Sweeping ban issued in spanking trial
Almost nothing can be legally reported about landmark corporal-punishment case
By PETER CHENEY
ST. THOMAS, ONT.
Friday, June 7, 2002, Page A12
A sweeping new publication ban handed down by an Ontario judge means that Canadians can be told almost nothing about a landmark case involving the seizure of seven children from their parents over the controversial issue of corporal punishment.
The ruling by Ontario Court Justice Eleanor Schnall has tightened an already severe set of media limits imposed on the trial. The children were taken away from their parents, who belong to a religious order known as the Church of God, after child-welfare officials learned they were regularly spanked with objects such as rods and belts.
Although cases involving children always involve a ban on identifying the family involved, the publication bans imposed in this case have gone much further. Since the beginning of the trial, the media have been prevented from reporting on any of the evidence presented. Yesterday, Judge Schnall took the unprecedented step of banning virtually any account of what has happened, including even general descriptions of the scene inside the courtroom.
Under the new ban, the only information that can be reported is the names of witnesses who have completed their evidence. No details of their testimony can be reported.
Judge Schnall said the welfare of the children is the reason for her order, and she hinted that she is prepared to go further still if she considers it necessary. "I will not hesitate to exclude the media from the courtroom entirely," she said.
The judge has already banned the public from the courtroom.
The media restrictions have begun to generate considerable controversy. The Aylmer Express, a local paper, ran a front-page editorial yesterday condemning the judge's decision to muzzle the press.
"The public is certainly curious about what could justify officials of the state invading a home and seizing children from their parents," the editorial said. "We have to believe that some detail of what led to the seizure is being heard at that St. Thomas hearing. But Ontario Court Justice Eleanor Schnall has forbidden news reporters to do anything but sit in court and watch. What good are they doing that?"
The trial, which has become popularly known as the spanking case, is expected to last several more weeks. The parents of the seven children are charged with child abuse. They have maintained their innocence. Before the trial began, they said that corporal punishment of children is an article of faith.