It’s time for the government to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code and give Canadian children the same protections as adults

Forty years ago Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government abolished capital punishment in Canada.

That was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of course. Four years earlier his government had also abolished the lash in Canada’s prisons.  Those two initiatives placed Canada in the forefront of progressive governments the world over.

But Trudeau père left one last law on the books which still sanctions violence toward Canada’s most vulnerable citizens. It is Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which permits parents to hit their children if they think that’s a reasonable way to discipline them.

It isn’t of course. Extensive research confirms what many Canadians have believed and have practiced for generations. Spanking simply doesn’t work.

In June of this year Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, published a literature review that includes a wide range of studies on corporal punishment of children. They found that the research has been consistent. Spanking is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to children.

“On this, the 40th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty for those who committed murder, it’s time to abolish the legalized hitting of our nation’s children,” said Kathy Lynn, chair of Corinne’s Quest. “Government needs to step up, repeal s.43 of the Criminal Code and give our children the same protections from assault as adults.”

Corinne’s Quest is a national organization dedicated to the repeal of Section 43, and of educating Canadians about the many non-violent alternatives to disciplining children.

In the past various Canadian laws have permitted hitting slaves, servants, sailors, apprentices, prisoners, wives, dogs and children. Children are the only ones left on that list.

“It’s time for Justin Trudeau to complete his father’s legacy and take the initiative to rid our criminal code of the last vestiges or government-sanctioned assault on our children,” said Lynn. “It is a national embarrassment that this law is still on the books.”

She said National Child Day, celebrated on Nov. 20th, would offer the perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Trudeau to step up and announce this government’s intention to repeal this unfair law.

Lynn says there are a number of compelling reasons why this needs to happen.

Section 43 not only condones hitting children under certain circumstances, it also provides a defense to those who do. By any measure of human decency, condoning violence against children is a violation of their human rights. “Violence against children should be against the law, not defined by it”, said Lynn.

In 1991 Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Maintaining a section of the criminal code which permits the legal assault of children means that Canada is not in compliance with the Convention, and the U.N. has reminded Canada of this fact a number of times.

Our government has promised to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. Its Call to Action #6 calls for the repeal of s.43. This could be the government’s first easy step to fulfilling that commitment.

“There are plenty of high-quality, effective and widely accepted positive parenting strategies to offer children the discipline they need. Canada is not a violent country. We can raise healthy, successful children without ever hitting them.”

A series of meta-analyses have demonstrated that in addition to increases in aggressive behaviour in children, spanking has been associated with increases in mental health problems into adulthood, impaired parent–child relationships, delinquent behaviour and criminal behaviour in adulthood. There is also research showing that a risk that initial “corrective” spanking can progress to child abuse.

The research shows that hitting children is ineffective – instead of teaching children the reasons their behaviour needs to change, it simply causes the child pain and engenders fear. Studies have shown that children need to internalize reasons for behaving in appropriate ways.

Spanking teaches them to behave in order to avoid physical punishment. When the threat of physical punishment is gone, children find no reason to behave appropriately. Spanking can lead to some children considering violence toward others as a problem-solver. A violent attitude can also work to reduce family cohesion.

Editors: For further information or comment, Kathy Lynn can reached at 604-258-9074