The prospect of a ban on spanking children in Canada may come as welcome news to some St. Albertans, but others still feel it should be a parent’s decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he wants to see all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission implemented, including one that would see spanking your children become a criminal offence.
Recommendation 6 is to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The section allows parents and teachers to use “force by way or correction toward a pupil or child,” under their care as long as the force is “reasonable under the circumstances.”
The Supreme Court of Canada considered the law in 2004, and the majority opinion was that use of physical force like spanking is OK for children two and older, as long as there are no hits to the head and an implement such as a paddle or belt is not used.
The St. Albert Gazette spoke with several people in the city about prospect of repealing this law and effectively criminalizing spanking, and most were in favour of the move.
“There are better options for disciplining your children,” Thomas Wilkie said. “People need to spend more time just talking to their kids.”
He said while he was spanked “once or twice” as a kid, it’s not something he’ll do to his own kids once he has them.
Mary Burgess couldn’t agree more, saying it’s “absolutely not” OK to spank your children regardless of the reason.
There’s no excuse,” she said. “Spanking is the easy way out. There are so many other options. Parents need to be more creative.”
She said she uses talking, time-outs, extra chores and loss of privileges such as watching TV or using the tablet.
“You’re just teaching your kids it’s sometimes OK to hit,” Burgess said. “That’s not something I want to teach my kids.”
Some spoke in favour of spanking as a reasonable disciplinary tool within the right context. Jared Muller said he was spanked as a child, but only when he deserved it – beating up his siblings or shoplifting, for example.
“There’s a big difference between beating and spanking,” he said. “I think as long as you do it without anger and explain to the kid why you’re doing it then it’s OK.”
Cpl. Laurel Kading with the St. Albert RCMP said investigations related to spanking are so rare that she can’t recall ever being involved in one.
But regardless of criminal investigations, there are cases where child welfare is undoubtedly a concern in the city.
Teddie Fussell, a psychologist who works with the Stop Abuse In Families Society in St. Albert, said while not all types of physical punishment break the law, some of them do.
“We certainly have cases where there are families with a restraining order against both the spouse and the child,” she said. “Generally if it’s just abuse against the spouse, they won’t include the child in the protection order.”
She said so long as the punishment meted out is within the confines of the law the society would not condemn nor condone it, noting there is a big “grey area” in the legislation.
But Fussell notes what’s crucial to consider is the context in which physical punishment is doled out – that is, that it’s proportionate to the offense that’s being punished.
“If a parent is angry, loud and sharp, it is sort of demonstrating that physical response to anger is acceptable,” she said. “So how does a child then generalize that into their life?”
She said rather than focusing on the issue of physical discipline, the role of the society is to educate people are to what healthy relationships look like.
“We work more on what is a healthy relationship, and what are the healthiest ways to resolve conflicts, how we express feelings and that kind of thing.”