Did you know that punishing kids by hitting them is technically not a crime in Canada?
Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code 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.”
This means anyone — including parents, foster parents, legal guardians, teachers, caregivers, and even babysitters — in charge of a child can physically assault them to discipline them, as long as it’s “reasonable.”
The New Democratic Party (NDP) has been pushing a bill to criminalize “correcting” children’s behaviour — at home or in school — through corporal punishment.
On Thursday, NDP House Leader Peter Julian urged feds to take action and turn a bill he introduced last year into law. Its first reading happened in May 2022.
“We call on the Trudeau government to put an immediate end to the corporal punishment of all children in Canada. Children are among the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Julian, adding that it is the federal government’s obligation to put in place laws that protect Canada’s children and youth, and ensure their safety.
“It is time to take meaningful action to protect children and ensure they aren’t being harmed by their parents and legal guardians.”
Back in 2004, the Supreme Court upheld what has been called the “spanking law,” but narrowed down the ways kids can be punished legally. “Abusive and harmful conduct is not protected by section 43,” states a federal report on the minor constitutional change.
The amendment also said that teachers cannot employ physical force on children under any circumstance but are allowed to use force in situations such as removing a child from a classroom. The court ruled that it was unlawful to punish kids under two years old and older than 12 years. Using objects to hit a child, no matter the age, was also deemed unlawful.
The changes also barred Canadians from using force on a child to express anger or retaliation over something they did. The Code has, since, also protected kids with disabilities, as well as those who are “incapable of learning from the situation.”
“The seriousness of the child’s misbehaviour is not relevant to deciding whether the force used was reasonable. The force used must be minor, no matter what the child did,” reads the government’s guide on managing children’s behaviour.
But the legal line between abuse and discipline blurs into ambiguity when it comes to punishing kids.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada has been calling for the abolishment in response to the physical abuse of Indigenous children at residential schools. It is one of the 94 points made in a report published in 2015.
Julian’s bill is driven by the report, and incidents reported nationwide push the pedal on its urgency.
Yukon NDP Leader Kate White also spoke about how Section 43 “allegedly allowed the punishment of children at the Jack Hulland Elementary school in the Yukon.”
Parents filed a lawsuit against the Government of Yukon in November 2022, alleging that children at the school were dragged to isolated confinement units and left there for hours. The RCMP is currently investigating the incidents, which have allegedly gone on for two decades.
“Physical punishment of a child is never acceptable. The use of restraints and isolations cells as a form of punishment in a public Yukon elementary school for over 12 years are a sad example of why section 43 must be repealed,” White said in a statement.
Last year, outrage from parents poured in after a non-verbal 12-year-old with autism and cerebral palsy was allegedly slapped by an educational assistant at a school in Oakville, Ontario.