CBA Letter to PM re CRC ImplementationNews | Poulin Decision | Church of God Case | Randal Dooley Death | Superior Court Application/Decision | Court of Appeal Decision | National Child Day | Open Letters to MPs | Jeffrey Baldwin Death | Emmily Lucas Death | Articles/Letters 1990 – 2012
The following includes news items and a sample of articles and letters to editors published in Canadian newspapers since 1990. They are reproduced with permission of the writers who are solely responsible for the opinions expressed. Readers are invited to contact us about including other news items or articles and letters supporting repeal.
Oct 25/12 Research indicates even babies seem to have a moral compass
Globe and Mail – An 8-year-old American boy’s generosity in handing over his hard-earned $1000 prize money to his 2-year-old neighbour, who suffers from leukemia, has gained praise and international attention. But scientists suggest that young children and even babies demonstrate generosity, empathy and a sense of justice and seem to have innate altruistic tendencies, and are able to make moral choices at a remarkably early age. A new documentary on CBC’s The Nature of Things, Babies, Born to be Good? explores this growing area of research.
Comment: Contrast this with James A. Dobson’s (Ph.D psychology) view of toddlers:
‘The toddler “in his own innocent way” is vicious, selfish, demanding, cunning and destructive.’ ‘For children, ‘corporal punishment is not a last resort’. Dobson describes himself as a Christian psychologist and is the founder of Focus on the Family.
Oct 23/12 Oshawa trial hears details of death of 2-year-old boy
durhamregion.com – Michael Monckton, 28, pleads not guilty to 2nd-degree murder, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm to 2-year-old Keagan Davis in Jan/10. Monckton was at home alone with Keagan in the apartment he shared with the boy’s mother the day the child was found without vital signs by emergency personnel responding to a 911 call.
An autopsy revealed numerous bruises on the child’s head, back and abdomen, as well as two broken fingers and broken wrist bones that had begun to heal, injuries to ribs and vertebrae, and to the child’s abdomen that caused internal bleeding. Some of the injuries showed signs of having begun to heal, while others were recent. The trial, before Superior Court Justice Alex Sosna and a jury, continues in Oshawa.
In an Oct 26 report, Monckton denies having hit the child and told police he didn’t know how Keagan had sustained injuries, but speculated some bruises could have been caused by a fall down stairs, while others were the result of roughhousing with another child.
Oct 18/12 Mother of 16-year-old disabled girl charged with murder
Cindy Ann Shery Ali, 41, is charged with 1st degree murder in the Feb/11death of her 16-year-old disabled daughter. Police said the mother fabricated a home invasion to account for the death. She was originally charged with manslaughter before the charge was upgraded to murder. No other info is available.
Canada’s report to UN Committee on its compliance with UNCRC
Canada filed its 3rd and 4th reports to the UN Committee (UNC) on Canada’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on Nov/09. It covers the period from Jan/98 to Dec/07 and addresses both federal and provincial actions to implement the UNCRC.
In a short reference to S. 43 in para 63 of its report, the govt described the section as one which “provides a defence for children’s parents, caregivers and teachers who would otherwise be found guilty of a criminal offence for a minor use of reasonable force in correcting children’s behaviour.”
It then referred to the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision that upheld the constitutionality of section 43; found the section consistent with Canada’s obligations under the UNCRC; and set out guidelines, including one that allows only minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature to be used. The report said that without S. 43, Canada’s “broad assault law would criminalize force falling short of what would be considered corporal punishment and would risk breaking up families in a way that would be detrimental to children.”
There was no mention of whether S. 43 should be repealed or in any way amended.
Oct 5/12 UNC ‘gravely concerned’ about govt response to S. 43
The UNC met with Canadian representatives on Sept 26 and 27 and issued its Concluding Observations on Oct 5, 2012. – The UNC’s 22-page response to Canada deals with all aspects of it’s report. In its Concluding Observations on Canada’s compliance with the UNCRC, the UNC made the following comments re S. 43:
- it is gravely concerned that corporal punishment is still condoned under S. 43, and notes with regret that the 2004 Supreme Court decision Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada, upheld the section as constitutional, while stipulating that corporal punishment is only justified in cases of “minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature”. The UNC is concerned that the legalization of corporal punishment can lead to other forms of violence. (para 44)
- it urges Canada to repeal S. 43 of the Criminal Code to remove existing authorization of the use of “reasonable force” in disciplining children and to explicitly prohibit all forms of violence against all age groups of children, however light, within the family, in schools and in other institutions where children may be placed. (para 45)
- it is concerned about the high levels of violence and maltreatment against children evidenced by the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect 2008. (para 46)
- it urges Canada to develop and implement a national strategy for the prevention of all forms of violence against all children, and allocate the necessary resources to this strategy and ensure that there is a monitoring mechanism. (para 47)
Among other observations relevant to S. 43, the Committee recommends that Canada:
- establish a federal Children’s Ombudsman to ensure comprehensive and systematic monitoring of all children’s rights at the federal level. (para 23)
- strengthen and expand awareness-raising for parents, the public, children, and professionals on alternative forms of discipline and promote respect for children’s rights, while raising awareness of the adverse consequences of corporal punishment. (paras 24/25)
- increase its effort to systematically disseminate information on the Convention and integrate child rights education into the school system. (para (25)
- ensure the training of all professionals working with children to promptly identity, address and report all cases of violence against children. (paras 26/27)
Canada is invited to submit its next report in July 2018
Note also that as no change has been made to the wording of S. 43 of the Code, these guidelines are largely unknown to the public, and that ‘guidelines’ are simply a guide to lower courts, and do not appear always to be treated as binding.
Oct/12 Albania prohibits all corporal punishment of children
Global Initiative, London – The Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child (2010) states in article 21 that the child shall be protected from “any form of … corporal punishment and degrading and humiliating treatment”. Corporal punishment is defined as any form of punishment resorting to the use of force aimed to cause pain or suffering, even in the slightest extent, by parents, siblings, grandparents, legal representative, relative or any other person legally responsible for the child. The law came into force in May 2011 and provides for its implementation at central and local levels working with non-profit organizations in line with rules determined by the Council of Ministers. The law is now fully in force at all levels.
