It looks like Canada’s “spanking law” may be destined for the history books. The Liberals have agreed to try to remove controversial section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows parents and teachers to use reasonable physical force to discipline children.
The recommendation that the section be revoked is part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report, which was tabled last week. The commission heard thousands of stories of abuse and neglect in Canada’s residential school system, which routinely took Native Canadian and Inuit children away from their families and forced them to live in terrible and demeaning circumstances. “Corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past and has no place in Canadian schools or homes,” noted the Commission’s report.
The recommendation to get rid of section 43 of the Criminal Code is number six in a list of 94, all of which the Liberal government has said it will pass. (To remove the section from the Criminal Code, a bill will have to be presented and then passed by Parliament.)
More than 40 countries have already banned the physical punishment of kids. In 2012, the Canadian Medical Association Journal called to make spanking a criminal offence, saying it was bad for children’s health. The editor wrote, “It is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book.”
Personally, I am 100 percent for the removal of this shield for parents and teachers. I don’t think that physically hurting our kids is OK on any level, and the research agrees with me. Studies have shown that spanking affects kids in a negative way: It doesn’t make them more responsible, but it can lead to mental health issues down the road.
I don’t care if you were spanked and “turned out fine.” Hitting someone you love is counterintuitive to being a good role model and to good discipline. But I’m always surprised by the amount of controversy this issue brings up and how many people are fans of hitting their kids. In a recent Global News online poll about a lobby group’s push to criminalize spanking, 41 percent of people voted against making spanking illegal.
In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that reasonable force against a child was permissible as long as it wasn’t used against a child under two and as long as a parent didn’t use a physical object, such as the biblically endorsed rod or a belt. Removing section 43 from the Criminal Code takes it a step further, so a parent or teacher can’t rely on the defence of reasonable force when it comes to disciplining children.
The Canadian Federation of Teachers also opposes the removal of this protection from the Criminal Code, saying that teachers sometimes need to use physical force to keep other children safe—they cite breaking up fights as an example. I would not want to remove a tool from a teacher’s toolbox when it comes to difficult kids, but breaking up a fight is very different from physically punishing a child and I have faith that the public and the courts know that as well.
This change to the Criminal Code can’t come soon enough. And, like the other recommendations in the Commission’s report, repealing section 43 will make our country a better, stronger place to bring up our kids.