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To spank or not to spank?

CBC ( Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) News Online, February 2, 2004

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a century-old law that allows parents, teachers and caregivers to spank children, but ruled the use of corporal punishment be confined to children between the ages of two and 12.

The top court had been asked to rule on whether spanking constitutes "reasonable force" for disciplining children, or whether it is a form of abuse. The court has heard arguments pro and con the efficacy of Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows parents, teachers and caregivers - including babysitters and foster parents - to use corporal punishment as "reasonable force" to discipline children.

The section was enacted in 1892.

Some changes were recommended. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for the majority, ruled out the use of corporal punishment for children under age two or for teenagers. She also came out against using instruments such as rulers and belts, or to strike a child on the face or head.

The court revised legal doctrine that had lumped parents and teachers together. Expressing the view of the majority in the 6-3 decision, McLachlin wrote that "corporal punishment by teachers is unacceptable."

Those against corporal punishment - at home or at school - argued that the old law should be thrown out because it is an affront to human dignity. When he argued his case before the Supreme Court in 2003, lawyer Paul Schabas said, "This case is about the right of children not to be hit, a right that in a modern, 21st-century democracy should be unquestioned."

The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law, a children' s advocacy group, said Section 43 of the Criminal Code is a violation of the Charter of Rights. Speaking on behalf of the foundation, Schabas said, "Section 43 has the effect of making children second-class citizens."

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld Section 43 in January 2002. The court ruled that parents and teachers are free to spank children for disciplinary purposes if they limit themselves to "reasonable force." The court also said the law strikes a fair balance between the state and the interests of children.

This led a group known as the Coalition to Repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada to champion the cause of abolishing the century-old law. The coalition applauded the decision to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Matthew Geigen-Miller, director of education and communications for the Ottawa-based National Youth In Care Network, said a law that allows caregivers to use corporal punishment on children is a major concern for his association, which describes itself as "an advocacy group for the more than 62,000 children and youth in care in Canada."

Geigen-Miller said in an essay in The Globe and Mail that upholding Section 43 encourages the use of corporal punishment and "is known to be a gateway to abuse." He said the section "obscures child-abuse investigations, making it difficult for police and child-protection workers to make a legal distinction between abuse and discipline."

It was never a sure thing that the top court would recommend abolishing Section 43. During the argument stage at the Supreme Court, several of the judges took issue with Schabas's argument. A lawyer for the federal government said parents should be free to use "mild to moderate" forms of corporal punishment to discipline their children.

Justice Charles Gonthier said striking down Section 43 could make parents liable to criminal charges each time they spank their children. Two other justices, Ian Binnie and Frank Iacobucci, questioned any need to change the law, saying it guarantees immunity for reasonable discipline, not for child abuse. "This is a defence to assault," Iacobucci said. "It doesn't mean it's a value to be promoted."

"Most, if not all school boards already have rules against physical discipline," says Paul Whitehead, sociology professor at the University of Western Ontario. "The lessons taught by the use of such measures by parents, teachers or other persons in authority are contrary to what we want young persons to learn; that is, bigger people may hit smaller people, older people may hit younger people, stronger people may hit weaker people and higher status people may hit lower status people."

The Canadian Paediatric Society advises doctors talking to parents to "strongly discourage" spanking children as a disciplinary tool. "The days of spanking children were not the 'good old days,'and it is wrong, in my opinion, to think that some of the changes we see in our broader society come down to whether you spank or whether you don't spank," Dr. Sarah Shea says in a paper she co-authored on the subject of corporal punishment. "I think we' ve had a lot of growth in our understanding of spanking as an act of violence - or of potential violence - and to also know that there are lots of other choices."

There are teachers and education officials who defended keeping Section 43 as it is. In a letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail in 2003, Canadian Teachers Federation president Doug Willard said the elimination of the section would prevent teachers from dealing with potentially dangerous or disruptive situations.

"Why should teachers risk criminal prosecution for assault for returning a student to line, restraining a cognitively challenged student during a physical outburst, or removing a disruptive child from the classroom?" Willard asked.

A Quote Worth Remembering

"We must vigilantly stand on guard within our own borders for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are our proud heritage......we cannot take for granted the continuance and maintenance of those rights and freedoms."

John Diefenbaker

A Quote Worth Remembering

About The truth

"All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed, Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as self-evident."

Arthur Schopenhauer

A Quote Worth Remembering

"In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect."

Bill Clinton
(William J. Clinton)
42nd President of The United States of America

national "Child Day"

November 20th

Canada's "Child Day" is held on November 20th each year as designated by the Parliament of Canada in 1993.

It commemorates the United Nations adoption of two landmark documents concerned with the human rights of all children and youths.  Read More ..

United Nations

Canadian appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

Louise Arbour

Louise Arbour took up her duties on July 1, 2004 as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her term in office ended in June 2008.

Mrs. Arbour was a member of the Supreme Court of Canada immediately preceding her appointment to the UN as  Commissioner for Human Rights.

Law Times

Louise Arbour: a colleague we have failed

Law Times, Canada
22 September 2008

This profession - and all of us in it - have failed to protect, honour, and defend one of our most accomplished and distinguished members. We have let Louise Arbour down by our silence when she needed and deserved voices of support.

On July 1, Arbour stepped down as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, an enormously prestigious and important international position.

The gratitude and praise which greeted her at the end of her term was shamefully muted. Arbour was a courageous champion of human rights, and a bold critic of the erosion of those basic tenets in our world.

She was never timid. She was never chained to a desk, was involved, hands on, outspoken, and challenging. She breathed life into the enormous portfolio that she was asked to take on.

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Day Care in Canada

CBC Television News Online, February 9, 2005

It was first proposed in 1970 a program that would provide affordable day care across the country. It was promised when Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives swept to power in 1984. And again four years later.

By the time Jean Chretien's Liberals did some political sweeping of their own in 1993, promises of a national day-care strategy had fallen victim to the realities of a government wallowing in debt. With budgetary knives sharpened and drawn, day care would have to wait.

But the economic climate began to shift and in 1997, Quebec introduced its own day-care system, offering spaces at $5 a day. Demand quickly surpassed supply.