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FOTF: Confused Spanking Poll

Date: OCT-09-03
Posted: DEC-26-03
Spanking Index

Focus on the Family Canada
TFN - Oct. 9, 2003

Parents who use corporal punishment to discipline their children found themselves facing twin challenges Tuesday - a new poll claiming that a bare majority of Canadians disapprove of the practice, and a recommendation from the United Nations urging the government to make spanking a crime.

Commissioned by Toronto Public Health, the new survey reported that of the 2,033 people questioned, 51% said that "parents should not be allowed to use physical punishment as a disciplinary measure ..." That support rose to 60% "if guidelines were in place to prevent prosecution for 'mild spanking.'" A backgrounder on the poll stated that respondents were asked specifically whether Section 43 should be repealed - and were told before giving their answer "that courts have considered hard spankings, slaps to the head and face, and hitting of the buttocks and legs with belts and sticks, to meet this criteria."

In striking contrast to the Toronto Health survey, polling conducted last year revealed that 72% of Canadians favoured keeping Section 43 as is. Even among parents who said they never spank their children, 56% said it should remain on the books. The newer poll confuses the issue by implying equivalence between mild spanking and harsh beatings.

At issue is Section 43 of the Criminal Code. It exempts parents and teachers from facing charges of assault when the "force" used to correct a child's behaviour "does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances." Meanwhile, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has also called on Canada to remove Section 43. In a report issued last week, it stated that Canada, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, should "adopt legislation to remove the existing authorization of the use of 'reasonable force' in disciplining children and explicitly prohibit all forms of violence against children, however light, within the family, in schools and in other institutions where children might be placed." That is not likely to happen, according to federal Justice Department spokesman Chris Girouard. "While the government does not support spanking of children, it is also against the criminalization of parents for lightly disciplining their kids," he told CanWest News Services.

But the fate of Section 43 may not be up to the federal government. Last June, the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law argued before the Supreme Court of Canada that the law is unconstitutional. "This license to hit children is a violation of a child's basic right to security and equal protection of the law, as well as a major contributor to child abuse," said Corinne Robertshaw, national coordinator of the Repeal 43 Committee. Two lower courts had previously rejected that claim.

Focus on the Family Canada intervened in defense of Section 43 as part of the Coalition for Family Autonomy, comprised of the Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada, REAL Women of Canada, and the Canada Family Action Coalition.

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