Should the government criminalize spanking? Read ARPA Canada’s new and updated resources
Should Canadian parents be allowed to physically discipline their children or should the government criminalize the practice? As ARPA Canada noted in a recent article, two Canadian politicians have introduced bills which would ban corporal discipline.
Status of Bills
Bill C-273, introduced by MP Peter Julian, is titled An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Corinne’s Quest and the Protection of Children). The name comes from a federal government lawyer named Corinne Robertshaw who, as MP Julian notes, “saw first-hand the results of allowing physical punishment of children and the death and injury of children throughout the 1970s and 1980s.” Bill C-273 has not yet reached 2nd reading in the House of Commons.
In the Senate, Senator Stan Kutcher 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). Both bills would remove a criminal code provision that permits limited physical discipline of children. Bill S-251 has passed 2nd reading in the Senate and is being studied by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. ARPA Canada recently submitted a brief to that committee to urge them to respect parents’ responsibility to discipline their children. ARPA Canada recommends either leaving the law unchanged or simply making clarifying amendments. You can read ARPA Canada’s brief here.
Physical abuse is illegal. Canada’s Criminal Code only allows parents to use force for the purpose of correction that “does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Criminal Code provision permitting reasonable corrective force did not violate children’s rights under the Charter. The Court also clarified what is and is not permitted. For example, force may not be used on a teenager or a child under the age of 2, must address actual behaviour, and may not involve the use of objects such as rulers or belts.
Proponents of bans argue that corporal discipline is ineffective in correcting behaviour and harms children. They also point out that several developed nations have banned the practice.
However, the purported evidence against corporal discipline confuses the cause-and-effect relationship between discipline and children’s outcomes. Research that appropriately considers the different factors involved in discipline of children suggests that mild conditional discipline is as good as, or better than, other forms of discipline, and reduces anti-social behaviour and noncompliance in children.
Sweden was the first country to ban corporal discipline in 1979 and is often heralded as an example to emulate. However, evidence from Sweden indicates that criminalizing mild corporal discipline has resulted in profound negative consequences for children and families, and that allowing parents to use physical corrective force (as Canada currently does) may prevent other negative outcomes in children.
Ultimately, this evidence reinforces the foundational principle that parents, not the civil government, are in the best position to raise children. The Canadian government ought to respect the institution of the family and the role of parents and not interfere except in cases of serious abuse or neglect. As such, Canada must respect parental discretion to discipline children within existing legal limits.
How Can You Get Involved?
The Canadian public and politicians continue to debate whether parents should be permitted to use corporal discipline. Maybe it’s also a discussion you’ve had with your spouse or with friends. ARPA Canada has just published a revised and updated Respectfully Submitted policy report on corporal discipline. In this report, we consider evidence and arguments for and against corporal discipline, ultimately concluding that Canada should not enact further restrictions. This report was first published in 2013 and updated in 2016. The recently updated version (2023) reflects new research on the issue.
Canadian MPs and Senators are actively considering what they should do about corporal discipline. We encourage you to read through the report and connect with your representatives to encourage them to read it as well. You can also send an EasyMail on this topic at easymail.arpacanada.ca. At this point, the focus of the EasyMail is on Bill S-251, since the Senate bill has advanced further than the House of Commons Bill. Please contact us at [email protected] if you have any feedback, suggestions for improvement, or other questions on the report.