London Free Press Online, January 31, 1998

By Ross Evans and Roxanne Beaubien -- Free Press Reporters

In what police are calling a rare incident, a 37-year-old London man has been charged with assault after a spanking that left his six-year-old son bruised.

The man called his son into the bathroom of their home Tuesday, then spanked him after a discussion, police said.

On Thursday, the young victim was taken to his family doctor because of bruising on the buttocks and lower back. The doctor contacted the Children's Aid Society, which contacted the police.

Neither the man nor his son can be identified to protect the identity of the boy.

The man was arrested because "it's a force issue," London police Sgt. John O'Flaherty said.

"The question is -- was there more force used than was necessary, and that will be up to the courts to decide," he said.

Under the Criminal Code, parents are allowed to use reasonable force to discipline their children. But the force must not be excessive to the particular situation.

"It is rare" to charge a parent in a spanking incident, O'Flaherty said. "It goes beyond suspicion. If an officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that excessive force was used, then he or she lays a charge."

"Reasonable force" is defined first by what the judge thinks is reasonable, said Gordon Cudmore, a lawyer at Cohen, Highley, Vogel and Dawson.

"In terms of today's society, I would say the only thing that would be reasonable is to be using an open hand on a rear end or something like that," he said.

"Any use of any kind of an instrument, such as a belt, a stick, a rod . . . would probably be excessive. Anything that would cause injury would be excessive.

"You're distinguishing between a spanking and a beating," Cudmore said. "The physical force applied must be applied to correct behavior, not to cause injury."

London police visit classrooms to conduct a Grade 6 program called VIP (values, influences, and peers) which deals with the use of excessive force issue in a section which discusses authority figures, Const. Steve Goodine said. "We deal with it in general terms," Goodine said. "But it's a frequently asked question -- if parents can use force."

That often leads to classroom discussions about what is reasonable force and what is not, he said.

The law states any person suspecting child abuse must report it to a child agency, Goodine said.

But certain authority figures such as teachers and doctors are singled out to report their suspicions because they are more likely to come in contact with abused children, he said.

Clinical psychologist Marlies Suderman believes any type of spanking is abusive.

"It's better not to do it. It's better for the child's psychological and social development," said Suderman, who is also the director of violence prevention services and research at the London Family Court Clinic.

Cudmore said he thinks spanking can be a valuable tool when used properly.

"If my young son is reaching for a hot burner on the stove and I smack his hand, I don't expect to be charged with assault," he said.

Return to Newsroom Index or to Table of Contents.