Sept 21/12 Edmonton parents face charges in death of 2-year-old
Vancouver Sun – A 2-year-old Edmonton girl allegedly abused by her parents has died after being taken off life support at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. The parents, both 34-year-old Algerian immigrants, await trial on two charges of aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life. It is not known if the parents will face further charges if the child dies.
Paramedics arrived at the Edmonton family’s home on May 25 and found the girl injured, malnourished and in cardiac arrest. Her twin sister was also malnourished and injured, but is now recovering in a foster home with her older brother, who was found in good health in the home. Police said the girls weighed 13 pounds and 16 pounds at the time. The child is known as ‘Baby M’ as no member of the family can be named to protect the identities of the other children.
Sept 21/12 SCC won’t keep 2-year-old on life support
Toronto Star – The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a ruling by an Alberta court that it would not be in Baby M’s best interests to keep her alive after an irreversible brain injury and an inability to breath or eat on her own. The 2-year-old Edmonton girl was allegedly abused by her parents. The girl’s father stated in an affidavit that he was a devout Muslim and that it was unthinkable for him to withdraw medical treatment for the girl. The Alberta judge had noted that the parents were in a conflict of interest because they could face more criminal charges if the child dies. The Star reported on Sept 22 that the parents would be allowed to attend an Islamic funeral service for the child.
Sept 19/12 Toronto mother pleads guilty in death of 2-year-old
Toronto Star – Sakina Abdurahman, the 2-year-old daughter of Sabrina Siconolfi, was found dead in her home of heat stroke in July 2010 and the mother was charged with criminal negligence causing death. The agreed statement of facts also found that the child had suffered multiple injuries, bruises, abrasions and a healing rib fracture. Neighbours reported hearing the mother,32, yelling at the child, including ‘Eat your food or I’ll kill you.’ The CAS had visited the apartment 4 days before Sakina’s death and said the child appeared to be in good health with no noticeable injuries. Charges of manslaughter, assault and failing to provide the necessities of life were withdrawn and the mother plead guilty to criminal negligence causing death. Her lawyer is asking for a non-custodial sentence.
Sept 14/12 Day home operator pleads guilty in toddler death
Medicine Hat News.com – Alberta day home operator, Erin Jackman, 26, pleads guilty to criminal negligence causing death of Mercedes Pepper, an 18-month old toddler. She was originally charged in July 2010 with aggravated assault and failing to provide the necessities of life but charges were upgraded two days later to manslaughter after the youngster’s death from blunt force head trauma
During the four-day preliminary hearing in June, 2011, Jackman admitted to flinging the toddler into the corner of a door. The child hit a door hinge as Jackman tried to put her in a “time out” for misbehavior. “She refused to stand in time out and I kept, ya know, pushing her back, turning her back into being in time out,” Jackman told police. Prior to this, the day home operator had stated repeatedly that Mercedes fell from a backyard play apparatus, as well as tripped on a toy and hit her head on the floor. Criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum life sentence, though no minimum, unless a firearm was used. CBC reports that the toddler’s death sparked a provincial investigation into day homes. Jackman’s day home was accredited. Jackman’s sentencing date is scheduled for Oct. 18. She is currently on release pending sentencing.
Sept 4/12 Editor of CMAJ, Dr. John Fletcher, calls for ending S. 43
In an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Editor in Chief, Dr. John Fletcher, calls for ending S. 43. He writes that parents need to be re-educated on how to discipline their children and given alternatives to spanking and that the law needs to be changed. Further, section 43 sends the wrong message and that to have a specific law excusing parents suggests that assault is a normal and accepted part of bringing up a child. While section 43 stands, it is a constant excuse for parents to cling to an ineffective method of child discipline when better approaches are available. It is time, he writes, for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book. Click for the article
Sept 4/12 Justice Minister says ‘spanking law’ unlikely to change
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says that the ‘spanking law’ (ie, S. 43) is unlikely to change. “Parents are in the best position to raise their children,” Julie Di Mambro wrote in an email to the Post. “We believe it is up to them, not the government, to decide what is best for their children so long as it is within reason.”
Aug 10/12 US pediatrician charged for ‘waterboarding’ daughter
News West.com – A Delaware pediatrician, Dr. Melvin Morse, 58, who has appeared on national TV for his research on near-death experiences told investigators he “waterboarded” his 11-year-old daughter several times by holding her face under a running faucet. He and his wife are charged with several felony counts based on the daughter’s claim. State officials on Thursday ordered the emergency suspension of Morse’s medical license. State police said the girl was subjected to such punishment at least four times and that her mother witnessed some of the incidents but did not stop them. The ministry’s child death review will try to establish what went wrong and whether policy changes can prevent future tragedies.
At the time of his arrest, Morse was out on bail on misdemeanor charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Those charges stemmed from a July incident in which authorities allege Morse grabbed the 11-year-old by the ankle and, as her 6-year-old sister watched, dragged her across a gravel driveway, took her inside the family’s home and began spanking her. Morse’s Web site is strewn with commentary about God, love, family and death.
July 31/12 Doctors reminded of psychological maltreatment of children
Globe and Mail – Dr. Harriet MacMillan, pediatrician and psychiatrist, McMaster University, Hamilton, co-authors an updated position statement on psychological maltreatment of children: described as children who are persistently belittled or humiliated. The statement is intended to make doctors aware of such maltreatment and to interview the child alone if they suspect it is occurring. The statement is published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics and refers to studies in Britain and the US, which suggest that almost 9% of women and 4% of men report severe psychological abuse during childhood.
