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Corporal Punishment in Canada

  • 28 mins

CP Blog Post image 1


  • Risks of spanking outweigh benefits
  • Cultural factors, education level, and personal beliefs influence spanking decisions
  • Growing up in a conservative Christian household increases the likelihood of spanking
  • Canada can learn from countries like Sweden, which have banned spanking, for policy-making guidance


Corporal punishment (CP) has long been recognized as a parenting technique to be avoided due to its potential harm. However, in Canada, the legislation surrounding CP remains ambiguous, leaving child welfare practice in a state of uncertainty. In this blog post, we aim to provide clarity on the implications of CP in child welfare by examining historical studies conducted in Canada. Additionally, we will broaden our understanding by exploring international studies conducted outside of Canada. Taking an ethical standpoint, we will draw upon the work of Patrick Lenta and insights from researchers who have applied sociology and theology to the topic. Furthermore, we will discuss future directions in CP research and its connection to the broader field of child welfare practice. While some may view CP as an issue that can be resolved over time and through generational shifts, we emphasize the importance of an active campaign that advocates for structural change. Let us delve into the complexities of CP in Canada.

Note: This blog post is a simplified version of a larger paper, so some context may be missing. To access the original paper, please contact the author.


Current Legislation in Canada 

Corporal punishment (CP) in Canada is addressed by Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows for CP on children aged two to twelve with certain limitations. However, CP with objects or above the neck is explicitly prohibited, and teachers can only use CP in emergency situations. The force applied must always be minor, and it should never be administered out of anger or with the intention to humiliate or degrade the child. While the government discourages CP, individual provinces may have their own specific laws on the matter.

In 2004, there was an opportunity to repeal Section 43, but it did not pass. Only three out of the nine Justices voted in favour1. Justices Ian Binnie and Marie Deschamps argued that CP constituted age discrimination, while Justice Louise Arbour highlighted the ambiguity surrounding justifiable circumstances for CP. The Senate Committee on Human Rights also supported the repeal. Notably, the Liberal Party has pledged to fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Committee's calls to action, including the repeal of Section 43.

Opponents of the repeal express concerns about the burden of scrutinizing CP-like behaviors. However, provisions can be incorporated into the law to protect reasonable actions1. Differentiating between child abuse and CP is essential, as repealing Section 43 would legally equate the two. Finding ways to respond appropriately to different levels of CP is important and preventive measures offer a cost-effective solution.

Repealing Section 43 could lead to consistent regulations across provinces. To gain support from parents, alternative tools to discipline children need to be taught. There will be a constant struggle between organizations advocating for the end of CP and others who argue for parental freedom of choice. Most research supports the repeal, although some highlight the limitations of studies demonstrating negative outcomes of CP.


Recent Trends in Canada

While international studies have extensively examined corporal punishment (CP), there is a limited number of national studies in Canada, particularly regarding its impact on race and ethnicity2. Methodological concerns have been raised about meta-analyses of CP studies, with no evidence supporting its positive effects2. Although the rate of spanking among Canadian children aged two to eleven has decreased significantly over the past two decades, there has been an alarming increase in maltreatment, including domestic violence and emotional harm3. However, it's important to consider that self-reporting is the primary method used in these studies, which may lead to underreporting due to the stigma associated with CP. Furthermore, CP appears to be transient and more responsive to educational interventions rather than structural influences.

Data from 2012 to 2013 reveals that approximately a quarter of Canadian parents reported using CP within the past month2. Younger children were more likely to be spanked, while gender and disability status did not show significant associations, though further research is needed on different types of disabilities. Although the parent's age at the child's birth and specific employment type did not prove statistically significant, employment status and financial-related stress played a role. Parents who employed CP had higher rates of behavioral problems in their children, but the causal relationship remains unclear. Beliefs in spanking demonstrated the strongest predictive power, aligning with findings from other studies. However, it's worth noting that this study's nonrepresentative sample size prevented analysis of race and ethnicity in the Canadian population.


