15 FEBRUARY 2002

Smacking children

Anyone who has ever claimed that Canada is riven by regional issues and fundamental differences of opinion ought to take a look at the most recent Leger Marketing/Canadian Press poll on spanking. Anti-spanking advocates might also want to check it out -- and find a different campaign to back.

Nationally, an overwhelming 70% of Canadians told Leger pollsters that they oppose any federal legislation banning parents from spanking their children. While the results ranged from 58% in Quebec to 82% in Alberta, the poll suggests that Canadians speak with one voice in their approval of the current legal position, which is that parents may administer corporal punishment to their children if they judge it necessary. The results must be considered another in a long series of setbacks for the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law (CFCYL) and its campaign to turn spanking into a criminal offence. Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected the CFCYL's appeal of an earlier Superior Court ruling that upheld section 43 of the Criminal Code, which permits spanking by parents or teachers under "reasonable" and "corrective" circumstances. The CFCYL mistakenly believes that allowing families to decide how to discipline their own children turns every parent into a potential child abuser. Not only has the CFCYL embarked on a fruitless legal campaign against section 43 (underwritten by Ottawa through the Court Challenges Program) but we now see that a great majority of Canadians oppose its cause.

The campaign against section 43 is based on the premise that children must be protected from their parents by the state. In fact the opposite is true. Since only 50% of Canadian parents in the Leger poll reported ever having spanked a child while 70% disapproved of making it illegal, it seems a great many Canadians defend spanking not as a personal choice, but rather as an issue of parental autonomy in resisting government interference with child-rearing. It bears emphasis that children are not perfectly rational beings and that occasionally they act in ways that may bring harm to themselves or others. Whether parents choose to use corporal punishment or not, most recognize that it is their decision to make. Criminalizing spanking -- something no developed nation has done -- would force Canadian society a step toward the unwonted and unwanted in the nationalization of child raising. The state has a duty to protect children from assault -- and there are criminal laws in place that do so -- but it has no business getting between children and their parents. Parents, courts and politicians understand that. The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law alone does not.


Opinion: National Post



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