Spanking, a Criminal Act in Canada?

Do you find some contradiction here? A child in the womb, entering into the birth canal, has no rights in Canada. That child’s life can be terminated by a few words, and within moments, hands from the medical community that vowed to protect and preserve life can remove its right to exist.

If legislators are looking at the issue of child abuse, should it not start from the womb, by protecting the most innocent of our children? I find the toleration of abortion in our society to be an expression of child abuse to the highest order.

So, when I hear that the Canadian Senate has now given consent to Bill S-209, I am aghast at the hypocrisy. This Bill needs House approval to be made into law. They propose the elimination of Section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which allows parents, teachers and caregivers to use reasonable force to discipline a child and correct their behaviour.

Does anyone see the confused sense of morality? A child in the womb has no rights, and can be torn limb for limb from the mother’s body, but when it is outside the womb, it cannot be touched.

One law allows the most violent form of abuse, leading to death, and the other law restrains even the most honourable intentions of protecting a child from themselves. One law allows for murder and has been decriminalized; another law prohibits spanking and criminalizes any breach of it.

It appears we are becoming a nation of irreconcilable extremes. As one who has worked closely with individuals and family systems for close to 35 years now, I can attest that abuse in all forms is a growing social problem. No one I know approves of child abuse, and no one needs a law to recognize it.

However, has the recognition of child’s rights gone too far? Have we moved so far we are about to slip over the edge? What about parent’s and teacher’s rights? The law in vogue at this point in Canada gives them a defence when they use “reasonable force” to discipline a child under the circumstances. That defence was upheld as constitutional January 30th, 2004 by the Supreme Court.

The proposed law infringes on the rights of parents and educators to bring even the most minor physical correction. Look out Nanny! I have seen enough of Nanny’s programs to see her have to physically restrain a child from hitting another child or hitting her. Now, any attempt to intervene could open the door to a 911 call, turning in a parent to authorities for criminal prosecution and/or re-education classes.

We can all understand and appreciate the wisdom of the caveat created by the Supreme Court in their ruling. They specified that “the words ‘by way of correction’ in s. 43 meant that the use of force had to be sober and reasoned, address actual behaviour, and be intended to restrain, control, or express symbolic disapproval.”

Dissenters believe that spanking leads to a demeaning of the child’s personhood and can validate violent behaviour to the child. I was spanked (not abused) when I was a child. I felt secure in my parent’s love, and knowledge of what was appropriate behaviour and what was not was forged in me.

To say that “spanking” is violence is a stretch for anyone’s imagination. It may have been certain people’s experience, but it cannot be equated across the board. Making spanking a criminal act is a major encroachment on the rights of parents.

One parent reacted to the proposed legislation with unbelief:  “Raising a good child is a blessing but having a spank or tap on the hand for reaching towards a flame puts me in Jail?” This is truly unbelievable. Do we really want to fill our courtrooms with this?

If social activists are concerned about violence in our nation, maybe we should hear a similar outcry concerning cartoons and the violence shown on television and in our movie industry. Many children are spending over 50 hours a week imbibing the values of violence affirmed by the CRTC.

Nobody disagrees that children should be free from physical abuse and injury. However, debate is needed on defining the difference between physical discipline and physical abuse. On that matter of law there is little consensus.

Maybe time-outs will work for all kids at all times, but the way things are going, as one has stated, “soon time-outs will be illegal because of ´the damaging life-long effects of solitary confinement.’”