July 21/12 Review to be launched in death of 13-month-old foster child
The Star Phoenix – Saskatchewan -Allen Charles Davidson, 38, pleads guilty to manslaughter in the death of 13-month-old foster child Genesis Vandell Parenteau-Dillon in Saskatchewan last November and is sentenced to 10 years in prison. The child suffered numerous blunt force trauma to the head and torso at a home in Paradise Hill. Bruises around the child’s eyes were described as “raccoon eyes,” his lip was torn inside and there were severe contusions on his upper and lower back, left buttock, left forearm and right forearm. Davidson had been living common law with the foster mother, Cheryl McLellan, for about 6 months when the fatal assault occurred. McLellan was at a foster parent-training program at Onion Lake First Nation at the time of the assault. Davidson’s long criminal record and addiction to narcotics has raised questions about why a child protection agency placed Genesis and another toddler in the home.
The Star Phoenix reports on July 25 that a “child death review” will be launched by the Ministry of Social Services and the Onion Lake Child and Family Services agency but will not be made public. It will be given to the Children’s Advocate Office, which will decide whether to conduct its own review.
July 20/12 Inquest launched into guardians’ beating death of 7-year-old
CTV News – A coroner’s inquest has been launched in the Toronto death of 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson who was fatally beaten by her legal guardians 4 years ago following prolonged physical abuse while in their care. The case drew widespread outrage and touched off a public debate over foster care. Coroner Dr. David Eden says a jury will examine the events surrounding the murder and may issue recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths. It’s not known who will preside over the inquest, and the date and location have yet to be determined. See our previous reports of this case on Aug 6/08 and May 2/12.
July 16/12 BC father charged with assault for spanking 3-year-old
KamloopsThis Week.com – A Kamloops father is charged with assault for what he described as a “spanking” — a smack alleged to have left his 3-year-old daughter with a palm imprint on her back. Stanley Okeh, 26, originally from Nigeria, is separated from the mother but was babysitting the child when the July 26/11 incident happened. He has been on bail since August. He described the toddler as “mischievous” during the babysitting session and admitted spanking her while changing her diaper. “I was trying… I was discipline to make her better,” he told police. Testifying in court, the mother said the red marks on the girl’s back were visible for about a week. The trial will continue at a later date before Judge Stella Frame.
July 8/12 US Presbyterian Church passes resolution on corporal punishment
Christian Post Reporter – The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly passes a resolution against using corporal punishment on children. The General Assembly, meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa. voted 334 to 306 in favor of the resolution, with nine voters abstaining. The resolution also states that the church will now encourage “all states to enact licensing laws prohibiting corporal punishment in schools and day and residential childcare facilities.” The website of Focus on the Family, a Christian organization based in Colorado, says it still supports spanking as a form of discipline in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority.
July 6/12 Letters in Toronto Star re spanking study
Three letters were published in the Toronto Star re the Afifi study noted below. See Articles/Letters 1990 – 2012 at the end of this chapter.
July 4/12 Crown says Toronto father left shaken baby disabled for life
Toronto Star – Malcolm Ricketts, 22, pleads not guilty to aggravated assault and criminal negligence causing bodily harm to his baby daughter, Heaven, by shaking her in March/10. The child, now age 2, was born healthy but is now developmentally delayed, has severe cerebral palsy, can neither walk nor talk and can see very little. The baby had been taken to hospital in 2009 with aspirational pneumonia and later that year with severe burns. Police were called by neighbours at that time and by the grandmother in the latest incident. In a July 11 Toronto Star report, the girlfriend of Ricketts and the child’s mother ‘fiercely defended’ him and said he was ‘perfect’.
July 2/12 Manitoba study links spanking to later mental disorders
Globe and Mail – A study led by University of Manitoba Professor Tracie Afifi, Community Health Sciences, is published in Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It finds that harsh physical punishment, including smacking, spanking and shoving, has a strong association with increased risks of mental and personality disorders and drug and alcohol abuse, and that 2 to 7 % of mental disorders could be attributed to physical punishment. The study is the first to show that physical punishment can lead to these results even in the absence of more severe child maltreatment. Despite this research, the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada is in favor of keeping Section 43 of the Criminal Code that continues to allow spanking. See Research chapter for further information and link to study.
June 28 Delaware bill would define ‘physical injury’ to include ‘pain’
LifeSiteNews – A bill passed by the senate of the US state of Delaware would redefine the term ‘physical injury’ in child abuse laws to include any act that causes ‘pain’. The sponsor of the bill said it would establish the offence of child abuse and reflect the pain and impairment suffered by children. Attorney General, Beau Biden (son of the US vice-president) is encouraging support for the bill. The Home School Legal Defence Assn opposes the bill, saying it would make spanking a crime. If the bill passes, Delaware would become the first state in the US to outlaw corporal discipline of children by their parents. The bill now goes to the state governor.
June 28/12 Stacey Patton asks: Does NAACP think it’s ok to hit kids?
The Cap Times, Maddison.com – Stacy Patton, Education reporter and Spare the Kids founder comments on the arrest of megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar (see June 9 item below). After his 15-year-old daughter called 911 to say that he had choked and slapped her, Dollar was held in jail for a few hours and after his release, called his daughter a liar from the pulpit of his 30,000-member church. Whether Dollar was appropriately disciplining his daughter opens an old debate in the black community.
The Georgia State Conference of the NAACP released a statement saying they were investigating Dollar’s arrest on the grounds that he has a right to be a “responsible parent and discipline his children.” Patton writes that standing up for the right to discipline by force isn’t something the NAACP should be doing. See The Cap Times (Madison, Wisconsin) website for article.
June 27/12 German court bans religious circumcisions
Globe and Mail – The regional court of Cologne rules that circumcising young boys on religious grounds causes grievous bodily harm. It held that ‘the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents’ and that religious freedom would not be compromised if parents waited until the child himself could decide. The case arose out of the circumcision of a 4-year-old Muslim boy who bled heavily after an operation by a medical doctor. The doctor was charged but acquitted on other grounds. A criminal law expert stated that ‘the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism’. The decision has caused outrage in Germany’s Jewish community.
