Parental Discipline

The effort to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada is not evidence-based policy-making.

A Case for Keeping Section 43

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Listen as Program Director Andrea Mrozek explains the significance of the Senate debate on Bill S-206.


  • Bill S-206 is a bill originating in the Senate calling for an outright ban on the use of reasonable force for parents and teachers.
  • Bill S-206 calls for the repeal of section 43 of the criminal code—section 43 protects parents and teachers from criminal sanction if they need to use reasonable force with children in their care.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2004 that section 43 is constitutional.
  • Of the four published scientific overviews of child outcomes of spanking, only Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor support the banning of use of reasonable force.1 Their meta-analysis relies on unadjusted correlations, a statistic that is likely to be biased. The other three overviews concluded:
    • “Exposure to corporal punishment does not substantially increase the risk to youth.”2
    • “The impact of spanking . . . on the negative outcomes . . . are minimal.”3
    • “The results . . . favored conditional spanking over 10 of 13 alternative disciplinary tactics. . . . Only overly severe or predominant use of physical punishment compared unfavorably with alternative disciplinary tactics.”4
  • Sweden has experienced alarming increases in criminal assaults since they banned spanking in 1979.
    • Swedish physical child abuses increased between 1981 and 2010 by twenty-one times.5
    • Assaults by minors on other minors occur more than twenty-three times as often as before the ban.6
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended repealing section 43 based on the systemic abuse of First Nations children, who were forcibly taken from their parents and placed into residential schools, where physical (as well as emotional and sexual) abuse was levied.
    • This was abuse and would clearly be illegal even with section 43.
    • This abuse stemmed from interference with parents, just as repealing section 43 likewise interferes in the lives of parents.
  • Children have been removed from their families unnecessarily in countries where a ban on use of force has been implemented.7
  • The removal of section 43 will put good parents at risk of criminal sanction and will not help protect children from abuse.


Bill S-206, a bill currently at second reading in the Senate, is “an Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children against standard child-rearing violence).” It calls for the repeal of section 43 of the Criminal Code, which currently reads as follows:

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.

Section 43 allows parents and teachers to use reasonable force with children and thereby protects those groups from criminal sanction.

In 2004, a challenge to section 43 by the Canadian Foundation for Youth, Children, and Law reached the Supreme Court. Six out of nine Supreme Court judges voted to uphold the law as constitutional and in accordance with the Charter. The ruling introduced additional guidelines to clarify and limit the allowance for corporal punishment.8

S-206 is originating in the Senate, where it had first reading on December 8, 2015. Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette brought it forward and subsequently retired. So Senator Murray Sinclair, former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has now picked up the torch.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended repealing section 43, the result of abuse inflicted on First Nations children in the residential schools. These children were forcibly removed from the care of their parents and sent to residential schools where they not only received sub-standard education, but were also subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Comparing residential school abuse with any aspect of parental discipline in Canada today is a comparison of apples and oranges for many reasons.

First of all, the abuse started with the forcible separation of children from their families. There is legitimate concern that separation of good parents from their children could be one outcome of repealing section 43 of the criminal code.9 Social services tend to be overburdened as it is, so increasing the caseload by failing to identify that the appropriate use of reasonable force is not abuse would only add to it.

Further, repealing section 43 appears to be a solution in search of a problem. We do not have evidence that parents are abusing section 43 as it stands. We have better evidence that parents aren’t using reasonable force at all. From a 2015 Pew research poll we learn that “spanking is the least commonly used method of discipline—just 4% of parents say they do it often. But one-in-six parents say they spank their children at least some of the time as a way to discipline them.” Just because something is declining in popularity does not make it violence or abuse per se.

On what grounds is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission making this recommendation? It’s difficult to say, given that corporal punishment has not been used in schools for some time. There is no comparison to be made between the abuse in residential schools and parenting in 2017.

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Topics: Parenting, Family