So is it spanking or is it child abuse?
By Margaret Wente
Aylmer, Ont., is Mennonite country. It's a pretty sleepy place. Until three
days ago, the police department's biggest case was a bank robbery back in
1997. (They caught the guy.)
Last Wednesday came an even bigger case. It took all the cops in town, plus
heavy reinforcements, to seize the seven children of Herbert and Emily
Greber (not their real names). The police action was, once again,
Mr. and Mrs. Greber have spanked their children from time to time using an
object other than their hands. They refuse to say they'll never do it again.
Therefore, according to the local Children's Aid Society, they are guilty of
child endangerment. And that's why the police, at the request of the CAS,
took away their kids.
The Grebers are religious. So is the CAS. It believes that corporal
punishment is a sin, and that the Grebers are sinners.
Until two years ago, the Greber family lived in a Mennonite community in
Mexico. They are Canadian citizens, but speak mostly German. There, they met
an Aylmer-area pastor, Henry Hildebrandt, who persuaded them to return to
Canada and join the Church of God. The church is quite traditional, though
not, Mr. Hildebrandt says, as strict as the Mennonites. "We are
Bible-believing people. We stress holy living in our daily lives."
The Bible says spare the rod and spoil the child. The pastor describes the
rod as a last resort, but a necessary one. "You'll never be able to rear a
child without love. But when they cross a line, they need to know there is a
possibility there could be corporal punishment."
The Grebers, who are in their 30s, have three girls and four boys, aged 6 to
14. They live in a neat brick bungalow in town.
The pastor doesn't know how the family came to the notice of the CAS.
Perhaps a neighbour phoned. Someone else says it happened when one of the
kids was scalded in an accident last year and was treated at home rather
than taken to hospital. In any event, three days ago, a CAS worker showed up
to search for signs of abuse. She brought a policeman with her.
The children were asked if they'd been spanked. One boy said he'd been
spanked toward the end of June. "There was no mark on him and I was very
comfortable it was being done the right way," the pastor says. "We expected
that after the physical exam the children would be released."
Instead, the CAS worker began to question Mrs. Greber. Do they spank their
children? She said yes. Do they ever use an object? Yes. "I told them this
was what our belief was as far as corporal punishment," says the pastor.
Would Mrs. Greber promise never again to use an object? No, she would not
promise. "They were just about to go into it deeper when I interfered," says
the pastor. "I said, 'I think we are giving you ammunition, not
information.' Then the caseworker said there was no further point in
By now, a crowd from the church had assembled around the house. The pastor
was urged to help remove the children peacefully, but he refused. Now the
children were upset. They started screaming. Reinforcements were called.
Soon, 10 or 12 police cruisers were on the scene, along with two more people
from the CAS.
It took three burly cops to haul away the oldest boy. In the photos someone
took, he is kicking and screaming like a little tiger. The six-year-old girl
screamed, "Help me! Help me! I don't want to go," as a female officer
carried her away.
The children are in temporary foster care until the matter comes before
family court. The director of the local CAS, Steve Bailey, won't discuss the
case but blames the pastor and members of the church for making matters
Meantime, the clerk at Aylmer's police station says she's getting calls from
anxious parents asking if spanking is against the law. She has two young
children, and doesn't agree with corporal punishment. She's from Mennonite
stock, but times have changed. "Everyone is starting to discipline
differently from the way their grandparents did," she tells me. "Maybe their
grandparents used a horsewhip." Her own parents sometimes used a fly
I asked her what she uses.
"I hold them. We took a course. It's all on video. 'Growing kids God's way,'
it's called. It deals with today's society."
In the past few years, many people have come to believe that spanking is
wicked, and that corporal punishment will scar a child's psyche, if not his
body, forever. Yet our child-protection agents exercise a peculiar double
standard. They think it's child abuse to hit your kid. They are very
suspicious of people who take their parenting lessons from the Bible. But
every day, they choose to leave helpless infants with their single teenage
mothers on the streets. Those moms have never heard of Dr. Spock, never mind
Child abuse is like any other sin. It's frequently in the eye of the