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Domestic CP - May 2002

National Post, Toronto, 27 May 2002

Aylmer spanking case heads to court

TORONTO -- The two sides in a heart-wrenching battle over corporal punishment will square off in court today for the right to care for seven children from a fundamentalist Christian family.

The children, now aged between seven and 15, were dragged kicking and screaming July 4 from their home in Aylmer, Ont., 25 kilometres east of St. Thomas, by family services officials and police.

They were taken by Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin after the parents, staunch believers that the Bible condones "the rod of correction," refused to guarantee that they wouldn't paddle their children.

The ensuing debate has galvanized the community where the parents, buttressed by immeasurable public support and an entire congregation of the Church of God, are fighting to raise their kids the way they see fit.

And age-old debates, newly energized, have been raging ever since.

"I think it's capturing people's attention because the parents and their supporters have taken the view that they have a right to strike children," said Gail Vandermeulen, director of communication with the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies.

"We don't believe that you should spank a child at all, and we certainly don't believe that you should beat a child with an instrument."

Children's Aid Society officials have a legal obligation to act when they understand a child to be in danger, Vandermeulen said.

"The law says we must intervene if physical harm is caused to a child. The view of the child welfare system is that you cannot strike a child and cause injury."

A temporary agreement between Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin and the parents, endorsed by an Ontario Court justice, permitted the children to return home three weeks later.

But there were clear signs that the dispute would not be so easily resolved: late last year, the family declared it would not be able to abide by the portion of the agreement forbidding the use of corporal punishment.

The trial, which is expected to last seven to 10 days, will determine whether the children need the continued protection of Family and Children's Services.

Whenever the case has gone to court during the past year, a gathering of protesters, both Church of God congregants and neighbourhood supporters, has made for a surreal display on the street outside.

Between hymns, parishioners of all ages, including toddlers -- boys clad in black suit jackets, girls in prim, ankle-length summer dresses -- could be seen kneeling in the grass, their brows furrowed in furious prayer.

"We are a church that believes in Bible principles; we believe that this nation needs it, and we believe that this nation wants it," Rev. Henry Hildebrandt said last summer.

"We're going to stand on the principles of the Bible, of love and kindness."

A Web site run by Church of God adherents,, keeps supporters up to date on developments, complete with pixellated photos of the children, whose identities are protected by a court order.

"We believe in obeying the laws of our land, and are glad to have law and order in this country," the Web site says.

"But when that same government takes away one's right and duty to obey the Word of God, then we must obey God, who is the judge of all, rather than man."

Section 43 of the Criminal Code has allowed spanking in Canada since 1892, but only for the purpose of "correction" and only within the bounds of what it calls "reasonable force."

The courts over the years have interpreted the law -- which withstood a constitutional challenge earlier this year -- as forbidding the use of inanimate objects such as paddles, sticks or wooden spoons.

 Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press

blob Follow-up: 29 June 2002: Religious family believes in strap (illustrated)

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