June 26/12 Conditional discharge for whipping Manitoba foster child
Vancouver Sun – Manitoba father, 49, is given conditional discharge for whipping his 11-year-old foster daughter with a riding crop for bad school behaviour. He admitted striking the child 10 times on the buttocks, resulting in minor injuries. During the punishment, he quoted Bible verses and told the child “Spare the rod, spoil the child” and “When you are evil you go to Hell.” He said he’d used corporal punishment on his other children as a “last resort” and didn’t think it was out of order, but he now “realized that maybe it was”. He was given a 2-year conditional discharge rather than a suspended sentence.
June 22 Calgary mother gets 13 years for murder/attempted murder of sons
Huffington Post Canada – Stacey Bourdeaux is sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter of her infant son in 2004 and the attempted murder of her 5-year-old son in 2010. The older son survived but has severe brain damage, no longer speaks, and has limited motor skills. Her defence lawyer said that Bourdeaux had been both physically and sexually abused as a child. See our Aug 28/10 report for previous information on this case.
June 20/12 Ontario mother charged with murder of 3-year-old daughter
Toronto Star – Nandini Jha, 35, of Mississauga, appears before Brampton court charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of her daughter, Niyati. Mystery surrounded the death of the child and police described it as ‘suspicious and previously unexplained’. The child was brought to a medical clinic in Sept/11 with head and brain injuries and died after transfer to Toronto hospital. The months-long homicide investigation will likely end in months-long court proceedings. The mother spoke in Hindi through an interpreter and is being held in custody.
June 9/12 US ‘mega pastor’ arrested for assaulting 15-yr-old daughter
News One for Black America – Georgia ‘Mega-church’ pastor, Creflo Dollar, arrested for tackling his daughter to the floor, punching and hitting her with a shoe during an argument about going to a party. He justified his actions by claiming that daughter hit him first and that she was being ‘disrespectful’.
2012 Curaçao bans corporal punishment in all settings
Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children – Curaçao, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, became autonomous in 2010 and has banned corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home. The Joint Custody Ordinance amends the Civil Code and states that in the care and upbringing of the child, parents will not use mental or physical violence or any other degrading treatment. This came into force on 1 January 2012. See International Developments, Other Countries, for list of 33 countries that have banned corporal punishment of children.
2012 Alberta decision on S. 43 in The Law chapter
A substitute teacher is convicted of common assault for pinching the ears of a 5-year-old autistic boy. It seems the judge did not consider ear pinching as the kind of corporal punishment envisaged by the Supreme Court of Canada when it held in 2004 that ‘corporal punishment by teachers is not acceptable.’ See Queen v. Burtis, The Law, Judicial Interpretation of Supreme Court of Canada Decision.
May 31/12 Bill for Commissioner for Children & Youth by Marc Garneau
Press Release – Liberal House Leader, MP Marc Garneau, introduces a private members’ bill to establish a federal Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons. Joined by David Morley, President and CEO of Unicef Canada and Marie-Adèle Davis, Executive Director of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Mr. Garneau said his bill is drawing an enthusiastic response from organizations that advocate for children and young persons. As Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, it is high time we put in place mechanisms to ensure that we honour our commitment.
May 31/12 CanLll 6 new decisions on S. 43 in The Law chapter
See The Law chapter, Judicial Interpretation of Supreme Court of Canada Decision.
One decision deals with differing values in a multicultural society; another canvasses reasons for conditional discharge; another deals with force for restraint; 2 deal with assaults committed between the 1970s and 1990s; and another holds that s. 43 allows spanking that causes bruises.
May 30/12 US advocates plan DC rally to end school corporal punishment
Child advocates are planning a Washington, DC, campaign rally on US Capitol grounds, June 20-22/12, in support of “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act,” HR 3027. This is a US federal bill by New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy to end school beatings. Promoters of the bill say corporal punishment in American schools is primarily targeted at disadvantaged children and those having special needs. Long-time child advocate, Jimmy Dunne, will deliver opening and closing speeches at the rally.
May 23/12 Manitoba professor promotes positive discipline in Philippines
Philippine Information Agency – The Philippines Department of Education and Department of Social Welfare and Development’s campaign to promote positive discipline is gaining strength. Recently, Save the Children pledged to support this endeavor and invited renowned child-clinical psychologist Prof. Joan Durrant, PhD. of Manitoba, Canada, to train a core group of trainers on positive discipline. Professor Durrant and her team will discuss the research base and human rights imperative for ending corporal punishment, the main component of positive discipline, and its application in homes and schools. Both departments are now determined to raise the awareness of school personnel, students, and parents on the need to end corporal punishment by conducting seminars on positive and non-violent discipline.
May 17/12 Parents of 10-year-old Shakeil Boothe charged with murder
Toronto Sun – Shakeil’s father, Garfield Boothe, 31, and step-mother, Nichelle Boothe-Rowe, 28, of Brampton, Ont were initially charged with failing to provide the necessities of life and manslaughter. See previous news item of May 30/11for circumstances of Shakeil’s death. Charges against the two are now upgraded to 1st degree murder. Police have never released the cause of death but some reports suggest the youngster was badly beaten and may have suffered from his injuries for a couple of days before he was found dead. The father had apparently brought Shakeil to Canada from Jamaica for a chance at a better life. The couple have been in custody since they were arrested.
May 16/12 Approval of corporal punishment declines in Finland
Finnish Central Union for Child Welfare – New generations of parents in Finland are less likely to physically punish their children. Only 10% of Finish parents now say corporal punishment is acceptable, down from 50 percent in the 1980s. Finish law has prohibited corporal punishment of children since 1984. The union said it appears as if the no-hitting philosophy has seeped into the national psyche. Today 97 % of those surveyed were aware of the law, up from 94 percent in 2004. The union polled around 1,000 Finns from ages 15–79 for the survey.
