May 28, 2002
Judge might impose ban on reporting spanking trial
ST. THOMAS, Ont. - The so-called "spanking trial" centring around
last summer's controversial seizure of seven children by a local
child-welfare agency here may be held behind closed doors.
Slated to begin yesterday and last two weeks, the trial before
Madame Justice Eleanor Schnall of the Ontario Court was detoured
by extensive legal arguments over whether the media will be
allowed to report on the proceedings.
At the heart of the case proper is whether the children, whose
parents are members of a fundamentalist sect called the Church of
God Restoration, are in need of protection or supervision by
workers from Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and
Aged six to 14, the youngsters were taken kicking and screaming
from their home in the nearby town of Aylmer last July 4 by
social workers and police and temporarily placed in foster care
-- allegedly, the parents and church officials said, because they
believe in corporal punishment.
Officials with the agency, constrained by confidentiality
provisions, have been unable to publicly explain what led them to
take the drastic action, though there have been hints that
workers' concerns go beyond spanking.
The parents later signed an agreement promising to refrain from
corporal punishment until the trial was over and the children
were returned to them three weeks later. But last December,
frustrated by the delay in getting the case resolved, the parents
issued a press release announcing that they would defy the court
The Church of God adheres to strict biblical doctrine that holds
that a rod should be used to discipline children.
But at the heart of the media issue is the ability of the press,
as the surrogate for the public, who are routinely barred from
such proceedings, to report on the case.
Section 45 of the provincial Child and Family Services Act grants
a presumptive right for the media to report on such cases unless
a judge "is of the opinion" that publication "would cause
emotional harm" to the involved children.
Though Judge Schnall late yesterday ruled that reporters may
attend the trial, she has yet to decide whether they will be able
to write about the case, even subject to the normal prohibition
on identifying the children or their parents by name, or whether
all coverage will be banned -- perhaps forever.
Even yesterday's arguments pro and con, as well as the positions
taken by the various parties who have standing in the case, are
subject to a sweeping interim publication ban imposed yesterday
by the judge, pending her decision, which could come as early as
today, on a permanent ban.