moved that Bill C-329, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the second reading for my bill, Bill C-329.
The bill seeks to repeal section 43 of the criminal code. This section of the criminal code that is not very well known to many Canadians, but it allows the use of force as a means of correcting or disciplining a child. I believe very strongly that this section flies in the face and is contrary to everything else about which we speak. We have policies which we promote in terms of upholding the rights and the well-being of children.
This morning I was very pleased to be joined at a press conference by a number of organizations that came to support the bill. There has been a very significant campaign across the country, and even a legal challenge, to repeal this section. This morning I was very pleased to be joined by Corinne Robertshaw of the repeal 43 committee, Mathew Geigen-Miller of the National Youth in Care Network, Michèle Matte of the Canadian Institute of Child Health and Victoria Norgaard of the Child Welfare League of Canada.
Many other people have not only supported the bill but have really taken up the issue of raising public consciousness about why the section needs to be repealed. In fact one of the people I especially want to mention is a very active parenting advocate, Kathy Lynn from Vancouver, who has a program on positive parenting . She has been a real leading light and strong advocate about the choices we have as parents and what we need to do to promote the health and well-being of children.
I am very pleased to join with these organizations to move along and to urge the government to consider the issue seriously and the impact that section 43 has had.
I believe that it is contrary to basic human rights. I believe it is contrary to the rights of children that Canada is a signatory to through international convention.
It is worth noting that this section of the criminal code is actually very old. It has been in our criminal code since 1892. It is based on English common law that did allow corporal punishment of wives, servants, apprentices and children.
I think everyone in the House and every Canadian would agree, that absolutely it is unacceptable that people would beat their wife or their spouse, their servant or their apprentice. Those aspects of our criminal code have long since gone. They have been done away with. However in 2001, the section that pertains to the use of force for correcting or disciplining a child still remains.
It is really an anomaly. It is an archaic part of the criminal code that sanctions violence rather than penalizing the use of violence. Not only does it violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it also violates the UN convention on the rights of the child in denying children the fundamental freedom of protection from acts of violence.
One reason the section must be removed is that it is not just sitting there silently in the criminal code and somehow has no visible impact on what takes place in our society. The reality is section 43 has been used successfully as a defence in our court system by parents who have hit children with straps, belts, sticks and extension cords, causing bruises, welts and abrasions.
To put this in context, research completed through the Canadian incidents study that showed that in 1998 there were 44,000 investigations of child physical abuse in Canada. Sixty-eight per cent of physical abuse investigations were deemed to be inappropriate physical punishment. That is an absolutely serious issue.
When we see that the section creates an environment of sanctioning violence rather than prohibiting it, then hopefully we will begin to see why the section must be removed.
When I first came across the section and understood what was going on, one of my concerns was that it really put the government in a very conflicting position.
On the one hand, the government has defended the maintenance of this section in the criminal code. On the other hand, there have been numerous studies, some of them funded by the federal government, that show that corporal punishment is not effective in raising children.
In 1995 a review funded by federal departments of health and justice found that corporal punishment was associated with increased levels of aggression, that it was a predicator of delinquency and violence and crime in later life and that it was a risk factor for child abuse.
It seems one hand of government, in terms of studying the cause and effect of allowing physical violence against children, understands that the impacts and the consequences for children are severe both individually and for the interest of society as a whole. However the other hand of the government has not been prepared to move on the issue.
Fifteen federal government sponsored reports over the past 20 years have recommended the repeal or reconsideration of section 43, yet the government has refused to act on those recommendations. I find that astonishing,
On the other side of the question, the major argument is that somehow the state does not have a right to intervene in how parents raise or discipline their children. Making decisions about discipline, how we teach our children a right from a wrong and how we help them develop self control, is certainly one of our greatest challenges as parents and as a society.
