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Domestic CP - July 2001

masthead London Free Press, Ontario, 7 July 2001

Aylmer church fights back

Church of God minister insists families have right to spank children

By Randy Richmond, Jonathan Sher and Lori Seymour
Free Press Reporters

AYLMER -- The Church of God will go to court to defend its right to spank, strap and strike children, its pastor vowed yesterday.

"If we give this right up, we are basically giving our children up to becoming wayward," said Rev. Henry Hildebrandt. "I think (court) is where this is going."

Even as a caravan of congregation members from the United States made its way north today for a rally, the parents of the seven children seized by social workers admitted they made mistakes, but stopped short of saying they wouldn't use force again.

"We're not saying we haven't made mistakes in the process of raising our children," the father said through an interpreter.

He said he hit one of his younger children once with a belt and once with his hand.

"We live and we learn," he said.

Fellow church members from Indiana and Ohio will board a caravan of vehicles and a bus today and drive to Alymer, where they'll join forces with the local congregation.

The group, which may also include congregants from Wisconsin, will rally at a Children's Aid Society hearing Monday, Hildebrandt said.

"Horrorfied, shocked and almost beyond belief," is how an Ohio congregation of the Church of God reacted to the removal of the children, its pastor, Ray Tinsman said yesterday.

They'll be watched by St. Thomas police, a CAS official said, to avoid a "circus" like the one Wednesday when a dozen or so cops and agency workers carried four boys and three girls, ages six to 14, from their house. Some of the children wept as about 50 of the church's 200 members prayed on the front lawn and neighbours on the street of tidy bungalows watched in shock.

Hildebrandt said the church must protect its belief that corporal punishment -- more severe than a slap on the butt -- is a necessary form of discipline.

"It takes more than a slap on the butt to obey. There has to be pain. There will be a pain," Hildebrandt said yesterday in Aylmer.

Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada says parents and guardians are "justified in using force" with children as long as it "doesn't exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances." That law was challenged by child advocates and upheld by Ontario Superior Court. An appeal is set to be heard in September.

The CAS will remove children from a home if the force used by parents is sufficiently severe. Factors considered include whether an object like a stick was used and whether the child was injured.

The children have been placed in foster care until their parents appear in court next week in St. Thomas in an effort to regain custody.

"It was a real surprise. The parents are pretty quiet. The kids ride up and down the street all the time. They seem normal," said one neighbour.

But other neighbours said the CAS had been to the house plenty of times before.

"There was some talk on the street about that. The CAS knew all the kids by name," said a neighbour who didn't want to be identified.

Hildebrandt's account is not the full story, CAS executive director Steve Bailey told The Free Press. "It's one-sided."

So, too, has been the response from the public -- dozens phoned the CAS yesterday, most of them angry at the agency, receptionists there said.

The seizure rekindled debate about corporal punishment of children across Canada.

"Children's Aid are interpreting provincial legislation and trumping federal legislation and using these situations to cause parents to think what they're doing is illegal and immoral," said Jack Baribeau, president of Citizen Impact Canada, a London-based group that defends traditional Christian values.

Baribeau says he thinks the CAS in Alymer overstepped its bounds.

"I saw the picture," he said. "How is 11 police cars forceably taking kids from the arms of their parents in the best interest of those kids?"

To the Alymer Church of God, spanking means an open hand slap or the use of a switch or belt or strap, Hildebrandt said yesterday.

The church prefers parents use something like a switch, only as a last resort and only after cooling down, he said.

A hand leaves marks and can do more damage than a belt, he said.

"Never in the head. Never a slap in a face, or in the ear. I believe the only places is to be spanked is in the bum."

But punishment must be thorough, he said.

The incident with the seven children began when one was scalded and not taken to hospital, Hildebrandt said.

The CAS became involved and for the past eight months were interviewed the family.

The file was about to be closed this week when the CAS asked the parents to promise they would never hit their children again, Hildebrandt said.

The parents refused.

A single police officer tried to negotiate the children's release, neighbours said.

After church members gathered on the lawn, the officer called in reinforcements and the children were taken.

"I think this will remain with the children more than any spanking," Hildebrandt said.

"I believe they are damaged for life."

masthead Toronto Sun, 27 July 2001

Spanked Kids Home

Family Court Returns 7 Children To Rod-Wielding Parents

By Joe Matyas
Sun Media

ST. THOMAS -- Seven children who were removed from their Aylmer home by children's aid authorities in a clash over spanking were reunited with their fundamentalist Christian parents yesterday.

Ontario family court Justice Michael O'Dea ordered the release of the children, aged six to 14, under terms agreed to by lawyers for the parents, children and Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin.

They were forcibly removed from their home on July 4.

"This case won't resolve the debate that's going on in the press or public," O'Dea said during the 90-minute hearing. "The debate on corporal punishment is out there."

Under the terms of the interim agreement, the children's parents will not use physical discipline and will prevent anyone else from applying corporal punishment to their kids.

Alternative methods

They have also agreed to meet with children's aid officials to discuss alternative methods of discipline.

The parents belong to the Church of God, a tight-knit fundamentalist Christian religious community that believes in the adage that to spare the rod is to spoil the child.

Michael Menear, lawyer for the father, agreed with O'Dea that this won't be the milestone case on corporal punishment. That may come later this fall in another case, he said.

But this case has highlighted what can happen when "the legitimate concerns of the state" come in conflict with "the legitimate private rights of citizens, particularly parents."

The parties return to court Sept. 6 for a settlement conference.

Rev. Henry Hildebrandt, pastor of the parents' church, said, "We're not a rebellious, defiant people. We do not want to be in conflict with the government and its agencies."

Church won't change

But Hildebrandt said the church isn't going to change its beliefs.

There's nothing wrong with spanking as long as it's done in a loving and kind way, he said. Marijke den Bak, acting director of children's aid, described the agreement as "a very positive outcome for the children."

blob Follow-up: 2 August 2001: Canadians Flee in Spanking Dispute
blob Follow-up: 27 May 2002: Aylmer spanking case heads to court

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Colin Farrell 2001, 2002
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