Advocates Seeking a Smack-Down of Canada’s Spanking Law
In the past 25 years, multiple attempts have been made to ban spanking and other forms of physical punishment in Canada. Prior to the current session of Parliament, the most recent attempt was in 2015 when a senator introduced a bill to ban spanking. Since that time, calls to ban spanking have grown. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that corporal discipline be banned, and in 2015 Prime Minister Trudeau promised to implement all of their recommendations. To date, over 65 countries around the world have entirely banned corporal discipline of children and the number seems to keep growing. In 2022, two separate bills were introduced in the House of Commons and the Senate to do the same in Canada. Bill C-273 was introduced in May 2022 but has not yet gone to 2nd reading. Bill S-251, on the other hand, is actively being debated at 2nd reading in the Senate.
On June 16, 2022, Senator Stan Kutcher of Nova Scotia introduced Bill S-251, An Act to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 6). The goal of the bill is to remove section 43 of the Criminal Code which states:
“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.”
Senator Kutcher’s bill is focused on Recommendation 6 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action which were released in 2015. The Commission calls on the government to repeal section 43 “in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”
Senator Kutcher argues that repealing section 43 is a small but necessary step on the path to reconciliation and that violence against children must be stopped. He also cites supposed evidence that spanking is harmful to children and even quotes the Bible, seeking to prove that Jesus “recognized the responsibility of kind and considerate parenting, and that did not include hitting children.”
What is Corporal Discipline?
Corporal discipline is broadly defined as any punishment in which physical force is used with the intention to cause some degree of discomfort and to bring about a change in behaviour.
Some of the language used by advocates against corporal discipline includes ‘hitting,’ ‘violence,’ or ‘assault.’ When language like, “we should ban child abuse” or “ban violence against children” is used, it’s hard to disagree. But child abuse and violence against children are (and ought to be) already illegal. What advocates for spanking bans fail to mention is that section 43 does not permit just any kind of physical punishment. In 2004, the Supreme Court clarified what section 43 means by the phrase “the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.” The force must be sober and reasoned, addressing actual behaviour, the child must have the capacity to understand and benefit from the correction (cannot be under the age of two), must not harm or degrade the child, may not be administered to teenagers, may not involve objects such as rulers or belts, and may not be applied to the head.
There is no element in our existing law that permits abuse or violence against children. Instead, corporal discipline must be seen as the use of reasonable, non-injurious physical force with the intention and purpose of correction or control of a child’s behaviour. Repealing section 43 of the Criminal Code will criminalize parents who discipline their children within the boundaries set by the current law.
Advocates of a spanking ban argue that spanking is harmful to children and that it increases the risk of violence and mental disorders in children. However, much of this research is faulty at best, failing to differentiate between different methods of physical discipline. Overall, controlled, non-abusive spanking actually tends to reduce negative behaviour in children compared to other disciplinary tactics.
Parents ought to be able to raise their children as they see fit (within limits, of course). And those limits are already defined in Section 43 of the Criminal Code. Many parents believe they have the responsibility to discipline their children, not out of anger, but out of a desire to protect and train them to be good citizens. The government can never replace parents in the life of a child and must not try to do so by legislating how children ought to be raised.
We continue to follow this issue in the Senate and the House of Commons and will provide updates on any new developments.
 Robert E. Larzelere and Brett R. Kuhn, “Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics: a meta-analysis,” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 8(1), 2005: 1-37.