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CANADA

Domestic CP - February 2002



masthead London Free Press, Ontario, 5 February 2002

Spanking Case An Attack On Family

By Rory Leishman
London Freelance Writer

Is it always wrong to spank a child? Health Canada thinks so. In Nobody's Perfect, a program that teaches parenting skills to parents with children under five, this agency of the federal government states: "No matter how angry you are, it's never OK to spank children. It' s a bad idea and it doesn't work."

Millions of Canadian parents disagree. While they would never condone the use of excess force to discipline a child, they would not rebuke a loving mother who mildly spanks her youngster for chasing a ball into the street.

Perhaps some parents have managed to raise well-disciplined children without ever spanking them. But is the achievement of a few parents reason for the state to invoke criminal sanctions as a means of forcing all parents to try to do the same?

Surely not. Yet such drastic state interference in the autonomy of the family is a real threat. With the support of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies and $69,000 in funding provided by the Jean Chretien government through the Court Challenges Program, a fringe group of child's rights extremists -- the National Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law (NFCYL) -- is seeking a judicial ruling that would make it a criminal offence for any parent to spank his or her own child.

In the days when Canada was still a functioning democracy and judges were bound to uphold the law, the courts could have been counted upon to reject out of hand such a ludicrous lawsuit. Today, that is no longer the case.

Under the pretence of upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our judicial masters on the Supreme Court of Canada have arrogated to themselves the right to strike down or amend any law that has been duly enacted by elected representatives of the people.

In our revamped criminal courts, it's often not so much the accused as the law that is on trial. In the anti-spanking case brought by the NFCYL, there was no accused before the court at all: This travesty of a trial focused entirely on the abstract merits of Section 43 of the Criminal Code: "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."

In the end, the trial judge, Mr. Justice David McCombs of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, upheld the law. Among other considerations, he pointed out more than spanking is at issue. "Without Section 43, " he wrote, "other forms of restraint would be criminal, such as putting an unwilling child to bed, removing a reluctant child from the dinner table, removing a child from a classroom who refused to go, or placing an unwilling child in a car seat."

On Jan. 25, the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously agreed with McCombs. Whether our nine arbitrary rulers on the Supreme Court will condescend to concur is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, do the Chretien Liberals have no qualms about using taxpayers' money to help finance this litigious attack on loving parents? And what about the role of the Ontario Association of Children's Aids Societies in this fiasco? This agency should concentrate upon preventing the kind of horrendous child abuse that killed Jordan Heikamp, the five-week-old baby who died of starvation while supposedly under the care of his mother and Toronto's Catholic Children's Aid Society.

Instead, the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies is trying to persuade the courts to make Canada the first country in the world to criminalize the behaviour of every loving parent who spanks his or her own child. This is outrageous.

Who can have any reasonable confidence in an agency that has mounted such a totalitarian attack on the rights of parents to decide for themselves what reasonable measures to take for the discipline and instruction of their children?

Rory Leishman is a freelance writer based in London. His column appears Tuesdays.




masthead Toronto Star, 11 February 2002

Right to spank backed in poll

But public divided on whether light slap will make children think

By Donald McKenzie
Canadian Press

MONTREAL - About 70 per cent of Canadians polled oppose having the government pass a law that would prohibit parents from spanking their children, a new survey suggests.

Only 21.9 per cent of 1,516 respondents to the Léger Marketing survey answered Yes when asked: "Should the government pass legislation to ban parents from spanking their children?"

Some 70 per cent said No, while 8.1 per cent did not know or refused to answer.

Respondents were split evenly (46.9 per cent Yes, 46.6 No), when asked: "Is a light slap an effective way to make a child think?"

The poll was conducted Jan. 22-27, about a week after Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a Criminal Code section that allows caregivers and educators to discipline their charges physically if they use reasonable force.

In that court case, the federal government argued that allowing ``limited" corporal punishment does not hurt children and "balances the societal interest in sustaining the family unit with the charter rights of the child."

One leading psychologist who has studied parental discipline for 12 years believes the wording of the Léger Marketing poll questions affected the results.

"People may think (a light slap) is an effective way to make a child think but they may not necessarily think it's an effective way to change a child's behaviour, an effective way to improve the parent-child relationship, an effective way to build attachment between the parent and the child," said Joan Durrant of the University of Manitoba's family-studies department.

"It also doesn't ask them if they think it's the best way or the right thing to do, so the question really doesn't tell us a whole lot about what people think."

Durrant said a survey she did, from the 1990s, found 65 per cent of respondents answered Yes when asked whether they would support a legal prohibition if it were proven to reduce injuries to children.

A Sudbury man was sentenced to 30 days last month for assaulting a 2-year-old boy he spanked with too much force last year.

Last summer, six Ontario children, 6 to 14 were taken from their home in Aylmer, over concerns their fundamentalist Christian parents were spanking them with a paddle.

The family was reunited under a temporary agreement with social workers that prohibited the parents from striking the children. A trial to determine if the children need the protection of Family and Children's Services is to start May 27.

The Léger poll, with margin of error of 2.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20, also suggested 50.4 per cent of Canadian parents have inflicted "light corporal punishment, like a slap," on their children.

Even that kind of behaviour is unacceptable to Jeanette Lewis, executive-director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies. "Very often it's not done in a coolly objective manner. It's easy for parents then to get carried away and for the spanking to become corporal punishment."

Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.



National Post, Toronto, 12 February 2002

Commentary

Smacking children

Anyone who has ever claimed that Canada is riven by regional issues and fundamental differences of opinion ought to take a look at the most recent Leger Marketing/Canadian Press poll on spanking. Anti-spanking advocates might also want to check it out -- and find a different campaign to back.

Nationally, an overwhelming 70% of Canadians told Leger pollsters that they oppose any federal legislation banning parents from spanking their children. While the results ranged from 58% in Quebec to 82% in Alberta, the poll suggests that Canadians speak with one voice in their approval of the current legal position, which is that parents may administer corporal punishment to their children if they judge it necessary. The results must be considered another in a long series of setbacks for the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law (CFCYL) and its campaign to turn spanking into a criminal offence. Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected the CFCYL's appeal of an earlier Superior Court ruling that upheld section 43 of the Criminal Code, which permits spanking by parents or teachers under "reasonable" and "corrective" circumstances. The CFCYL mistakenly believes that allowing families to decide how to discipline their own children turns every parent into a potential child abuser. Not only has the CFCYL embarked on a fruitless legal campaign against section 43 (underwritten by Ottawa through the Court Challenges Program) but we now see that a great majority of Canadians oppose its cause.

The campaign against section 43 is based on the premise that children must be protected from their parents by the state. In fact the opposite is true. Since only 50% of Canadian parents in the Leger poll reported ever having spanked a child while 70% disapproved of making it illegal, it seems a great many Canadians defend spanking not as a personal choice, but rather as an issue of parental autonomy in resisting government interference with child-rearing. It bears emphasis that children are not perfectly rational beings and that occasionally they act in ways that may bring harm to themselves or others. Whether parents choose to use corporal punishment or not, most recognize that it is their decision to make. Criminalizing spanking -- something no developed nation has done -- would force Canadian society a step toward the unwonted and unwanted in the nationalization of child raising. The state has a duty to protect children from assault -- and there are criminal laws in place that do so -- but it has no business getting between children and their parents. Parents, courts and politicians understand that. The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law alone does not.

Copyright © 2001 National Post Online
National Post Online is a Hollinger / CanWest Publication



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