By Tina Olesen
Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have announced their plans to repeal the so-called “Spanking Law” as part of their commitment to implement all of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The TRC investigated the past abuse of aboriginal children in Canadian residential schools and made 94 recommendations to the government to promote reconciliation between the offended and the offenders.
One of their recommendations was that the government repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code. It 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.”
Let’s be clear, this law does not allow for teachers to spank students. In January 2004, the Supreme Court stated that “teachers may reasonably apply force to remove a child from a classroom or secure compliance with instructions, but not merely as corporal punishment.”[i]
Today, the vast majority of child abuse happens in the home, not in schools. Repealing Section 43 will do nothing to prevent child abuse, and may well harm children.
There is a role that the authorities have to play in rescuing children from abusive situations. I spent more than eight years working as a Family Support Worker with children who were at risk for neglect or abuse. I sat in their homes, talked with their families, and heard their stories. I saw children being separated from their parents and being placed in foster care.
As bad as some of those homes were, they were the only homes these children knew. Leaving their parents was always difficult for them, even in the most abusive situations. Even the best foster homes weren’t really “home” for these kids. But in some rare situations, it really is in the children’s best interests to be permanently removed from their natural home.
I think we can all agree, however, that this is not ideal. Most of the time, children belong with their parents, which is why the systematic removal of aboriginal children from their natural families was so devastating.
One of the horrors of the Residential Schools tragedy was that children were ripped away from their parents and had to grow up apart from their families, stripped of their identity and security.
So, why would we want to repeal Section 43 and give the government more power to take children away from their families? It doesn’t make any sense.
Do we really want an already overwhelmed social services system and court system dealing with cases that should never be brought before a judge?
Imagine a scenario where loving parents warn their child not to run into traffic, and when he does he gets a swat on the behind. A neighbour reports this to social services and they have to investigate. Perhaps the child has to be removed from the home during the investigation, which means he may go to a foster home. Then they have to appear before a judge, which could drag on indefinitely with our backlogged court system. Not only do the parents have to endure the avoidable awfulness of such a trial, but the child has to endure the unwarranted loss of his home and family, even temporarily.
Section 43 is already worded in such a way as to avoid cases like this coming before a judge in the first place. It not only protects parents and teachers who are disciplining in love, but it protects children from the ordeal of unnecessary removal and separation from their families.
Those who argue in favor of repealing Section 43 argue that “We don’t allow husbands to hit their wives so why do we allow parents to spank their children?” This is akin to arguing that, “We don’t allow husbands to give their wives a time-out, so why do we allow parents to give their children one?” The parent-child relationship is obviously very different from the spousal relationship.
Their argument also falsely equates assault with the use of physical correction. Do some parents cross the line and abuse their children in anger? Yes, but we already have a law preventing the excessive use of force against a child. Proper parental use of physical correction, done calmly with self-control and with love, is not child abuse.
If the government redefines child abuse to include physical correction, not only will they be setting themselves up for an even more overloaded social services system, but they will ironically be perpetrating the same crime that was committed against children and parents in Residential Schools so many years ago: they will be usurping parental authority and needlessly splitting up families all over again.
“While corporal punishment itself is not reasonable in the school context, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded that teachers may use force to remove children from classrooms or secure compliance with instructions.” See http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/prb0510-e.htm