Victory for parents

  • April 3, 2008

{mosimage}Canadian parents are likely breathing a sigh of relief over a recent decision by the Ontario Supreme Court. In the ruling by Madam Justice Cheryl Robertson released March 31, a father was acquitted of assault in an incident in which he used modest force to prevent his 15-year-old daughter from attending a drug party.

Most parents could only say “there but for the grace of God go I” in response to the circumstances of this Picton, Ont., area father, whose identity could not be disclosed because his daughter is under age. He had a rebellious daughter who sneaked out of the house one night (“for the umpteenth time,” said a Globe and Mail report on the case) to meet her drug-dealing boyfriend at a party.

Dad went out in his truck to look for her. After spotting her at a pay phone, he told her to get into the truck. She refused. He grabbed her by the shirt and put her inside to bring her home.

That few moments of conflict in 2006 resulted in two years of agony for the family. The daughter later complained to police that her father had assaulted her, though there was no physical harm. The father was charged with criminal assault. A lower court convicted him on one count, with the judge using a 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision as precedent. In that particular ruling, the Supreme Court had ruled that Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which limits how far parents can go in using corporal punishment on their children, cannot be used to defend corporal punishment of teens.

Fortunately, the appeals court took a different approach. Madam Justice Robertson said that the father’s use of force did not cross the line into criminal behaviour. “To exclude all force against teenagers takes the comments of the (Supreme Court of Canada) out of context,” the judge wrote.

In other words, sometimes a parent has no choice. When all else fails, the only thing a responsible parent can do to prevent a wayward child from hurting herself or others is to do what this particular father did.

This is an important ruling when it comes to the difficult times families face today. Governments and child welfare advocates bend over backwards to ensure the safety of children. This is all to the good, but sometimes flies in the face of the very real crises responsible parents can face. The ruling also puts a check on the lobby campaign to repeal Section 43 altogether, which would ban parents from giving any corporal punishment and handcuffing them even more in the tough job of raising children.

Increasingly, societies realize that physical force is ineffective as a form of discipline for children. But to criminalize corporal punishment or minimal physical force does nothing to help children and can actually harm them in the long run by taking one more tool (admittedly a tool of last resort) from a parents’ toolbox.

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