The intent in the bill before us today is not to deny parents the right to discipline their children. That is absolutely not the intent. The purpose and the point of the bill is to say that this particular section does not belong in the criminal code. There have been arguments to suggest that, if the section is repealed, somehow there will be a flood of criminal investigations and prosecutions and parents will be charged. Again, as Corinne Robertshaw said this morning, this is something of a red herring. It is a smokescreen. Police and prosecutors have discretion in laying and prosecuting charges. It is very rare for minor breaches to be prosecuted.
The other argument I have heard against repealing section 43 is that sometimes educators or other persons, who are in positions of authority or substituting parents, say they then will not have the ability to defend themselves or that they will not be able to use reasonable force to defend themselves. Clearly sections 34 to 41 of the criminal code allow the use of reasonable force for self-defence, defence of others, defence of property and prevention of trespass. If there are concerns that the repeal of this section will somehow mean that teachers cannot properly defend themselves or use reasonable force, there are other aspects of the criminal code that would allow that to happen.
As I said earlier, the section has been the subject of legal challenge. This past September a case went before the Ontario court of appeal. Basically, the case was to have this aspect of the criminal code declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it was a legalized form of child abuse and therefore a violation of children's equality under the charter of rights and freedoms.
Although the decision was not positive in terms of repealing section 43, the justice who came down with the decision found evidence that spanking and corporal punishment was bad and that it was not a good thing to do. In fact he urged parliament to consider amending or changing section 43 to provide parents, police and teachers with specific criteria of what sort of force was reasonable. Clearly the courts, in considering this issue, have said it really belongs back within parliament and within government policy to sort this out.
The origin of the legal case is very interesting. Ailsa Watkinson, a social work professor at the University of Regina, began the court challenge in 1997 after a man who administered a spanking to his child in an Ontario parking lot was acquitted under section 43. That is really the clear evidence of how this section has been used in a way that undermines the health and well-being of children.
In the minutes remaining I want to look at the international situation, because it is not just within Canada that we are dealing with this issue. There is a debate going on. There is information available to show that corporal punishment both in the home and at school is banned in nine European countries, including Austria, Croatia, Norway, Italy, Latvia, Denmark, Finland, Cyprus and Sweden. Further, the countries of Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland are in the process of bringing forward legislation against the physical or corporal punishment of children. Clearly there are a number of national jurisdictions considering this issue and recognizing that they need to be proactive and positive in terms of upholding the rights of children.
As a result of being at the press conference today and having worked on this issue for a number of years now, I really believe that this is an issue on which the federal government must show some leadership. There have been a lot of studies done. There has been a lot of public debate. There have been legal challenges. I firmly believe that if the government is of the opinion that the international covenants on the rights of the child that have been signed by the government are to mean anything, then we must come to terms with the contradiction that exists in terms of section 43 and these other international conventions and all the studies that have been done.
I believe that in the interests of upholding protection for children and the well-being of children we should actually have a more fulsome debate on this matter. It should go to committee, and today I certainly welcome hearing from other members of the House their opinions about this important issue.
In closing, while I recognize that there are concerns from people about whether or not this is an interference in parenting rights, I believe there is an interest in society as a whole in making sure that we support families, that we support the health and well-being of children.
It is just hard to believe that this section in the criminal code is left over from 1892 when it was legally sanctioned that a man could beat his wife or servant or apprentice. It is left over from that period. We now have to come to terms with the contradictions that exist and we have to say that section 43 has no place in the criminal code.
What we should focus on is providing support, information and help to parents who are facing challenges. We should tell parents that there are many alternative forms of corrective discipline, which do not have to involve physical harm and physical force, and there are many programs and supports. In fact, it is very important to get the information out there. Parents do not have to rely on beating their child or hitting their child to change behaviour in the long run or to somehow improve what that child is doing. Most parents who engage in that kind of discipline often regret it. They often wish they had not done it. We have to reinforce that. We have to work positively with parents. That is a very important message that must come from the federal government.
I ask the government to consider the bill and to consider that it needs to have further debate and discussion. I ask the government to back up its own studies, to come through with the recommendations from its own studies and to make it clear that we should be removing section 43 of the criminal code.