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Corporal punishment of children -- spanking

Events in Canada: 1980 to 1999

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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Timeline 1980 to 1999:

  • 1980: The Senate Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Science recommended that Section 43 be "reconsidered in view of the sanction which this type of provision gives to the use of violence against children." No action was taken. 1
  • 1981: The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs responded to the report of the Canadian Commission for the International Year of the Child and recommended section 43 be "repealed immediately." Again, no action resulted. 1
  • 1984: The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal discussed Section 43's troubling and ambiguous phrase "reasonable under the circumstances." Their ruling has been widely cited in subsequent court cases. The Court of Appeal listed some criteria which should be considered:
    • The nature of the offence calling for correction.
    • The age and character of the child.
    • The likely effect of the punishment on this particular child.
    • The degree of gravity of the punishment.
    • The circumstances under which the punishment was inflicted.
    • The injuries, if any, suffered.

    According to a 2004 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada:

"The Court of Appeal added that if the child suffered injuries which may endanger life, limbs or health or if the child was disfigured, that alone would be sufficient to find that the punishment was unreasonable." 2

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  • 1989-NOV-20: The United Nations adopted the Convention on the rights of the Child. 3 Two sections of the Convention that have been interpreted as bearing on corporal punishment of children are:

    Article 5:

    "States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention."

    Article 19.1:

    "States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."  (Emphasis ours)

  • 1990-SEP-2: Thirty days after the ratification of the Convention by the 20th state, the document entered into force.
  • 1991-DEC-13: Canada ratified the UN Convention.
  • Early 1990s:
    • Corporal punishment of children was not a high-profile topic. With the exception of Christian schools and some other private schools, punishment of children in educational institutions had been largely abolished as cruel, unjustified, ineffective and counterproductive.
    • Spanking in the home was in decline. One study showed that only 21% of Canadian parents spanked their children. 4 However, an informal poll in Canadian Living magazine showed that 73% of respondents believed that corporal punishment was appropriate in certain situations.
    • In the mid-1990s, many child psychologists, social workers and others became concerned about the findings of long-term corporal punishment studies. They started to form organizations to combat punishment. Some had as their goal the repeal of Section 43.
    • In 1993, Minister of Justice Kim Campbell recommended that Section 43 be abolished after an 18 month interval. During that time, the federal government would hold consultations and provide a public education campaign.
  • 1994: MP (Member of Parliament) Svend Robinson (NDP) introduced bill C-296 to repeal Section 43. It did not proceed to a parliamentary committee for study. Like almost all private member's bills, this one died without being voted upon.
  • 1996-APR: Citizen is a publication of Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based Fundamentalist Christian group. In a major article, they addressed the matter of corporal punishment. They believe that the ideological basis of the anti-spanking movement is found in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. This is a document signed by every federal government in the world, with the exception of the United States. Focus feels that the Convention views children as individual rights-bearers, separate from their families of origin, with the State as their ultimate guardian. 5,6 Most conservative Christians believe that the state should not intrude into the inner workings of families. The father should be in charge; the wife should be submissive to her husband; the children should be under the control of both parents until they reach their 18th birthday.
  • 1996:
    • MP Svend Robinson (NDP) introduced his second private member's bill C-305 to repeal Section 43. It also did not proceed.
    • Senator Sharon Carstairs introduced bill S-14. It did not proceed.
    • The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada issued a position paper on corporal discipline. 7 They acknowledge that "some parents resort to physical discipline too quickly and too often..." They suggested that "it would be preferable, and more effective, for the state to launch an education campaign about alternative approaches to discipline." They interpret Article 5 of the UN Convention as emphasizing the role of parents in bringing up their children. They do not believe that "reasonable physical discipline" violates the wording of Section 19.1 which requires parents to "protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence" (Emphasis ours). They continued: "every responsible Canadian opposes child abuse.... the issue here is the intrusion of the state into the domain of parental responsibility." They argued that "by criminalizing [corporal punishment], society would be saying that parents cannot be trusted to raise their children."
  • 1997: M.P. Libby Davies introduced her first private member's bill: C-276. It did not proceed.
  • 1998: M.P. Tony Ianno introduced ha private member's bill: C-368. It did not proceed.
  • 1999: M.P. Libby Davies introduced her second private member's bill: C-276. It did not proceed.

Government inactivity:

The Repeal 43 Committee make a number of interesting points on their web site. Two of which are:

  • "The government has no public education campaign against physical punishment: The claim that the government is educating the public against physical discipline is a fiction. There is no widespread educational campaign aimed at the general public. One or two pamphlets and a video targeted at a specific audience do not amount to public education. Given that...[Section] 43 would conflict with an effective campaign against corporal punishment, it is not surprising that no such campaign has been launched. "
  • "The Court's decision makes certain parenting advice illegal. 'Spanking' children with switches, paddles or belts or spanking toddlers is now a criminal offence as a result of the [Supreme] Court's decision. Some parenting books advocate such punishment. This now amounts to counseling the commission of a criminal offence. The government should advise publishers, libraries, and booksellers that these books must be revised or withdrawn from sale in Canada." 8

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  1. "Political Response," Repeal 43 Committee, at:
  2. R. v. Dupperon (1984), 16 C.C.C. (3d) 453.
  3. "Correction of child by force," Criminal Code of Canada, at:
  4. "The Convention on the Rights of the Child," Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at:
  5. "Canadian parents' approach to discipline," The Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Newsbrief 4, (1990).
  6. Cindy Silver & Dallas Miller, article, Citizen magazine, Focus on the Family, 1996-APR-29.
  7. "Parental authority the real target of anti-spanking lobby," Campaign Life Coalition Canada, at:
  8. "Constitutional Challenge," Repeal 43 Committee, at:

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Copyright 2002 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-09
Latest update: 2008-JUL-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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