May 2/12 Guardians plead guilty to 2nd degree murder of 7-yr-old
Toronto Star – Facing trial for 1st degree murder in the 2008 death of 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson, Donna Irving and Warren Johnson, a Toronto couple and guardians of Katelynn, plead guilty to 2nd degree murder. A Toronto police officer described Katelynn’s injuries as the worst he had seen in his 2- decade career. When police searched the home where Katelynn died on Aug. 3/08 after prolonged physical abuse, they found a piece of paper on which the little girl had printed a heart wrenching sentence 62 times: “I am A awful girl that’s why know one wants me.” See our Aug 6/08 news item for previous information on this terrible case.
The Toronto Star ran a May 3 column by Catherine Porter entitled “Bystander complex was in full effect” and editorialized that an inquest on this death is not enough since recommendations can be ignored; and called instead for a commission. Irwin Elman, Ontario’s children and youth advocate says there were many points of protection that failed Katelynn, “From child welfare, to community, to school.” Elman is calling for an inquest, saying change the government introduced since 2008 is not enough. Vernon Beck, a child and family justice advocate with Canada Court Watch, says there needs to be more accountability when it comes to children’s aid in Ontario. Most aid workers are not registered with the College of Social Workers, and Beck says that means there is no oversight. . The Toronto Star also printed letters to the editor re Katelynn’s murder. See Articles/Letter for May 6 letters in Toronto Star.
The Toronto Sun also calls for an inquest into Katelynn’s death in its May 5 editorial, citing the lack of intervention by the two children’s aid societies involved in spite of clear indications that action was needed. In addition to an inquest, it writes: “It’s time to give Ontario’s ombudsman, Andre Morin, the power to investigate the system and recommend how to fix it.”
May 2/12 Daycare owner murder charge changed to criminal negligence.
Mississauga.com – Toronto daycare owner, April Luckese, was charged in Jan/11with 2nd degree murder in the death of 14-month-old Duy-An Nguyen at her daycare but the Peel Crown Attorney stayed the charge in Dec/11. Luckese was subsequently charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life and has been on bail under strict conditions amounting to house arrest. A pre-trial hearing is expected. See our Jan 9/11 new item for information on this child’s death.
Ap 28/12 US scholar speaks of abuse in black US families
Post on Truth Can Prevail – Every three minutes of every day, a black US child is abused or neglected, and one dies from that abuse or neglect at the hands of parents or parental figures. That cycle of corporal punishment in black families has historical roots, according to Stacey Patton, scholar and child advocate, who was keynote speaker at 22nd annual forum on child abuse and neglect at Indiana University Northwest. “The fact that so many black people legitimize abuse as a form of responsible parenting, effectively demonstrates how the intergenerational transmission of trauma continues to mentally shackle us and perpetuates rampant abuse which feeds a disproportionate number of young into the foster care and juvenile justice industries,” she said.
Ap 24/12 Father convicted for ‘spanking’ children with wooden fork
CBC News – New Brunswick father, Jeffrey Kerr Smith, 48, is found guilty of assaulting his 3 children with a weapon after he spanked them with a wooden fork several times each two years ago. “The spanking was done in anger,” Justice Judy Clendening said. “It was not administered to correct behaviour, but rather as a punishment that was not reasonable in the circumstances”. In a police interview, Smith asserted his belief in the importance of physical discipline for children and maintained he would continue to use corporal punishment even under the threat of criminal prosecution. Smith had a similar previous conviction. Martha McKinnon, ED, Justice for Children, said that the courts are seeing more cases involving corporal punishment than they did a decade ago, largely because people are more aware and are reporting cases of suspected abuse.
Ap 13/12 Class action claim against Ontario school for blind
Toronto Star – Ex-students of the provincially run W. Ross MacDonald School for visually-impaired children in Brampton, ask the Ontario court to certify a class action suit against the school, alleging students were slapped, kicked and punched as punishment by teachers and staff. They are claiming $200 million in damages from 1951 to the present on the basis that the province knew or ought to have known of the abuse. As many as 1000 former students could be affected. Court documents paint a grim picture of bullying and abuse at the school.
Ap 10/12 City counselor proposes monitoring immigrant children for abuse
Thestar.com – Toronto Councillor Michael Thompson introduces a motion at city council to establish a registry as a way to monitor children coming into the city. The motion follows arrests made in the 1994 “suitcase” murder of 17-year-old Melonie Biddersingh, whose body was found in a burning suitcase after police received a tip last November. Melonie had never been reported missing, and schools or government agencies did not know of her disappearance. Her body was found in Vaughan in 1994, four years after she and her brother, Dwayne, arrived in Toronto from Jamaica as landed immigrants to live with her father and step-mother. Police have charged Everton and Elaine Biddersingh, now living in Welland, Ont., in the slaying. Dwayne died in 1992 when he plunged 22 storeys from a Parkdale apartment. Police ruled the death a suicide, but have since reopened the case in light of the murder charges.
AP 7/12 US activists launch alliance to end physical punishment of children
The hitting Stops Here! – A number of US activists launch an alliance to end all forms of physical and emotional punishment of children. Called the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, it brings together individuals, groups, and organizations to create a unified voice calling for an end to all forms of physical and emotional punishment of children. The Alliance, through education and legal means, seeks to end all social justifications and legal authorizations for corporal punishment. Achieving these goals will give children the same protection from this sort of physical violence as is already enjoyed by adults under state and federal law. Click http://www.endhittingusa.org for website.
April 2/12 More NZ parents rule out smacking children
NZ Herald.co.nz – A New Zealand survey shows an increase in the number of parents who choose not to smack their children, in line with the controversial “anti-smacking law” implemented in 2007. The Conservative lobby group, Family First, commissioned the survey from Curia Market Research. It is based on responses from 500 parents of children aged less than 12.
It found that 44 % reported never smacking their children since the 2007 legislative change to remove the defence of “reasonable … force” for parents who hit their children for correction; 29% said they had smacked rarely since the change; 21% said occasionally; 1 % said they frequently smacked their children and 5% were unsure or refused to answer. Family First national director said the poll found that parents were “flouting the anti-smacking law, and will continue to do so, despite risking prosecution”. But Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills, interpreted the findings differently and said: “The striking thing about that data is the large number of parents who never hit their children or do so only very rarely.” Sue Bradford, the former Green MP who introduced the law change said: “I’m really heartened by the survey.” See International Developments, New Zealand for more information on survey.
