Spanking upheld by Supreme Court

Globe and Mail,  


January 30, 2004

Parents can legally spank their children, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.

By a 6-3 vote, the Justices upheld Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows parents and authority figures to use “reasonable force” on children under their care. But they applied new limits to the century-old law.

They ruled that parents cannot use corporal punishment on infants or for teenagers, cannot strike with objects and cannot hit the head of a child.

The general rule, set out by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, is that corporal punishment should be legally acceptable must involve only “minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature.”

The case was brought by The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law, which argued in court that legally allowing children to be hit renders them second-class citizens, unprotected by the same laws as everyone else.

The Attorney-General does not advocate spanking but feared that cancelling Section 43 could leave parents liable for prosecution every time they touch their children. Federal lawyers argued that the law strikes a balance between the needs of parents and the rights of children.

Section 43 dates from the late 19th-century, but has been updated several times.

A criminal lawyer said Friday that the fact that the case was even heard by the Supreme Court shows that social mores are changing quickly.

“We're just not yet at the point of being able to say that a parent spanking their child is something that the state should get involved in, I think that's what they're saying,” Rick Storey told CTV Newsnet.

“I think attitudes are changing. In 15 or 20 years, I would suspect we wouldn't be having this conversation, in that the child's rights will be absolutely paramount and society will have outlawed the behaviour.

"But if you go back 20 year or 30 years, when some of us grew up, I can remember being strapped by my principal, and that was entirely acceptable by society.”