The late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said, “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nations.” The remarks were made by Trudeau when, as Justice Minister in 1968, he sought to decriminalize homosexual acts and relax Canada’s restrictions on abortion. Forty years later, the Canada Trudeau left behind still seems to believe that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation — but can make itself very active in its living rooms.
Three cases illustrate the current extent of state involvement in attempting to usurp the role of parents. Or put another way, the state attempting to parent parents. Canada’s unelected Senate, a body of political appointees, has passed a bill that elected members of parliament have talked about passing but never have. The Senators want to outlaw the spanking of children. Like most Western nations, Canada already has laws against beating your child, yet spanking or corporal punishment is still allowed under section 43 of the criminal code. Activists have tried to use the courts to have this section of the law overturned, but the Supreme Court upheld the law. In its decision, justices on the court set out guidelines, just so everyone would be clear on what is acceptable and what is not. Punching your child in the face, kicking, beating them about the head, all of these go beyond corporal punishment and into the realm of abuse, while an open hand on the bottom or the torso is properly considered spanking. The Senators want to make it illegal to spank a child under almost any instance. The bill still needs approval from the elected Members of Parliament in the Commons, but the signal has been sent; parents will face the long arm of the law reaching into their living rooms if this bill passes.
Many parents already choose not to spank their children and opt for non-corporal punishments such as time-outs or grounding. Those punishments though, are also subject to state sanction in Canada if current precedent holds. A 12 year-old girl in Gatineau, Quebec, successfully sued her father over being grounded. She was told that she could not attend a three-day class trip because she was outright defiant. It seems the father and daughter were battling it out over a number of house rules. After discovering that his daughter had been having what are only described as “inappropriate” chats at “inappropriate” websites for a 12-year-old, the father told the girl she was not allowed on the internet as punishment. She did so anyway. The father found out his daughter was again having inappropriate chats and also posting inappropriate pictures by using a friend’s computer. This is when the punishment extended not only to banning her from internet use, but also from attending her class trip.
Now there is a complication to this story: the parents involved are divorced and the school required that both parents sign the permission form. Since the girl’s mother was willing to sign the form, she packed up and moved in with Mum. Mum helped her daughter launch the court case in which a judge deemed it too severe a punishment to keep the girl from her class trip. She was allowed to go on court orders.
After telling parents they cannot spank their kids and they must seek state approval for grounding their children, it is scary to see what more could happen. How about taking children away from parents based on their political beliefs? Not possible? It happened in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The local children’s aid society was called in by the school district when teachers noticed markings on a 7-year-old girl. The markings weren’t bruises or burn marks from cigarettes stubbed out on the girl’s arms. They were written markings, like tattoos but instead drawn on the girl’s arms and legs with permanent marker. The markings were various white supremacist phrases and symbols including a swastika. When the girl showed up at school with the markings, Child and Family Services were called, who then called in help from the police to also seize the young girl’s 2-year-old brother. Child and Family Services now claim there is concern about drug and alcohol use in the home, yet their initial reason for seizing the children (the only reason they had when they went to the home to take the 2-year old boy) was the political beliefs of the parents.
White supremacists may be a minority group, and their beliefs may run counter to the accept-everyone-or-you-are-a-racist society we now live in, but is that any reason to take their children away from them? This is a classic case of the slippery slope argument; if a white supremacist’s children can be taken away based simply on their politics, can my children be taken away based on mine? If parents tell their children that global warming is not real would those children be taken away by a Green government? If they tell them that communism will replace capitalism after the worker's revolution, would those children be taken away by a conservative government? This all seems like the state intruding far too much into the lives of individuals and families.
I wish this type of intrusion were restricted to Canada yet the headlines prove otherwise. A German family is now living in England after facing prosecution for home schooling their children, they had faced the prospect of having the children taken away from them for refusing the send their offspring to the state run public school. In California, courts have all but ruled home schooling illegal, for the time being – appeals pending, after ruling that parents need proper teacher certification in order to home school. Parents are each child’s first and primary educator, the state when it plays a part must always be subordinate to the parents not the other way around.
There can be no doubt that the state has an interest in protecting vulnerable children when their parents cannot or will not protect them. Children not being provided with the basic necessities of life, those experiencing sexual abuse, real physical abuse, these children should expect the state to step in and provide the care their parents cannot. When true abuse is absent, the state’s role is to support the family, to help make families stronger, not to usurp the family’s prerogatives and interfere in its life. If as Pierre Trudeau said, the state has no place in my bedroom, why does it insist on sitting in my living room?
Brian Lilley is Ottawa Bureau Chief of Astral Media Radio