Spanking takes a hit

Brian Jones
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This week the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial urging the repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada — the so-called spanking law.

It is a shocking reminder that, in family-values Conservative Canada, assaulting children is still legal.

Section 43 outlines the rights of parents to mete out physical punishment to their kids. There are limits: no hits to the head; no excessive force; no weapons, such as belts or sticks; spankings cannot be habitual; punishment must be corrective; spanking is restricted to kids aged 2-12.

The provisos merely put a respectful veneer on actions that amount to assault.

The pro-spanking crowd got a boost when the Supreme Court of Canada outlined the provisions in 2004 after a legal challenge to Section 43.

In this case, justice was blind, in the worst sense.

Name one other group of people in society who are not legally protected against assault.

(“Hockey players,” says a smart aleck at the back, raising an interesting point, but not necessarily a serious rebuttal.)

Husbands are no longer allowed, obviously, to apply “corrective” physical coercion upon their wives, no matter how wayward or wanton the woman may be.

That “rule of thumb” stick of yesteryear would today get you hauled before a judge, buster, and rightfully so.

Police are limited in the force they can use. A suspect cannot be arbitrarily assaulted by officers; thus the relatively modern, in the annals of law enforcement, concept of “police brutality.”

Prisoners cannot be subjected to corporal punishment. Any prison warden who allowed “corrective” beatings or whippings would soon be on a new career path.

But children can be flailed

at, and the assaults are court-


Arguments that favour retaining Section 43 are based on false assumptions.

A common error is equating discipline with physical punishment. Ban spanking, the argument goes, and parents will be denied a necessary tool for disciplining their children.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and all that nonsense — a phrase from an era that also endorsed slavery.

Effective discipline of children does not require physical force.

What do children want and need most from parents? Love and approval.

Love is unconditional, so it is not part of the disciplinary equation. But approval and disapproval can be a tool far more powerful than spanking. A stern but loving “No” can be more corrective than any rod of yore.

But what to do about all those brats?

There are brats in the schools, brats in the streets, brats at the mall.

This is another fallacious argument: that the supposed decline of spanking and physical punishment has enabled wild children to run amok, unbridled and uncivilized.

No. What those children need is not spankings or smacks, but to hear the word “No” more often, and its variations, such as “Stop” and “Don’t.” Lessons in basic manners would also help.

Backers of Section 43 will scoff. And if the kid ignores the command? What then? In that case, the problem is with the parent, not the kid, and using physical force won’t help. You spawned a brat. Deal with it.

“But you can’t reason with toddlers,” is a common argument presented by the pro-spanking set.

Toddlers don’t comprehend the dangers of sharp knives, hot stoves or busy roads, goes the standard argument. Exactly. That’s why it is a parent’s job to keep toddlers away from them. The kid won’t comprehend why Mommy or Daddy is whacking him, either.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial has it right: Section 43 is indeed an “anachronistic excuse for poor parenting.”

It should be smacked into oblivion.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: Canadian Medical Association Journal, Supreme Court of Canada, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    September 07, 2012 - 16:19

    One reason parents usually have not the skills of teachers and daycare workers is that these skills cannot be taught in ordinary schools to the ordinary children who will later become parents. That would simply give the game away: ordinary young people who realize they are being psychologically controlled to "behave better" and are taught how that control is exercised will ordinarily rebel then most rebelliously. What is wrong with using punishment to manage behaviour is that that is not the purpose of punishment: punishment ought to teach justice, not to "get results" in "improving conduct." Ordinary parents could teach the requirements of justice quite well once they were allowed to realize these, perhaps as a result of not having been educated in neglect of essential truths like people's deserving the effects of what they do.

  • Katy
    September 07, 2012 - 12:23

    For the most part, children in the 2 to 12 age group behave better in school and in day cares than they do at home. Partly, they feel a certain comfort in their own home - mom and dad will love them no matter how badly they behave. Another part is peer pressure - other children are behaving well, so they must follow suit or fear the disapproval of their peers. Still another part is that day care workers and teachers have developed dozens of ways to say No and redirect youthful energies. Another piece of the puzzle is that parents lack the training and experience of teachers and day care workers. We are dealing with at most four children and continually make mistakes. Some examples: We are not clear in our speech ("Clean your room" lacks the clarity of "Please pick up your pyjamas and put them in the laundry hamper."); we get distracted (who hasn't answered the phone and within two minutes realized both the dog and the child are locked in the bathroom with the water running?); etc. Smacking a child doesn't add to their comprehension. It adds to their fear. (Don't confuse 'fear' with 'respect'. One drives the child away; the other encourages them to mimic your good behavior.) Brian, I completely agree this law needs to be 'smacked down'. However I add that it should be replaced with mandatory child-rearing lessons before potential parents can reproduce.

    • Eli
      September 07, 2012 - 15:13

      You're right Kathy on the behaviour at preschool and home. Just go to Costco or any supermarket and see the parent and kids. They don't know what RESPECT is or means. Parents fault! Brian says: 'you raise a brat, deal with it". Sounds logical but it won't happen now if it wasn't done when they should have been diciplined. Somebody getting knockedd-up in a frenzy hardly makes them qualified to raise a child.

  • Colin Burke
    September 07, 2012 - 10:11

    One important lesson spanking can be used to convey is that doing wrong is a worse thing than feeling pain. Another is that "correction" ought to "replicate" feelings that we ought to have, but often don't, about doing what we know to be wrong. That toddlers cannot comprehend such ideas ought not to prevent us from trying to convey them as early as possible so that the kids begin to comprehend them as soon as possible.

  • curious
    September 07, 2012 - 09:12

    Do you have children?