With files from Simon Little
A Salmon Arm couple convicted of assault for “spanking” their 14 year old daughter with a plastic hockey stick and a skipping rope won’t spend any time behind bars.
The parents never faced the prospect of the maximum 18 month prison sentence, or any time in jail for that matter.
Their defence team wanted a discharge, with the Crown calling for a conditional sentence of between two to three months.
The judge today sentencing the couple to a conditional discharge, with 12 months probation. That means no jail time and no criminal record, if the conditions are met.
The parents were convicted of assault in January. Even though that was the term “spanking” used in court, the judge said the parents had used “unreasonable” and “excessive corporal punishment” when they assaulted their daughter with a plastic hockey stick and a skipping rope.
The incident happened in February of 2015, after the girl’s parents found out she’d sent nude pictures through Snapchat to a young man.
As punishment, her father spanked her using a small plastic hockey stick, and her mother using a skipping rope.
RCMP were notified after she later appeared at school with bruises.
What is “spanking?”
The case has stimulated major debate over parental discipline, particularly as to when force is appropriate.
In Canada, what’s considered appropriate physical discipline is limited by section 43 of the Criminal Code, which separates legal “corrective force” from the crime of assault.
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 Department of Justice says the key element of that provision is that the force is reasonable, and is performed from a position of responsibility.
“Section 43 is not a defence for every action a parent, teacher, or caregiver may take. A parent, teacher or caregiver may only use reasonable force. And they may only use that reasonable force when it is connected to their duties to the child.”
The Supreme Court of Canada set out a further limitation in a 2004 ruling, clarifying what “force by way of correction” means:
- First, the person applying the force must have intended it to be for educative or corrective purposes. Accordingly, s. 43 cannot exculpate outbursts of violence against a child motivated by anger or animated by frustration. It admits into its sphere of immunity only sober, reasoned uses of force that address the actual behaviour of the child and are designed to restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval of his or her behaviour. The purpose of the force must always be the education or discipline of the child.
- Second, the child must be capable of benefiting from the correction. This requires the capacity to learn and the possibility of successful correction. Force against children under two cannot be corrective, since on the evidence they are incapable of understanding why they are hit. A child may also be incapable of learning from the application of force because of disability or some other contextual factor. In these cases, force will not be “corrective” and will not fall within the sphere of immunity provided by s. 43.