Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely serious debate we are entering into today on Bill C-329, an act to amend the criminal code involving the protection of children. The member for Vancouver East presented the bill with good intentions. However good intentions do not always gain their desired ends.
I was not able to listen to all of the speech by the member for Vancouver East but I did listen to the latter part of it. During her speech she suggested section 43 of the criminal code allowed corporal punishment to the extreme. She suggested it allowed people to hit and beat individuals. That is simply not the case. Section 43 clearly prohibits hitting and beating children. That is the point of the section.
I will take a moment to read section 43 of the criminal code as a few other speakers have done. It reads:
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.
The quote should read “their care” rather than “his care.”
I am not a lawyer nor do I pretend to be. However it could be argued that without section 43 of the criminal code we would be prevented from using reasonable force to prevent children from seriously hurting themselves by, for example, riding a bike off a cliff or running in front of a car.
Such circumstances may require force. This could seem unreasonable at the time but would be reasonable in that it may prevent children from injuring or even killing themselves. That is not what this debate is about nor do I think it was the intent of the hon. member for Vancouver East.
We have before us a subject which has been debated in other countries and other lands. Some nations have chosen to move away from corporal punishment for children and have made it against the law. Does that mean they are right and Canada is wrong? I question that. Does it mean we should follow in their footsteps? Not necessarily.
Does it mean we should engage in this debate? Perhaps it is time we had this debate. Perhaps it is time to look at the law as it is written. Perhaps it is time we dust it off, look at its bare bones, expose it to the sunlight and decide if we want to keep it on the books.
I think if we do that we will choose to keep the section on the books and allow parents the right to use force to discipline their children if it is deemed necessary. In no way, shape or form does section 43 condone physically beating or hitting a child. It should not be interpreted or used that way. It is not a defence for improper use of force. It is a defence for correcting a child, not for beating or abusing a child.
The very end of section 43 states “if the force does not exceed what is reasonable”. I suspect that would be up to a judge to interpret.
In today's society violence is not tolerated in the same way that it was a generation ago which is a good thing. Family violence is no longer tolerated at all. Society's values have changed. Because of the good, tireless work by family and children's services throughout the nation, along with the intervention of the courts, increased protection for children is now offered. That increased protection is offered because it was required.
There is no corporal punishment today in public schools. However, there remain instances where, after everything else has been tried, physical correction is necessary to stop dangerous behaviour, to protect other children, protect society in general, or protect the very child whose behaviour is endangering themselves.
Section 43 enables parents to do the best job possible of raising their children and gives them an option. It is not an option that most parents choose to take. It is not an option that is abused on a continual basis. The law very clearly prevents that abuse. Parents can be charged. They can be taken to court and their children can be taken away from them. It protects the rights of parents in accordance with their particular moral and religious beliefs. It reflects their personal knowledge of the unique characteristics of their own children, of how best to discipline their children, through knowledge gained from their parents and their own experiences during childhood.
It must be understood that this does not condone corporal punishment. This says that corporal punishment is one way of disciplining a child. Certainly for myself, my friends and my peers it is absolutely the method of last resort. I do not think we say that enough. People do not get up in the morning thinking of how they are going to punish their children. People react to circumstances. When circumstances require corporal punishment, I do not think the state can intervene if the force used is not excessive.
Under the current law, parents are allowed to use physical correction to discipline their children as long as it is not abusive and is reasonable under the circumstances. Before the implementation of section 43, there was no law placing limits on physical correction. This is an important point.
Section 43 does exactly that. It places limits on physical correction. Without question, those limits are needed. There were no government agencies at that time to protect children from abuse. Section 43 was implemented to protect children from abuse. It was well conceived. Even though it may be 100 years old, it continues to serve its purpose today.
There are critics of section 43. Some children's rights advocates want section 43 declared by the courts to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I understand there is a case before the courts now and a decision will be brought down.
The implications of this effort are that the state is directly interfering with good and loving parents who believe there are circumstances where the most responsible means of discipline is judicious physical correction. This would make those individuals criminals under the law. I do not think that is what the Parliament of Canada is about. I do not think that is what we want to do.
Should we engage in this debate? Absolutely. I have no difficulty in doing that. We should expose section 43 to the full light of day and at the same time recognize its positive aspects and look at some of the negative aspects of section 43. Is it time to update the law? Perhaps it is.
As the bill is written, the PC/DR Coalition certainly is eager to engage in the debate. We respect what the member is trying to do, but we do not agree with the premise and will not support the bill.