Causes of Corporal Punishment

Cultural Factors

Parental attitudes towards corporal punishment (CP) are influenced by cultural factors4. Frustration is often the primary emotion driving CP, and financial stress does not necessarily decrease the likelihood of CP. Kinship families show a lower risk of abuse compared to foster homes, suggesting that financial remuneration alone does not mitigate the risk5. The familial bond in kinship families may contribute to the comfort of exercising CP, while the age of the child also plays a significant role, with preschool-aged children experiencing higher rates of CP.

Intergenerational Transmission

Approximately two-thirds of adults have experienced CP, and its frequency is higher if they have also experienced sexual abuse during childhood4. Parents who endorse CP often had mild experiences themselves and did not perceive it as threatening or traumatic. On the other hand, parents who are less likely to support CP had negative experiences of severe physical impact and emotional trauma during their own childhood. However, the intent of discipline also plays a crucial role in the transmission of CP.

Personal Experiences and Biases

Personal experiences with CP can shape individual perspectives. While anecdotal accounts have limited explanatory power, it is valuable to consider how personal experiences align with research. It is important to acknowledge biases and take a stand against CP. Research on CP in Canada has been lacking, similar to the limited focus on neglect compared to other forms of abuse3.

Normalization and Reporting Challenges

The cultural and legal normalization of CP may hinder the reporting of cases to child welfare authorities. Societal norms and legal constraints can discourage workers from substantiating cases of neglect involving CP. The lack of legal authority to address CP cases may discourage workers from taking action. Therefore, a structural approach should be explored, but the repeal of Section 43 would require funding for organizations and agencies to address the issue. Increased funding would support frontline workers and enable mass media campaigns. Further research should examine the relationship between household income and neglect3.

Understanding the cultural factors influencing CP, intergenerational transmission, personal experiences, and reporting challenges can help inform efforts to address and prevent CP effectively.


Religious Factors

Religious beliefs, particularly among conservative Protestant Christians (CPC), influence the enforcement of corporal punishment (CP)6. Less educated CPC are more likely to endorse and practice CP, while more highly educated CPC tend to align with shifting attitudes against CP. This phenomenon, although studied in the United States, provides relevant insights for Canada due to similarities in law and cultural attitudes.

A few theories explain CPC's endorsement of CP6. Firstly, CPC may use CP as a means of resisting contemporary society. Additionally, their beliefs are often rooted in biblical passages that provide guidelines for child-rearing. Furthermore, their belief in humans as inherently sinful may drive them to correct their children's behavior to prevent damnation. There have been strides taken within the church, led by progressive church leaders, to change how child-rearing is viewed, but the pace of change remains slow.

Cultural Polarization

Cultural polarization has increased over time, with CPC maintaining largely unchanged attitudes towards CP despite societal shifts6. Education has only marginal influence on attitudes, with media and religious public figures reinforcing CPC's views. Further research is needed to explore attitudes towards CP among groups outside of CPC, and longitudinal studies on mild to moderate cases of CP could provide valuable insights.

Religious Beliefs and Information Reception

Religious beliefs shape how individuals receive new information, with CPC becoming skeptical of academic news sources6. This influences the channels policymakers can use to raise awareness about CP, particularly in the era of social media algorithms. Highly educated Protestants tend to hold more moderate views, while the less educated often view issues in black-and-white terms. CPC actively reject advice from secular experts, and prospect theory may offer a strategy to address these challenges7.

Addressing Challenges and Diffusing Research

The all-or-nothing fallacy can hinder the weighing of pros and cons in decision-making. Diffusion theory and leveraging figures of authority within churches can help disseminate research to specific subpopulations. Building capacity among parents dealing with poverty is important, but belief remains a significant factor driving CP. Utilizing power elite theory and establishing rapport between social workers and local churches can contribute to advocating for change.

Recommendations for Future Research and Action

Replicating studies on CPC in Canada, particularly in regions with significant CPC populations, may be helpful. Longitudinal studies on mild to moderate cases of CP can provide valuable insights. It is crucial to explore attitudes towards CP among groups outside of CPC as well. Policymakers should consider leveraging figures of authority within churches and building partnerships with local communities to raise awareness and drive meaningful change.