April/12 APA to consider resolution on corporal punishment
Monitor on Psychology, Brendon L. Smith, The case against spanking – Physical punishment is slowly declining in the US as some studies reveal lasting harms for children but many parents aren’t hearing the message. Spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kasdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor who served as president of the American Psychological Assn (APA) in 2008. “Physical punishment doesn’t work to get kids to comply. So parents think they have to keep escalating it. That is why it is so dangerous,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, University of Texas who wrote a 2008 report on physical punishment in the US that recommends parents avoid such punishment. The APA will consider a resolution on corporal punishment this year.
April/12 Three recent judicial decisions on S. 43
The 2012 decision is from Manitoba. One of the 2011decisions is from Newfoundland and Labrador. The other is the New Brunswick Court of Appeal’s split decision ordering a new trial after a Provincial Court judge found a father guilty of assault for spanking his son and sentenced him to 45 days in jail. See The Law, Judicial Interpretation of Supreme Court of Canada Decision. The New Brunswick decision is also noted as a News item on Sept 13/11.
Mar 27/12 Obituary – Lloyd Dennis, Ontario education reformer
Globe and Mail – Lloyd Dennis, who died March 7 in Orillia, Ont., at the age of 88, was one of his generation’s most influential educators, revered by many and misunderstood by some. He wrote the 1968 report Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario, better known as the Hall-Dennis Report. Included among other progressive reforms to a curriculum that had remained unchanged for half a century, was a recommendation to end corporal punishment in schools. Living and Learning became the most internationally recognized and respected report ever produced in Ontario and perhaps the most-quoted document ever published in the province. Dennis was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1971 and later received the Order of Ontario.
Mar 26/12 Sentencing arguments in Calgary manslaughter case
Crown prosecutor seeks a total 18-year sentence for Stacey Bourdeaux, who kept secret the smothering death of her infant son in 2004 until after she attempted to kill his 5-year-old brother in 2010. Her lawyer argues for a total sentence of 8 to 10 years. She will be sentenced June 22. See Aug 28/10 and Aug 3/11 news items for more information.
Mar 21/12 US pastor guilty of conspiracy for advocating rods for punishment
Wisconsin State Journal – A Black Earth pastor is found guilty of 8 counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse for advocating the use of wooden rods to ‘spank’ children as young as two months. The jury found Philip Caminiti, 54, pastor of the Aleitheia Bible Church, guilty of having instructed members of his flock to punish infants and toddlers by striking them on the bare buttocks with wood dowels in order to teach them to behave correctly – fitting the church’s literal interpretation of the Bible. The oldest child was 5 when the practice was stopped after police intervened in Nov/10. Also facing child abuse charges are his son, daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law.
Mar 19/12 Spanking kids with genetic predisposition to aggression
NBC, HealthdayNews- Spanking as a method of discipline for kids who have a genetic predisposition to aggressive behavior likely makes them even more aggressive, especially boys, new research suggests. “There’s an intricate interplay between nature and nurture,” said study co-author J.C. Barnes, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. “Most people know that genes matter, but genes and environment can coalesce, and we see things above and beyond what’s expected.” While the 2011 study found this effect was statistically pronounced in males, Barnes said that the combination of aggressive genes and being spanked as a child likely influences girls’ behaviors, too. See Research chapter for study.
Mar 15/12 Alta premier ‘taken aback’ by survey results re slapping a child
Toronto Star – A Leger Marketing survey of 1000 men living in Alberta 18 or older found that 21% said that slapping a child’s face is acceptable behaviour. The premier, Alison Redford, said this made her “sick to (her) stomach”. “I think it is very troubling, and as the mother of a 9-year-old, I want us to do better as a community, she said. “We have to start saying to people that this behaviour is inappropriate…It’s not acceptable in Alberta in 2012.” The survey was completed between Feb 6 and 27. The same survey found that 1 in 10 Alberta men said hitting a woman is okay if she makes them angry. A Statistics Canada report released in 2011 said that Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest rates of spousal abuse in Canada.
Mar 12/12 Physical punishment is unacceptable
Ottawa citizen, Elisa Romano – As a researcher and clinician working in the area of children’s well-being, parenting, and child maltreatment, I fully support arguments to remove Section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code which gives parents the right to use “reasonable force” as a disciplinary strategy toward a child in their care. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that children have the right to protection from all forms of physical violence, injury, or abuse from parents or legal guardians (Article 19). I believe the Supreme Court of Canada (2004) amendments made to Section 43 fall short of this responsibility and basically amount to setting forth guidelines about when and how it is acceptable to hit a child. See Letters/Articles for full article.
Mar 4/12 Ottawa Citizen Interviews Ron Ensom
The Ottawa Citizen interviews Ron Ensom, former head of Child Protection Services, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and co-researcher of studies on the effects of corporal punishment. While the institute on Marriage and Family Canada states that parents know the difference between spanking and child abuse, Ensom says that isn’t the issue. “But the key point gets lost with this misleading use of language. Abuse is obviously harmful to children and we now know that physical punishment is harmful too.” Ensom says most physical abuse is punishment that has escalated and that 75 per cent of substantiated physical abuse of children occurs during episodes of physical punishment. Further, children who are spanked are seven times more likely to be severely assaulted by their parents than children who are not spanked. So why continue to allow physical punishment?, Ensom asks. See Articles/Letters for full report of interview.
Mar 3/12 Physical punishment now banned in 32 countries
Ottawa Citizen, Shelley Page – an increasing number of mostly European countries, including Austria, Germany and Spain, but also South Sudan and Kenya (in 2010) have outlawed spanking. In the United States, many African and most Asian countries, spanking, whipping, smacking or slapping by parents is legal, along with the use of paddles or belts. See International Developments for more information.
Mar 2/12 ‘Childist’ Nation: Does America hate kids?
