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Call to end permitted spanking lauded

Fix Criminal Code: medical journal

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OTTAWA -- A medical journal's call to do away with Canada's so-called spanking law is something Manitoba daycare advocates say they've been demanding for nearly a decade.

"We, along with many other provincial and national organizations concerned with the well-being of children, have long held the belief that hitting children is not an acceptable form of guiding children's behaviour," said Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association Inc.

In 2003, the Manitoba association endorsed a cross-Canada coalition's joint statement on physical punishment of children and youth, said Wege.

Now, a strongly worded editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has called for the repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which gives parents and teachers a legal defence when they physically discipline children.

"It is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book," editor-in-chief John Fletcher wrote in a signed editorial Tuesday.

The editorial will likely re-ignite debate on a controversial topic that has inflamed opinion for decades.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Criminal Code provision by a 6-3 margin in a landmark 2004 ruling.

The high court ruled the provision doesn't infringe a child's right to security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Several private member's bills to ban corporal punishment have failed in the House of Commons and Senate, most recently in 2008.

Physical punishment is prohibited in all licensed child-care facilities in Manitoba, said Wege. In the medical journal editorial, Fletcher argues parents need to be educated on how to discipline their children.

He said the Criminal Code needs to be amended because it tells parents physical punishment is an acceptable way to discipline children.

"Although it is not necessary to make spanking a crime to encourage alternative approaches to parenting, Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada sends the wrong message, stating, '... a parent is justified in using force by way of correction... if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.' "

The editorial said police already have discretion to decide when an assault is trivial, but argued "any bias" should be aimed at vulnerable children.

"To have a specific code excusing parents is to suggest that assault by a parent is a normal and accepted part of bringing up children. It is not."

-- The Canadian Press, with files from Carol Sanders

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2012 A7

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