Is It a Crime to Spank Your Child?

When it comes to parenting, there are a wide range of styles for everything from sleeping habits and food preparation to socialization and discipline. For many parents, spanking is an acceptable form of discipline when carried out a certain way. But what does the law say about spanking a child? Does spanking ever cross the line from acceptable discipline to abuse? What about teachers and caregivers?

Section 43 of the Criminal Code

Under Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which was passed in 1892 and amended several times over the years, it is legal for parents and teachers to use “reasonable force” to discipline a child. The law has been interpreted to include babysitters as well as foster parents.

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the somewhat controversial law in a 6-3 decision, noting that any discipline must be limited to “minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature.”

One of the key words in the decision is “minor.” This means the force used by a parent can’t leave marks, bruises, cuts, or other injuries. Additionally, the Court’s ruling prohibits parents and caregivers from striking a child with a belt or an object, such as a cane, shoe, or paddle. Furthermore, parents and others are prohibited from spanking a child under two years old. The law also prohibits parents and caregivers from spanking a child out of frustration or anger.

With respect to teachers, Section 43 specifically states that “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.” In many school districts across Canada, however, individual districts have policies in place prohibiting teachers and staff from using corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

Although the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld Section 43, it is easy to see how the issue of parental discipline is rarely black and white. Spanking a child is acceptable to some people; for others, it is never okay. There have been many cases where a neighbour or a bystander in a store or on the street has reported a parent for disciplining a child. If you have been charged with a criminal offence for spanking or otherwise disciplining your child, it is important to contact an experienced criminal law lawyer right away.

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