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Should all forms of physical discipline against kids be made illegal?

Last Updated Nov 2, 2015 at 5:13 pm PDT

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Advocates for children’s rights say it’s time for the federal government to catch up to other countries and get rid of Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada. It’s the section that allows parents to use reasonable physical force against their children for the purposes of correction.

Section 43 of the Criminal Codes reads “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.”

There are times when corporal punishment is not allowed following a constitutional challenge out of Ontario. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada added judicial limitations to better set out what exactly is considered reasonable force. Corinne’s Quest, a group advocating for the elimination of the section, lays out the limitations:

  • 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 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”; and
  • 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.”

Adrienne Montani with advocacy group First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition says 44 countries have eliminated this allowance, but the Canadian federal government has refused. “There’s no other human being that you are allowed to hit and so why should children be allowed to be hit? We have made commitments to children’s right to physical integrity, to health and safety, to non-violence. There’s no reason why they should be exempted under this kind of a defense.”

Montani explains research has now shown using physical force to discipline doesn’t work. “It’s harmful to children’s health and development. It doesn’t work in terms of learning what good behaviour is. It can stop certain types of behaviours or make children operate out of fear, but the research on it is that it’s not helpful and that there are much more helpful ways for parents to guide their children.”

There are many adults today who grew up being spanked or experiencing some other sort of corporal punishment who don’t feel they’ve been damaged. But Montani says that doesn’t mean it is best practice in parenting. “You can’t go to a single parenting class in this province or country, or Health Canada website and look for parenting advice and they will tell you this is a good thing to do. They will tell you hitting children is not the appropriate way and not the most effective way.

She says with an election on the way, they’ve written to all leaders of federal political parties to see where they stand.