Vancouver — The father of the 16-year-old North Vancouver high-school student waited for his son to respond before delivering each blow with the cane.
“I'm remorseful and I'm ready,” the boy said over and over again.
Then, the father, who lives in South Korea, told a North Vancouver judge, “I would strike him. Before each blow I'd ask if he agreed this was his fault. Each time he said yes.”
For at least three hours on Jan. 19, the father, who cannot be identified under a court order, caned his son with hundreds of blows. At first, he kept his son on his knees. Then he forced him into a push-up position.
“I was emotional,” the father said, when asked how many blows he had struck. “No room to count numbers. So every time he acknowledged that what he did was wrong, I'd come up with another question.”
What the teenager, who had been sent to school in Canada, had done wrong was to skip class, stay out late and be rude to his mother.
The case has focused much unwanted attention on family discipline in Vancouver's Korean community. The father did not know that what he was doing was illegal, because caning is a traditional form of punishment in South Korea.
The father pleaded guilty to assault, and in an unusual ruling, a North Vancouver Provincial Court judge ordered the father to submit an article for anonymous publication in the local paper about what forms of discipline are acceptable.
The ruling has provoked debate, and much unwanted attention, in the tight-knit Korean-Canadian community in the Lower Mainland.
“The problem, as some view it, is the father loved his son too much,” said McKinley Ahn, a reporter with the Burnaby-based Korea Times, the paper in which the father's article is to appear before May. “Not all Koreans do such behaviour, but I understand the father's position. He sent his son to Canada, paid $27,000 a year for him to go to school in Canada, and the son did not care about his studies. The father could not accept that.”
The father's arrest surprised many because caning is not an unusual form of discipline, said Sally Kim, a spokeswoman with the Korean Society in Burnaby.
“It was something that happened in the family and inside the home,” Ms. Kim said. “At one time, it may have been common to hit children like that but the thinking has changed. Even the older people in the community think it's not right any more, especially in Canada.”
The father, a South Korean national who is the CEO of a number of international companies, sent his son and an older daughter to B.C. in 2002 to attend high school, accompanied by the children's mother. He visited frequently.
Last year, the student was an honour student, but his grades began slipping recently.
In an earlier caning on Jan. 7, the teenager said he was hit about 100 times.
At that time, the father wanted to take his son back to South Korea, but the teenager persuaded his father he would mend his ways. But five days after the father's return to South Korea, the student began skipping classes again.
The father returned to Canada and caned the teenager again on Jan. 19.
School officials called in a social worker from the Ministry of Children and Family Development who contacted police to investigate when the youth's injuries became evident the next day.
Police described the youth as shuffling, slumped over and walking like an old man.
During the police interview, the teen told officers he was hit 300 times and feared he had another 200 strikes “owing,” because he had misbehaved for five days and his father had threatened 100 strikes for each occasion of misbehaviour.
The father pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. During his sentencing hearing, he said caning was “traditional Korean culture” and parents buy so-called “love sticks” for that purpose
While the prosecutor in the case wanted a six-month prison sentence, the judge accepted the defence argument that jail time and a fine would prevent the father from returning to Canada and would harm his children's educational prospects.
The father received a conditional discharge and was placed on probation for two years. He was ordered to give a $2,500 donation to an organization that helps abused children in addition to writing the article.
The incident has embarrassed the community, which is about 30,000 strong in the Greater Vancouver area, and focused attention on how parents discipline their children, said Don Baker, director of the Centre for Korean Research at the University of British Columbia.
When he taught in Korean schools in the 1970s, Prof. Baker said students cowered automatically when they didn't know an answer because they knew they would be hit. The incident in North Vancouver has forced some parents to reconsider their expectations for their children.
“The impact for these parents is this could have happened to them and the word would get out quickly,” Prof. Baker said.
Corinne Robertshaw, a spokeswoman for Repeal 43, an organization lobbying to force courts to criminally punish parents who spank their children, said the discharge was appropriate in this case.
“There are severe cases and this is one of them where this kind of beating of a child is so serious that a prosecution is probably warranted,” Ms. Robertshaw said yesterday. “But it's hard to generalize using this case. Here was a father who didn't know his actions were illegal.”
The father's lawyer, Alexander Wolf, said the judge recognized that the arrest and charges have resulted in the father's loss of face within the local Korean community.
“These families want their children to have the benefit of the school system here, but they also remain very isolated and still practise traditional techniques of discipline,” Mr. Wolf said
The father didn't realize he was subject to Canadian laws governing assault, Mr. Wolf said, nor did he know that his form of discipline was illegal. The stress of the incident has taken a toll on the entire family, Mr. Wolfe said. The children's mother is now physically and emotionally ill and has returned to South Korea with the father to seek medical treatment.
The teenager and his older sister remain in North Vancouver under the care of a family paid by their parents while they finish their schooling.
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