place plenty enough legal inhibition on physical discipline. Corporal punishment of children under age two is probably useless, and of teenagers possibly counterproductive, and hitting a child of any age in the head or face can't be justified.
Prohibition of parents using instruments other than the open hand to administer corporal discipline isn't a point I would go to the wall on either, interpreting the Bible's "spare the rod and spoil the child" admonition as partly metaphorical, although accurate in principle. The high court's proviso that discipline must be for "educational" or "corrective" purposes only and not motivated by "anger" or "frustration" is idealistically high-minded, but probably more than a little unlikely in certain real-world situations.
I'm no enthusiast for hitting people, especially little kids, but I reluctantly spanked my own children on rare occasions, likely countable on fingers of the hand of administration, only as a last resort, but there were times when it was the right thing to do.
Where I radically parted company with the majority justices (and certainly the dissenting minority) in 2004 was on the matter of corporal punishment in schools. Effectively, they banned it, while I strongly advocate restoration, and not just for students under 13.
During my schooldays 40-50 years ago, a regulation "strap" resided in a desk drawer of every classroom. Frequency of employment varied from teacher to teacher, but when every student was conscious of its ominous presence, schools were much, more orderly, disciplined, and civilized compared with the near-anarchy that prevails nowadays.
As former Supreme Court judge Madame Justice L'Heureux-Dubé affirmed sensibly on this issue:
"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."
Too true. While the meltdown of discipline and civility in schools can't entirely, or even predominantly, be attributed to removal of the strap (the primary culprit has been the imposition of general lefty social sciences quackery), elimination of corporal punishment has undoubtedly been a factor, and if Hervieux-Payette's bill ever passes into law, there will be literal hell to pay both in families and society in general.
Something to impress on your MP over the summer.
Charles W. Moore is a Nova Scotia based freelance writer and editor. His column appears each Thursday.
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