Justin Trudeau's government wants to scrap the part of Canada's Criminal Code that allows caregivers to spank their kids in certain circumstances, more than a decade after the Supreme Court upheld it.
The move is part of the Liberal government's promise to carry out all 94 of the recommendations offered in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) final report on the devastating legacy of the residential school system, a church-run assimilation regime for Aboriginal children in Canada that operated from the 1870s to 1996.
"In their mission to 'civilize' and Christianize, the school staff relied on corporal punishment to discipline their students. That punishment often crossed the line into physical abuse," the report says. "The Commission believes that corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past and has no place in Canadian schools or homes."
It calls on the government to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows parents and teachers to use "force by way of correction … if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances."
Christian Girouard, a spokesperson for the justice minister, confirmed to reporters this week that the government will undertake the TRC's recommendation to repeal the law.
"However, at this point, we cannot speculate on potential legislative or policy approaches to address this issue," Girouard wrote in an email to the Toronto Star.
Kathy Lynn, chair of Corrine's Quest, a group based in British Columbia that opposes the spanking law, told the Globe and Mail she was "thrilled" at the prospect of it being struck down. "There will be a little bit of push back, but not like there used to be," she said. "We are really becoming a country that believes we do not want to be violent and, you know, violence in the home starts with hitting kids."
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the 120-year-old "spanking law" as constitutional, but specified limits, including that caregivers use "reasonable force" only on children who are older than two years old, but younger than 12. Further, it's unacceptable to spank a child with an object, or to slap them on the head.
The Liberal government's latest move does not sit well with some religious, family, and teachers' groups that fought for the right to spank their kids without having to face criminal charges.
"The law protects the rights of parents to use moderate force to discipline their children whether in the home or in the classroom, in the case of teachers," Diane Watts, a researcher with REAL Women of Canada, an activist group for "the values of traditional family and marriage," told VICE News. The group was a vocal proponent of the law throughout the Supreme Court case. "If it's removed, then they are vulnerable to being charged with assault."
"We're opposed to violence in the home, and on the playground. We wouldn't want any violence or abuse, but there are already laws that cover violence and abuse … there are parents who know the difference, who do know that in some situations, moderate physical intervention is needed to protect children."
Andrea Mrozek, the executive director at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Canada, agreed, but said the government could compromise by upholding the law for parents, but striking out protections for teachers to use force against their students.
"That would be a good thing to do because of the findings by the TRC, and the absolutely horrific examples we have there," Mrozek said. "It's about the degree to which the state can intrude into family life. Ultimately, we have to balance this with parents who can distinguish between what's wrong, like indiscriminate hitting, and using corporal punishment."
As of early 2014, 19 American states allowed teachers and caregivers to spank their kids and administer other forms of corporal punishment, down from 45 in 1980 and 22 in 2004. According to the United Nations, approximately 50 countries have introduced laws that ban corporal punishment against children.
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