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What did the Canadian Public Learn From the 2004 Supreme Court Decision on Physical Punishment?

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image of The International Journal of Children's Rights

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the legal justification for physical punishment of children, but limited its protection to minor force applied by non-frustrated parents, with the hand, to children between the ages of 2 and 12. This double message – that physical punishment is justifiable but only under limited conditions – is potentially confusing to the Canadian public. We attempted to answer the question of whether this decision was understood as restricting the use of physical punishment or whether it was understood as giving a "green light" to this practice. We analyzed the first 420 responses to the decision that were posted to the website of a national newspaper in the days immediately following the release of the Court's decision. The postings were coded according to writers' awareness of and agreement with various aspects of the decision, as well as their conceptualizations of physical punishment. The findings demonstrate that the majority of writers understood the ruling as giving parents permission to use corporal punishment. Only 11% referred to the limitations placed on its use. The findings are discussed in terms of the policy implications of the Supreme Court's decision and the public's limited understanding of it.

Affiliations: 1: University of Manitoba; 2: University of Manitoba;, Email:


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