Anti-Spanking Bill Passes Canadian Senate

By Hilary White

OTTAWA, June 19, 2008 ( - Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette said that the passage of her anti-spanking bill through the Senate will "send a signal so that people who use violence in a repeated way will no longer feel protected."

"It is not to arrest everyone who gives their child a tap on the arm," she added. 

Bill S-209, which will see parents charged with assault for spanking their children, has passed its first hurdle and now moves on to the House of Commons. It has been working its way through committees for four years and proposes to remove Section 43 of the Criminal Code that says, "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."

The bill proposes to prohibit a parent using force to discipline children except in very limited circumstances. It allows parents, teachers or other guardians to use "reasonable force other than corporal punishment, but only in three specific circumstances: preventing or minimizing harm to the child or another person; preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that is of a criminal nature; preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in excessively offensive or disruptive behaviour." It rules out the use of any force such as spanking as a routine disciplinary measure.

"No corporal punishment would be allowed, either by an educator, the mother, the father or someone acting for them," Hervieux-Payette said.

Criminal defence lawyers and the Canadian Bar Association appearing before the Senate argued against the criminalizing impact the bill will have on parents, teachers and caregivers. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected arguments that spanking and striking children was "cruel and unusual punishment" and cited safeguards in other Criminal Code sections against abusive or harmful conduct against children.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has indicated that Conservative MPs will probably be given a free vote on the bill when it comes into the lower House.

"We look forward to the debate that will take place when the House of Commons will consider this bill, as amended by the Senate, in the fall," a spokesman for Nicholson wrote in an email to the Montreal Gazette.

But Hervieux-Payette said that if the Commons rejects the bill, she will continue to reintroduce it until it becomes law.

MPs on both sides of the House are divided. CTV News quotes Conservative MP Daryl Kramp, once an Ontario Provincial Police officer, saying, "I’m a traditionalist. I believe that parents should be able to make the decision best for their own family."

Calgary Conservative MP Art Hanger, another former police officer, agreed, and told CTV, "I believe the status quo is very acceptable."

Liberal whip Karen Redman said she understood the need to protect children from physical abuse, but also said that she believes physical force is sometimes necessary.

"When I think back, when my children were little, there were times when you smacked them on the bum, but it was a diapered bum and it was as much to get their attention," she said.

During the Senate debates on the Bill, Senator Anne Cools said the bill is just another Liberal attempt to micromanage private life.

"What concerns me is that ordinary parents who may slap a child as a manner of correction, and not even in excessive rage, will suddenly find themselves subject to the risk of prosecution," she said.

"It is an act of arrogance on our part to believe we can place laws and then say to people, ‘Follow them, because we are so enlightened that we will teach you how to be good, kind and gentle people.’"

Read related coverage:

Canadian Liberal Senator Seeks to Criminalize Spanking as a Form of Discipline

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