TIME Ideas, Judith Warner – In her recently published book, Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a psychoanalyst and biographer, argues that childism — which she defines as prejudice against children — is, and has long been, rife in US society. It was a pillar of the “family values” movement that, beginning in the 1970s, defended the rights of parents to do what they would with their kids free from government “interference.” It explains why the US has never had programs like a ban on corporal punishment. The new backlash, directed against what’s perceived as the loosey-goosey, self-esteem-obsessed, hyper-solicitous parenting style of the past two decades, has brought us books like Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe. Young-Bruehl noted that the concept of childism can — and should — force us to think differently about the whole range of parent behavior ranging from spanking to child abuse. The book was also reviewed in the Globe and Mail.
Mar 1/12 Smart parenting follow the heart
CambridgeTimes.ca, Mike Cottrill, Guest Columnist – Barbarism. Have we not evolved as a society? The idea that striking a child in the name of discipline ever qualifies as acceptable parenting is an abomination. Many studies have shown that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. So what’s the answer? More education on parenting – especially in the field of child discipline, striking down section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code that allows parents and caregivers to hit a child, and radically changing the way we, as a society, view violence. “Good parenting isn’t about your fists; it’s about your heart”.
Feb 23/12 Manitoba first to put anti-child abuse program in schools
Winnipeg Free Press – The province is rolling out a school anti-child-abuse program that Sheldon Kennedy helped create to protect children in sports from the kind of abuse he suffered at the hands of disgraced junior hockey coach Graham James. Called ‘Respect in Schools’ it is a two-and-a-half-hour online program that uses a series of vignettes that show adults how to spot signs of abuse, bullying, harassment and neglect in children. It then instructs them in the language that can help them respond to children in trouble. The province is channeling $300,000 over three years to make the program available through school divisions.
Feb 22/12 Quebec bill requires schools to adopt anti- bullying-violence plan
The Epoch Times – Quebec Bill 56 would require all Quebec schools to adopt an anti-bullying and anti-violence plan. The government also announced a major TV and Internet media campaign to raise awareness about different types of bullying and urge people to stand up against it. According to Statistics Canada, Quebec has a higher incidence of bullying than the national average—10 percent of all Quebec students are victims of acts of bullying at least once per week, compared with the national average of 8 percent. The high-profile suicide of a 15-year-old Quebec student in November after being physically and psychologically bullied by students at her school for years, has added to pressure to find a solution.
The Quebec government’s proposal is being lauded by UNICEF as an important step in curbing bullying in the province. “What makes this initiative even more welcome is that it supports several actions that UNICEF has been advocating for a number of years … based on violence prevention and a culture of respect for others.” said David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada. However, “It is unfortunate that children’s rights are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the materials or communications issued by the government. UNICEF firmly believes that a children’s rights framework is essential in any anti-bullying and violence prevention initiative targeted towards children.”
Feb 14/12 Jamaica’s belief in corporal punishment fuels violence
Caribbean Journal –Op-ed: Saving Jamaica’s Youth, Kent Gammon, former candidate for Jamaica Labour Party and Attorney-at-law – According to the UNICEF Program for Children Report Card, September 2009, Jamaica has the worst levels among Latin America and Caribbean countries of violent discipline and physical punishment. The high levels of violence in our country will not abate if Jamaican society continues to have this resolute belief in corporal punishment. If we are to have a fair and productive society we must have the proper functioning of the rule of law – that means all laws apply equally to all persons. This widespread belief in Jamaica that beating children is a necessary form of discipline adds to the destructive nature of child rearing. We must understand that the best form of discipline is that which rewards good behaviour. The daily diet of verbal and physical abuse, particularly in the inner city communities, is making our children into callous human beings leading to a life of perpetual violence.
Feb 15/12 Edmonton father jailed for painful spanking of 6-year-old
QMI Agency – Stepfather spanked his 6-year-old stepdaughter with ‘considerable’ force causing ‘bruising and ‘great pain’. The child had come home from day care crying and upset in July/10, and the accused had taken her pants down and spanked her on the buttocks, causing extensive bruising. Pictures of the injuries on the young girl’s buttocks clearly showed the spanking was done with considerable force. The 25-year-old stepfather pled guilty to assault causing bodily harm and admitted slapping the child in the face at least 3 times over the previous 7 months. He was sentenced to a 90 day jail term to be served on weekends and was placed on probation for 36 months. While on probation, the man must take further counseling for anger issues and substance abuse as well as classes on parenting. He is also forbidden from being alone with any children under the age of 14. The judge took into account that he had had a ‘rather chaotic upbringing’ that included alleged sexual abuse.
Feb /12 US study estimates child maltreatment costs at $124 billion per year
A study by The National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control, Atlanta, Ga and RTI International, NC, estimates that the total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the US in 2008 is approximately $124 billion. The report prompts a federal US health official to call for child abuse to be treated as a high-profile public health problem. The costs include childhood health care, adult medical costs, productivity losses, child welfare costs, criminal justice costs, and special education costs. The study is reported in the Feb/12 issue of Child Abuse & Neglect. See Research chapter for study.
Feb 8/12 South Africa proposes to ban corporal punishment in home
Daily News, Durban, South Africa – There has been considerable debate about the proposed amendment to the Children’s Act to ban physical punishment of children in the home. This gives us South Africans an unprecedented opportunity to begin to build a non-violent future in our violence-torn country. How we discipline our children – whether we hit them or not – goes to the core of our parenting style. The proposed amendment recognizes the importance of discipline in raising children. But it argues for a different approach to discipline that inculcates values of non-violence, self-discipline and a respect for the human rights of others. We need to address poverty and unemployment. But we have to do more than that. We need to take a long, hard look at child-rearing practices that feed and support the violence that affects all our lives, every day.
Feb 6/12 CMAJ article recommends removing S. 43 from Criminal Code
The Canadian Medical Assn Journal publishes a 5-page article online in which Canadian researchers, Joan Durrant and Ron Ensom, reviewed some 80 research papers on the effects of corporal punishment over the past 20 years. Entitled Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research, it concludes: “Virtually without exception, these studies found that physical punishment was associated with higher levels of aggression against parents, siblings, peers and spouses.”
