Canadian Children: Whose Responsibility?
In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the Trudeau Government has announced it plans to implement all of its recommendations, including the complete removal of section 43 of the Criminal Code – which provides allowances for corporal discipline for teachers and parents.
Corporal discipline is the use of reasonable, non-injurious physical force with the intention and purpose of correction or control of a child’s behavior.
Canada’s Supreme Court (SCC) laid out very clear guidelines for corporal discipline in 2004:
- Force must be sober and reasoned, address actual behaviour, and be intended to restrain, control, or express symbolic disapproval
- The child must have the capacity to understand and benefit from the correction, not being under 2 years of age
- Force must be transitory and trifling, must not harm or degrade the child and must not be based on the gravity of the wrongdoing
- Force may not be administered to teenagers Force may not involve objects such as rulers or belts
- Force may not be applied to the head
On child abuse:
Child abuse is unacceptable. No civilized country has laws that allow parents to beat or harm their children. Corporal discipline, under the specifications outlined by the SCC, does not constitute harm or abuse, and those who suggest it does intentionally ignore or confuse the obvious differences between abuse and discipline. The removal of section 43 could criminalize well-meaning parents. The question is: When should the state enter into the family home? Generally we only want that to happen in egregious cases of abuse and not where you have loving parents who have a sense of what is good or bad for their own kids.
No two children are the same. Some require only a soft verbal reprimand, while others will not respond to such a rebuke. The use of a light smack is not the only method of discipline that can be used, nor should it necessarily be the first method. However, parents know better than any State bureaucrat what works best for each child and have a personal and loving relationship with that child. Therefore, parents should retain the right (and do have the heavy responsibility) to raise their children as they believe is in the child’s best interests.
The social scientific evidence suggests there is no harm in its proper use:
- Evidence shows that “conditional spanking was more strongly associated with reductions in non-compliance or antisocial behaviour than 10 of 13 alternate disciplinary tactics” When this kind of physical discipline is administered in keeping with Canadian law, the outcome is as good as, or better than, other forms of discipline available to parents.
- Studies show that children prefer a quick spanking over other forms of discipline like the removal of a privilege. A 2006 New Zealand study found that “non-physical punishment was most frequently regarded as the worst punishment ever received”.
- There are negative emotional impacts of other methods of discipline. For example, if one child were given an ice cream cone but the other was not because of naughty behaviour, this could signal to the child that they’re not loved, or the other child is more favoured, etc. Some forms of discipline – such as yelling, emotional abuse, or grounding/isolation techniques – are much more damaging to a child but are not even discussed or opposed by those seeking the repeal of section 43.
A recent Macleans article engaged with some of the results of positive-reinforcement parenting, noting that “many kids are actually overpowering their parents… [T]he consequences can be far-reaching, starting with children’s eating habits, which might contribute to them becoming overweight and obese”.
- Severe, abusive and illegal discipline is not distinguished from a mild, short smack of correction, as set out by the Supreme Court as legal.
- This mild physical discipline is not compared to the impacts of other forms of discipline, like isolation, removing privileges, etc. in the long term.
- An assumption that mild physical correction can lead to aggressive behaviour in the child, where social-scientific evidence points to the opposite conclusion.
Some believe that children’s rights are overlooked in this discussion. However, if this view of children’s rights over parental authority were to be applied consistently, the implications for children would be devastating. Children are not yet morally developed, emotionally mature enough or intellectually capable of understanding the world around them, nor capable of exercising their own rights. Someone must do so on their behalf as guardians, guides and teachers. Some people would like that role to go to the State! But the State is not capable of loving its citizens like parents and lacks any emotional and spiritual connection with children. History teaches us that when the State has such power, children are sacrificed to political ideologies.
The first place we should look to for providing love and discipline for children is with parents, not the State. Children must be directed in order to learn how to live in a civilized society, as well as learning what is right and wrong. Discipline is required to achieve this. The numerous errors in reasoning that are committed by those who seek to make conditional physical discipline illegal cause people to overlook the benefits of this form of discipline when compared with other methods, and cause people to overlook negative effects of other non-physical methods typically recommended. No two children are the same, and corporal discipline should not be the first method employed. However, section 43 must remain in force for the benefit of those parents who choose this form of discipline in the best interests of their child.
Write to your MP:
All letters to MPs can be found by visiting https://easy.arpacanada.ca and selecting the map of Canada for federal letters. Please consider sending one of the following letters to your MP:
- Letter 1 – Not the State’s job
- Letter 2 – The Rules are Clear
- Letter 3 – Childrearing left to parents
 Larzelere, “Comparing Child Outcomes of Physical Punishment and Alternative Disciplinary Tactics: A Meta-Analysis.” At p. 27.
 Millichamp, Jane, Judy Martin, John Langley, “On the receiving end: young adults describe their parents use of physical punishment and other disciplinary measures during childhood,” Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, Vol 119 No 1228. http://www.nzma.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/17859/Vol-119-No-1228-27-January-2006.pdf. The same study found, “[M]any study members stated explicitly that methods such as grounding were far worse than any physical punishment received during childhood”.