Philosophical Underpinning of CP


Lenta8 presents arguments against the justification of CP, particularly from the perspective of retributivism. He highlights inconsistencies in the arguments presented by proponents of CP and suggests that there are better alternatives for educating children that do not rely on power imbalances. Lenta emphasizes the costs of CP, including the lack of reflection time for the child and the potential for unintended consequences due to fear and anxiety. He references meta-analyses that reinforce the evidence of harm caused by CP and argues that it can normalize violence and reinforce unhealthy attitudes towards misbehavior. Lenta's arguments remind social workers to critically examine their practices and interventions and consider the potential harm that CP can cause. He also emphasizes the need for research on the efficacy of different awareness initiatives and cautions against using measures to raise the threshold for intervention as a means to address funding issues rather than child abuse. Lenta's arguments contribute to the ongoing discussion on the philosophy of CP and emphasize the importance of evaluating its effectiveness and potential harm.

Children’s Rights

Lenta8 highlights the importance of considering children's rights in the context of child welfare. While children may not have full agency, they still have interests that grant them rights. The field of social work encompasses different perspectives on child welfare, ranging from a laissez-faire approach to extensive state intervention. When it comes to CP, the challenge lies in striking a balance between parental freedom and protecting children from serious harm. Instances of child abuse may fall outside the scope of CP, making it necessary for state intervention. Advocates seeking to address CP aim to lower the threshold for intervention while promoting family preservation and updating legislation. Social workers have a crucial role to play in considering children's rights, promoting their well-being, and protecting them from harm. They must navigate the complexities of child welfare, ensuring that interventions align with children's rights and best interests while balancing the need for family preservation. MacLaurin9 emphasizes the need for a nuanced approach to children's rights, recognizing that there is no universal or one-size-fits-all solution.


Defining corporal punishment (CP) as violence is complex. If violence is narrowly defined as causing injury, spanking may fall outside of the definition8. However, violence should encompass varying levels of severity. Intent also plays a role, as CP may be seen as causing temporary pain for long-term behavioral improvement. Understanding violence is important for legal considerations and exploring how CP is viewed in criminal and family courts, as well as examining approaches in other countries, can provide valuable insights. Overall, carefully examining the intentions, severity, and potential harm of CP helps determine its categorization and informs policymaking.



Other Countries Dealing with CP

The experiences of other countries, particularly Sweden, offer valuable insights into repealing CP laws and implementing awareness campaigns. Sweden, the first country to prohibit CP, accompanied the ban with a highly effective public awareness campaign10. Within a year, almost 90% of the public had heard about the law. However, it's important to note that despite the ban, some individuals in Sweden and Finland continue to use CP.

When considering the repeal of Section 43 in Canada, it is crucial to implement mass media campaigns, similar to those for masking or vaccination, targeting popular social media channels to reach a wide audience. Building multi-partisan support for the change is essential to prevent cultural polarization and ensure the success of the campaign. Additionally, hospitals and parenting classes can play a vital role in supporting the transition away from CP, although they may already be aligned with the change. Special attention should be given to older Canadians, as they often influence new parents, such as grandparents.

However, it's important to recognize that a public awareness campaign alone may not be sufficient. Legislative change and adequate funding are necessary to bring about meaningful and lasting change. It's crucial to approach the legislative change from an educational perspective, rather than a punitive one, acknowledging that many parents who resort to CP may already be stressed and burnt out. The goal should be to provide support and education to parents, rather than solely penalizing them.

While Canada's individualist culture may present challenges, looking at the positive changes in countries like Sweden can provide encouragement for Canada to follow a similar trajectory. In summary, a comprehensive approach that includes legislative change, mass media campaigns, education, and support systems is likely to be the most effective way to transition away from CP.



Future Implications

Future implications for the study of CP and addressing its issues can be approached in two key areas: research and mass media campaigns.

In terms of research, it is important for studies to provide comprehensive explanations of the theory and background knowledge surrounding CP, considering that readers may not be familiar with the subject11. Researchers should not assume that child welfare workers possess expertise in all relevant disciplines, as CP intersects with multiple fields. Gathering qualitative data directly from children, in an ethical manner, is crucial to obtain a more accurate understanding of their experiences. Adult-focused studies may become less reliable over time, making children's perspectives even more valuable. Using open-ended questions can be particularly useful for young children, while insights from young adults can shed light on desired changes. Overall, incorporating diverse perspectives will enrich understanding and guide the development of non-violent disciplinary practices.

