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Letter addressed to the Honourable Stanley Kutcher, Senator to join our call to action on physical punishment of children in Canada 

April 28, 2023

Senator Stanley Kutcher
Senate of Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A4 

Re: Call to Action on Physical Punishment of Children in Canada


Dear Senator Kutcher,

As the International Day to End Corporal Punishment approaches, I am writing in support of Bill S-251 to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code. As Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime, I remain deeply concerned about family violence in Canada, and violence experienced by children and youth. We must ensure that children are protected.

In 2020, the former Ombudsperson wrote a letter to the Honourable David Lametti expressing the same concern and highlighting that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #6 also calls for the repeal of this section in the Criminal Code.

Raising children is demanding. As parents and caregivers, we do the best we can with the tools we have, often drawing on our own experiences as children to guide our decision-making. And yet, as the world changes rapidly around us, we are in a constant process of unlearning and remaking our social world. Today, caregivers in Canada are dismantling gender inequality, racism and ethnocentrism, homophobia and transphobia, colonialism, and other attitudes or behaviors they witnessed as children.

Children are learning about consent. In schools, anti-bullying and sexual violence prevention programs share the message that no child should be hit or kicked, or touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Children are learning about the genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and how physical punishment was used to control, hurt, and shame Indigenous children in Residential Schools. 

As children learn more about their rights and bodily autonomy, experiences of physical discipline violate the values children are internalizing. 

Under the law, we recognize that physical violence against an adult is assault. However, Section 43 of the Criminal Code allows parents, caregivers and teachers to use reasonable force against a child for correction. It has been nearly 20 years since the Supreme Court affirmed Section 43 in its 2004 decision.

We have missed 20 years of opportunities for early intervention. Our Office has heard loudly from child welfare agencies across the country that Section 43 prevents them from intervening or offering support to families in cases of suspected child abuse.

We have 20 years of research on child brain development. Research shows that physical punishment does not benefit the child and can have many negative impacts into adulthood. Children may experience pain, anger, sadness, as well as changes to brain health and function. Long-term effects can include mental health problems, increased aggression, substance abuse, and damaged relationships and educational achievement (World Health Organization, 2021).

Physical punishment is the most common form of violence that children experience. Boys, younger children, and children with disabilities are at a higher risk (WHO, 2021). We have also learned that higher frequency and severity of physical punishment used on children is statistically linked to a higher likelihood of intimate partner violence occurring in the home. (Girls and Gender - Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, n.d.).

Across the world, 65 other countries have also formally committed to eliminating the physical punishment of children. It is time for Canada to turn our talk into action.                                                         

  • We need to honour our commitment to Indigenous Peoples by fulfilling Call to Action #6 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • We need to honour our commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 16.2 to end abuse and other violence against children and Goal 5.2 to violence against women and girls by 2030.
  • Prevention must be a priority by providing support and resources for caregivers to promote healthy corrective measures. Programs designed to target prevention, like the World Health Organization (WHO) evidence-based model INSPIRE will not only prevent child victimization, but also help women, men, Indigenous Peoples, and 2SLGBTQ+ members.

    Once again, I support Bill S-251 and the repeal of section 43 of the Criminal Code. Thank you for your dedication to protecting children.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Benjamin Roebuck
    Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime

    References

    Girls and Gender - Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. (n.d.).

    https://endcorporalpunishment.org/girls-and-gender/

    World Health Organization: WHO. (2021). Corporal punishment and health.

    https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/corporal-punishment-and-health