Corporal punishment of children -- spanking
Background of spanking children in Canada
We highlight developments in Canada for two reasons:
- About 8% of the visitors to this web site are Canadians.
- The cultures of the U.S. and Canada are so intertwined that some social and
cultural developments in one country later surface in the
other. Examination of the Canadian situation may give some insight into
the future of spanking in the U.S.
The incidence of corporal punishment by parents is decreasing throughout
North America. This trend is
expected to accelerate in the future as the public realize
the serious negative effects that spanking has on children's
development and later mental health as adults.
Assaulting people in Canada is a crime, with the exception of activity in
boxing rings and homes. Section 43 of the Criminal Code criminalizes violence
against children if it exceeds "...what is reasonable under the
circumstances." Unfortunately, there is no agreement on meaning of the
term "reasonable." Some child protective services regard any corporal
punishment which results in bruising as child abuse. What one parent
regards as an acceptable spanking technique, others might consider child abuse.
This law is in force in all provinces and territories of
Canada. Attempts have been made to repeal Section 43, either by action of the
Federal Government or the courts. None have been successful. However, a 2004
ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada has limited corporal punishment
very mild force, and only on children from the age of 2 to 12. No instruments,
like a paddle or belt are allowed. Hitting the face or the rest of the head is
banned. The court has banned corporal punishment in schools, punishment of
developmentally delayed children, and any punishment involving "degrading, inhuman or harmful conduct."
The Criminal Code:
Legal structures in Canada are quite different from the U.S. In Canada,
the law restricting spanking is a part of the Criminal Code of Canada. It
is created and maintained by the federal government. However, it is administered by the provinces and
territories. Thus, a change to the law by the federal parliament, or a change in
the interpretation of the law by the courts, affect parents and children across
the entire country. In the U.S., laws in this area are maintained by the
In Canada, it is normally an offense for one person to use force against another,
without their prior consent. One exception is made in the case of
children. Spanking is covered in Section 43 of the Code under the general topic
"Protection of Persons in Authority" which dates from
CORRECTION OF CHILD BY FORCE:
43. "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."
[R.S. c.C-34, s.43.]
Some claim that Section 43 violates:
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms'
guarantee for equal protection of the law an of freedom from cruel and unusual
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which
Canada is a signatory.
A common problem with Section 43 is the definition of the
term "reasonable." One parent might consider hitting a child
with a paddle so hard that she/he cannot sit down for a few days to be a justifiable use of corporal punishment. In fact, some
conservative religious groups teach that a parent must not hit a child with
their hand; they must be struck with a paddle of some kind. They believe
that a parent's hand should be reserved for loving touch. A social worker might consider
the use of an instrument to
be abuse. The Supreme Court of Canada has declared it a criminal act.
Various past court decisions involving Section 43 have established that:
- Mild spanking is permissible.
- Picking up a child and relocating them to a "time-out" place is
acceptable, even though some force might be required.
- Kicking, strangling, or hitting the child's face or genitals is not
- Force is not permissible if the child is over the age of 15.
A 2004 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada
has more precisely interpreted Section 43.
Section 43: Retain or repeal?
Some have suggested that if Section 43 were repealed, then even very minor
physical force against a child would constitute a criminal act and the adult
responsible would be charged. For example, according to the National
Post newspaper in 2007-JUN:
"Two Justice Department lawyers testified before the committee Monday,
explaining that 'If section 43 was simply repealed, any non-consensual force
that a parent or teacher uses on a child or pupil could be an assault given
the broad definition under the Criminal Code. Parents who physically put a
reluctant child in a car seat or remove a child to their bedroom for a
time-out are applying non-consensual force and could be convicted of simple
On the other hand, the Repeal 43 Committee, a group that promotes
violence-free child raising, has stated:
common law de minimus rule prevents prosecutions for minor
breaches of the law. Provincial guidelines can require education,
counselling and practical help to learn other methods of discipline ... reasonable force to prevent a child from hurting others or
damaging property would [not] be illegal. Reasonable force in such
situations is allowed by other sections of the Criminal Code." 2
Section 43: A third path:
Warning: The following contains the author's opinions and may lack
It appears that repeal of Section 43 would be difficult or impossible to
achieve in the foreseeable future.
- Past attempts to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code have been
unsuccessful. The Supreme Court of Canada has
declared that physical punishment of children is not a violation of
their civil rights, as long as the hitting is done within certain
limitations. That case was argued primarily on the basis of human rights of
- It might be possible to pursue another lawsuit based on public health
- Studies have shown that that
even mild spanking of a child significantly increases levels of
depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and other drug abuse later in life.
- There are strong indications that
serious levels of corporal punishment of children are linked to rage &
criminal activity -- including homicide -- later in life.
However, such a case would probably be a long shot. We are unaware of any
efforts being made in this direction.
Religious and social conservatives in Canada generally advocate spanking as a
principal method of child discipline. This is often justified by
passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
Testament) which indicate that parents are required to hit their children with a
rod when disciplining their children. Many conservative see any restriction on
corporal punishment of children by their parents to be an infringement on
religious liberty. Given the privileged position of religious freedom in Canada,
their opposition has a very strong influence in retaining Section 43. They also
make a case that is convincing to many that a simple repeal of Section 43 would
make any parental forcing of children a criminal act.
A better solution may involve finding common ground by retaining, but
rewriting, Section 43:
- To allow parents to use a minimal amount of force in specific
- While relocating children during a time-out scenario.
- For safety reasons -- e.g. when buckling a child into a car seat.
- While preventing children from hurting themselves, being injured or
- To criminalize hitting and striking a child:
- Who is under the age of two;
- Who is over the age of twelve;
- Above the neck;
- While using a weapon of any type -- belt, paddle, electric cord,
- While using more than minimum force.
If the Federal Government undertook a major education program that widely
- Specifically what forms of corporal punishment are legal, and
- The findings of studies that link childhood corporal punishment to
mental health problems, addiction problems and criminal activities later in
- The availability of alternate effective methods of discipline that do
not involve pain,
then it is likely that a major reduction in the infliction of pain on
children would result. This would have a significant positive impact on mental
health, addiction and criminal activity among adults.
- "National Post Editorial Board on spanking your children: There is such a
thing as reasonable force," National Post, 2007-JUN-20, at:
- "Why we advocate repeal," Repeal 43 Committee, at:
Copyright © 2002 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-09
Latest update: 2007-JUN-27
Author: B.A. Robinson