Regarding mass media campaigns, researchers can employ various methodologies to ensure data reliability, such as cross-lagged studies, fixed effect regressions, and mediator analyses12. It is also essential to examine risk factors for spanking at multiple levels, including community and societal factors, to understand the broader context in which CP occurs. Rather than waiting for visible abuse to occur, studying structural factors can help in prevention efforts. However, it is worth noting that the decriminalization of CP may lead to more honest responses, revealing deeper underlying issues. Therefore, mass media campaigns should prioritize education over punishment, creating an environment that encourages reporting and seeks to address the root causes of CP. While CP may not be as urgent as issues like COVID-19, it is important to avoid complacency and inaction. Timing is crucial, and if possible, the campaign can be aligned with other child-related issues to maximize its impact. Social workers should collaborate with professionals who possess economic, social, and cultural capital, forming a coalition for change. Despite CP being a silent issue, there are opportunities for improvement in Canada.



The issue of CP is often overlooked, but the changing cultural attitudes present an opportunity for social workers to initiate change. While existing studies conducted outside of Canada can provide insights, it is important to consider the specific Canadian context and focus on factors such as race and ethnicity in future research. Legal implications and religious beliefs also influence CP but are beyond the scope of this paper. Looking to European countries that have already banned CP can offer guidance and inspiration for Canada. Despite other unaddressed factors contributing to inaction, Canada should not delay action when other countries have taken the lead in prohibiting CP.


Barnett, L. (2016). The "Spanking" Law: Section 43 of the Criminal Code. Retrieved October 9,2021, from [1]

Perron, J. L., Lee, C. M., Laroche, K. J., Ateah, C., Clément, M.-Ève, & Chan, K. (2014). Childand Parent Characteristics Associated With Canadian Parents’ Reports of Spanking. Canadian Journal of Community MentalHealth, 33(2), 31–45. [2]

Trocme, N., Schumacher, K., & Fallon, B. (2011b). The response of the Ontario child welfare system to neglect: 1993 to 2003. In Kufeldt, K., McKenzie, B. D. (Eds.), Child welfare: Connecting research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 48–66). Wilfrid Laurier University Press. [3]

Gagné, M.-H., Tourigny, M., Joly, J., & Pouliot-Lapointe, J. (2007). Predictors of Adult Attitudes Toward Corporal Punishment of Children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(10), 1285–1304. [4]

Dill, K. (2011). Finding the best home: A comparative analysis of kinship and foster care placements. In Kufeldt, K., McKenzie, B. D. (Eds.), Child welfare: Connecting research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 184–197). Wilfrid Laurier University Press. [5]

Hoffmann, J. P., Ellison, C. G., & Bartkowski, J. P. (2017). Conservative Protestantism and attitudes toward corporal punishment, 1986–2014. Social Science Research, 63, 81–94. [6]

Stachowiak, S. (2013, October). 10 theories to inform advocacy and policy change efforts. Evaluation Innovation. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from [7]

Lenta, P. (2018). Corporal Punishment (1st ed., Vol. 5). Routledge. [8]

MacLaurin, B. (2002). Historical and Contextual Factors Associated with Child Welfare Decisions Canada (pp. 1–44). University of Calgary. [9]

Lansford, J. E., Cappa, C., Putnick, D. L., Bornstein, M. H., Deater-Deckard, K., & Bradley, R. H. (2016). Change over time in parents’ beliefs about and reported use of corporal punishment in eight countries with and without legal bans. Child Abuse & Neglect, 71, 44–55. [10]

Kufeldt, K. & McKenzie, B. (2011c). The policy, practice, and research connection: Are we there yet?. In Kufeldt, K., McKenzie, B. D. (Eds.), Child welfare: Connecting research, policy, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 579–599). Wilfrid Laurier University Press. [11]

MacMillan, H. L., & Mikton, C. R. (2017). Moving research beyond the spanking debate. Child Abuse & Neglect, 71, 5–8. [12]

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