Brian Hutchinson: Father worried he’ll be jailed or deported if B.C. court rules spanking daughter was assault
Brian Hutchinson Jul 13, 2012 – 9:45 PM ET | Last Updated: Jul 13, 2012 9:49 PM ET
http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/201 ... s-assault/
KAMLOOPS, B.C. — He’s a young man from another country. He’s also a father. He was dating the mother when their child was conceived. Their relationship ended before the baby was born four years ago.
Steven — a pseudonym — didn’t abandon the child. He spent time with her, playing with her in the mother’s home, taking her on brief outings. Last summer, Steven agreed to look after their daughter while the mother spent the night with a friend. Something happened: A fuss was made during a diaper change, and Steven struck the little girl. When she still didn’t comply and she attempted to crawl away, he pinned her on the floor, he says. Red marks were left on her leg, and on her back. While the marks remained visible for several days, she suffered no permanent injury.
Steven was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm. He spent four nights in the local jail. He’s now on trial in B.C. Provincial Court; a ban on publication prevents disclosure of his identity, and the names of the mother and child. Steven is anxious, worried that he’ll receive a prison sentence or be deported from Canada. He’s also bewildered: He insists that his relationships with the mother and his daughter are fine, and that no harm was done.
Had he applied reasonable, corrective force as a parent, as Canadian law allows? Others — the RCMP, and the Crown — say he went too far in his attempts to subdue his little girl. Judge Stella Frame must decide.
Corporal punishment in any form is contentious; Canadians remain divided over its use, whether it is ever necessary or defensible. After a legal challenge, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in 2004 that spanking is permissible under certain conditions. The child must be at least two years of age, and no older than 12. The punishment must be administered by hand by the child’s parent; no objects may be applied and no blows may be dealt to the head. The spanking must be corrective; it may not be applied in frustration or anger. The amount of force used must also be “transitory and trifling in nature.” It must never be “harmful.”
Of course, what constitutes “harm” is left to interpretation. In this case, the girl’s mother was obviously concerned that some damage had been done. After returning home and finding marks on the little girl, she took her to Royal Inland Hospital, in downtown Kamloops. The attending physician was concerned enough to call in a social worker, who, in turn, contacted the RCMP.
Steven was picked up while walking to work. After spending a long holiday weekend inside a jail cell, he gave a voluntary statement to an RCMP constable.
“What I’m trying to sort out here is whether you just got mad and beat your child up,” said the officer, according to the statement transcript, entered as evidence at trial and made available to media this week.
Steven’s initial responses were vague. The girl needed a diaper change but was uncooperative, he said. “She became mischievous,” he said. He eventually conceded that he had “hit” the girl on one leg. Before he could finish the diaper change, she slipped away. “And then I…yeah, I spanked her [on] her back,” Steven said.
“You were trying to spank her on her bum?” the officer asked.
“Yeah…I didn’t set out to hit, hit her hard. But when I saw the mark, uh, then I knew this…this was not good.”
The officer showed Steven photographs taken of the child, and the marks left on her. “What does that look like to you?” the officer asked.
“Like my palm,” said Steven.
“Do you think that’s normal injury for discipline?”
“I don’t know. Like I don’t know what to say.”
The Crown presented its case before Judge Frame this week. The trial resumes Monday; Steven has not decided if he’ll testify. Defence lawyer Sheldon Tate says his client did not commit an assault. He did not break the law. “He has the right to correct his child,” the lawyer said, in an interview outside the Kamloops Law Courts. “There was no assault, because there was no intention [to commit one].”
The mark left on the child’s leg was the result of a corrective spanking, which was conducted in an effort to “stop [the child’s] behaviour. He did what he felt had to be done under the circumstances,” the lawyer said.
The partial palm print left on the child’s back was not the result of a spanking, according to Mr. Tate. Rather, it was made by “accident” when Steven pinned the girl down and to keep her in place. Children sometimes slip from their parents’ grasp, the lawyer noted, and sometimes when they are corralled a mark is left on their skin. It was “unintentional and innocent.”
That’s not quite the way Steven described things in his statement to police, but he was shaken by his arrest and unfamiliar with the legal process, he says. “I’d never been in any sort of trouble before,” he said in an interview Friday, adding that he loves his daughter and remains friendly with the girl’s mother. He visited with them this week, after the mother testified at his trial. “We both feel bad about this. We didn’t think it would go this far, with me in court.”