Time to give spanking a time out, doctors say

OTTAWA – The Canadian Medical Association Journal says it’s time to do away with the Criminal Code’s so-called spanking law.


OTTAWA – The Canadian Medical Association Journal says it’s time to do away with the Criminal Code’s so-called spanking law.

A strongly worded editorial in the journal Tuesday calls for the repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which gives parents and teachers a legal defence when they physically discipline children.

“It is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book,” editor-in-chief John Fletcher wrote in a signed editorial.

The editorial will likely reignite debate on a controversial topic that has inflamed opinion for decades.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Criminal Code provision by a 6-3 margin in a landmark 2004 ruling.

The high court ruled that the provision did not infringe a child’s right to security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Several private members’ bills to ban corporal punishment have failed in the House of Commons and Senate, most recently in 2008.

In the editorial, Fletcher argues that parents need to be educated on how to discipline their children.

He said the Criminal Code needs to be amended because it tells parents that physical punishment is an acceptable way to discipline children.

“Although it is not necessary to make spanking a crime to encourage alternative approaches to parenting, Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada sends the wrong message, stating, ‘… a parent is justified in using force by way of correction … if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances’.”

The editorial said that police already have discretion to decide when an assault is trivial, but argued that “any bias” should be aimed at vulnerable children.

“To have a specific code excusing parents is to suggest that assault by a parent is a normal and accepted part of bringing up children. It is not. While Section 43 stands, it is a constant excuse for parents to cling to an ineffective method of child discipline when better approaches are available.”

A Library of Parliament analysis of the issue concluded that there was no national consensus on this issue.

It noted that the Supreme Court and the United Nations committee on the rights of the child have divergent views on Section 43.

The UN panel called for the removal of the section.

In 1984, the Law Reform Commission of Canada recommended the repeal of Section 43 as a defence for teachers, but said it should remain for parents, “primarily out of concern that the criminal law would otherwise unduly encroach on family life for every trivial slap or spanking,” the analysis said.

The library also found that public opinion on the topic has also been divided.

It said that a 2003 poll found 69 per cent of Canadians favoured repealing Section 43 for teachers. But only 51 per cent said it should be removed for parents.

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Time to give spanking a time out, doctors say

  1. The Canadian Medical Association Journal seems to be diverging from medicine. And if said Journal would actually take a look at history, and then take a look at today’s society, it would find that making physical discipline illegal/criminal would make society even worse than it is today. Dr Spock (remember him?) had a very detrimental effect on childrearing (and implemented from theory, not fact) so that the children who were not disciplined are the parents of today. (Then again, “science” seems to be more about theories and opinions than actual concrete data, nowadays. How else would you come up with so many conflicting study results in medicine?) The CMA Journal should stick to science, and leave social engineering alone.

  2. There is a distinction between a swat on the rear as a detractor and beating needlessly. Some kids learn quick that a “no” without clear consequences is unenforced. We have friends that we’ve dis-associated with after their children had a free run to do as they please.
    This is not a free run on spanking, just an acknowledgement that is still useful as a last resort.

  3. The section should be viewed less as active support and more as a defence against frivolous charges. Corporal punishment should be used rarely, if at all – but a swat on the hand or the bum under certain circumstances should not lead to criminal charges (which might just happen if the section were removed).

    I’ve seen parents who have inflicted a lot of damage on their kids without ever laying a hand on them. Physical punishment isn’t always abuse, and abuse does not always entail physical punishment. It just ain’t that simple (unfortunately).

  4. Banning corporal punishment is just more wishful thinking. I was spanked occassionally when I was a kid and have not suffered emotional trauma. Heck, I spent my first public school years in a southern state where corporal punishment was used by teachers. I got a rap or two on the hand with a ruler for some act of misbehavior that I no longer remember. I suffered no long term effects. I graduated college, have no criminal record, and am gainfully employed. I’m sorry but this is nothing more than some bleeding hearts looking for headlines and a cause. The corporal punishment option is allowed in the private schools of 48 U.S. states. It is still allowed in the public schools of 20 U.S. states. Corporal punishment is allowed in the private schools of several Australian states. Finally, there is even a big push to bring back corporal punishment in New Zealand(where the Labour Party outlawed it in 2007). A referendum was held where 87.5% of the public want it reinstated in both home and schools. Outlawing spanking sounds so progressive but it is unrealistic. The sad fact is that sometimes spanking is a necessity.

  5. A girl was just beaten to death because of a punishment that began with “just a spanking” violence is violence. People seem determined not to acknowledge that fact. Spanking is destructive, lazy parenting, and that law is completely necessary.

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