New West school board backs anti-spanking campaign

The New Westminster school board has thrown its support behind a campaign to criminalize spanking and other forms of child corporal punishment.

At a meeting Tuesday, trustees unanimously passed a motion to support Corrine’s Quest, a group working to ban the physical punishment of children.

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The organization wants the federal government to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code, the so-called “spanking law.”

“It’s archaic and I think it’s a ridiculous thing to have in this day and age,” trustee Michael Ewen said before Tuesday’s vote.

Section 43 allows a parent, teacher or “person standing in the place of a parent” to use “force by way of correction towards a pupil or child … if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

Corrine’s Quest chair Kathy Lynn and former New Westminster MLA and MP Dawn Black first asked for the board’s support during a presentation at a Sept. 15 meeting.

Board chair Jonina Campbell and trustee Casey Cook spoke in support of the motion, citing Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – article 19 of which commits signatories to protecting children from “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

“I think that we should not exempt ourselves from parts of an agreement that we are a signatory to,” Cook said.

Campbell agreed.

“We as a board have a history of taking on an advocacy role, even though it’s not our level of governance, when we feel it impacts on our students,” she said.

The board will now bring the matter forward to the B.C. School Trustees’ Association for consideration at its upcoming 2016 annual general meeting. It will also send letters calling for the repeal of section 43 to various federal and provincial ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld section 43 in a 6-3 decision in 2004.

In her decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin stated that, without section 43, Canada’s broad assault law would criminalize acts like “placing an unwilling child in a chair for a five-minute ‘time-out.’”

“The decision not to criminalize such conduct is not grounded in devaluation of the child,” she stated, “but in a concern that to do so risks ruining lives and breaking up families – a burden that in large part would be borne by children and outweigh any benefit derived from applying the criminal process.”

McLachlin’s decision also notes that neither the Convention on the Rights of the Child nor the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights explicitly require signatories to ban all corporal punishment of children.

The Supreme Court did, however, outline “reasonable limits” to section 43, ruling that only children between the ages of two and 12 years should be physically disciplined and that it is unacceptable to hit a child in the head or face or with an object.

Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette has introduced several bills in the senate to repeal section 43.

Her latest, Bill S-206, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children against standard child-rearing violence), saw its second reading in May 2014.

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