Canadians have a wide range of views about what comprises appropriate physical contact when parenting or teaching a child. These differences have prompted debates about what behaviours are harmful enough that they should be prohibited.
In Canada, the crime of assault is broadly defined. Depending on the circumstances, any non‑consensual touch can be considered an assault and can lead to criminal sanctions.
Section 43 of the Criminal Code provides parents and teachers with an explicit defence, allowing them to use reasonable force on a child. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted this provision to determine its scope. As a result of that decision, it is illegal to use physical force to discipline teenagers or children under the age of two, to use objects – such as rulers or belts – against a child of any age, or to slap the head of any child. In addition, teachers are prohibited from using force against children as punishment, but they can use reasonable force, for example, to remove a child from a classroom or to make a student comply with instructions.
In recent decades, civil society organizations and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have called upon Canada to repeal section 43 entirely, arguing that the defence is unnecessarily broad and children are harmed as a result. Many countries have made similar legislative changes to ban all forms of corporal punishment.
Several bills have been introduced in Parliament with the goal of repealing section 43. If it were to be repealed, other defences and prosecutorial discretion may be available to protect parents and teachers who use non‑harmful physical force in reasonable circumstances. Debates about the applicability and scope of these defences and of prosecutorial discretion are ongoing.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: The “Spanking” Law: Section 43 of the Criminal Code
Revised by Robert Mason, Library of Parliament