By 2000, research had expanded beyond its effect on childhood aggression to its association with a range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and psychological maladjustment, use of drugs and alcohol and reports of physical punishment escalating to abuse. Three earlier Canadian studies by Dr Harriet McMillan (1999), and by Prof Nico Trocmé (2001 and 2005), identified the connection between corporal punishment and physical abuse. The CMAJ article ends by saying that physicians should urge the federal govt to end s. 43 and that a combination of law reform and public education is needed. Click for link to CMAJ news release and see Research chapter for more information.
Letters to CMAJ Feb 9 – writers responded to a CMAJ letter by Emile Therien that criticized the study and was published online. Mr. Therien is Past President of the Canada Safety Council, which advocates for effective protection of consumers from dangerous products. Four letters supporting the study were printed in response. See Articles/Letters 1990 – 2012 for first 2 letters.
Feb/12 Media Reaction to CMAJ Feb 6 article on physical punishment
The article and study garnered widespread national and international attention – and continues to do so. See examples below:
Vancouver Sun Feb 9 editorial – The effects of physical punishment are at most half the battle, as parents also need to be educated about alternatives and pediatricians need to play a leading role in both assessing how parents discipline their children and in providing them with information about what up-to-date, evidence-based research suggests. Click for editorial.
Globe and Mail Feb 6 – ‘Hard Knock Life: New Study says spanking leads to problems.’ Researchers say physically punished children get more aggressive over time than those not physically punished. Nevertheless, spanking is sanctioned in Section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code but a committee to remove Section 43 is underway at Repeal43.org. Click for article.
CBC website poll – Feb 6 -9 ‘Should spanking be allowed under Canadian law?’ Poll results:
54.76% (3,288 votes) ‘No, there’s never a reason to hit a child.
35.16% (2,111 votes) ‘Yes, the limits set out by the Supreme Court in 2004 are reasonable.’
8.44% (507 votes) ‘Yes, but the limits set out by the Supreme Court are too strict.’
1.63% (98 votes) ‘I’m not sure.’
The Canadian Children’s Rights Council reports that the highest vote in the poll got the largest (330) ‘thumbs up’ comments from viewers. See its comments on CRIN website. Note: this is not a scientific poll since it is answered mainly by those who listen/watch CBC and who are sufficiently motivated to vote.
Sympatico.ca News Feb 7 Op-ed Monica Bugajski ‘Should spanking children be against the law? Under Section 43 of the Criminal Code, parents have the right to spank their child, but researchers of the paper want an all-out ban on spanking. I think that since spanking isn’t an acceptable form of punishment for adults, it shouldn’t be one for children. I’ll be honest and say that I have no idea how the law would be put into practice, but I think the most important part of passing it would be to publicly and lawfully note that spanking is not an acceptable form of punishment for anyone… just because one person grew up in a household that spanked and turned out fine doesn’t mean that someone else didn’t suffer, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t evolve as a society and put the old-school practice aside.
Edmonton Journal.com/Calgary Herald Feb 20 – Elizabeth Withey ‘Isn’t spanking the parental flaw of a bygone era? The argument (that loving parents should be able to discipline their children with ‘one on the bottom’) is bunk, if you ask me. Loving parents do all sorts of stupid things that aren’t considered abusive, but aren’t good for kids.
Time.com Healthland Feb 6 – ‘Why Spanking Doesn’t Work’ Studying physical punishment is difficult for researchers, who can’t randomly assign children to groups that are hit and those that aren’t. Instead, they follow children over many years, monitor how much they’re spanked, and then take measure of their aggression over time. “We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time,” says the article’s lead author.
UPI.com Feb 10 – Some of the studies reviewed found that physical punishment was linked to slower cognitive development and adversely affected academic achievement and suggested that physical punishment might reduce the brain’s gray matter in areas associated with performance on intelligence tests. Others indicated that physical punishment could cause alterations in the parts of the brain associated with vulnerability to the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Boston Globe Feb 13 – Researchers have improved their methods of studying spanking by assessing children through the years, rather than asking adults to remember how often they were spanked – which can yield unreliable recollections. “Of course, some kids aren’t harmed at all by spanking, just like some heavy smokers suffer no harm from cigarettes,’’ sociology professor MurrayStraus said. “But they’re the lucky ones as opposed to the unlucky ones who suffer harmful side effects.’’ The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended against physical punishment, saying it’s of “limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects.’’
Feb 3/12 SPANKING DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Globe and Mail, Life – Tralee Pierce; parenting/family reporter. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who thinks the UK govt’s limitations on ‘smacks’ ‘limits parent rights to discipline their kids’, has brought up the spanking issue again. His remarks were in support of a UK Labour MP who said that last year’s London riots were, in part, caused by ‘lax parenting’. In Canada, spanking remains a ‘relatively private and elusive issue’ and parents might be surprised to hear that under S. 43 of the Criminal Code, we have such a law. In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld S. 43 with certain conditions, and a 2008 Senate push to strike down the law failed. Surveys show that few parents believe that spanking is constructive. If they look to the court for directions, they’ll find the SC decision ‘elusive’ and ’chillingly detailed’.
Surprisingly, in view of the space given to this article and to the views of London Mayor, Boris Johnson, only one letter in response was published in the Globe’s letters to the editor. See Letters/Articles for letter.
Jan 31/12 London Mayor weighs in on spanking
Globe and Mail Life, Child-Rearing – Mayor Boris Johnson sympathizes with parents who aren’t sure how hard they can smack their children under British law. He thinks parents need more leeway in using physical punishment. Another British MP says legal restrictions that make ‘reddening of the skin’ illegal are ‘confusing for his non-white constituents’. He thinks the lack of such punishment contributes to gangs and a life of violent crime. Mayor Johnson (of course) adds that parents shouldn’t be given a free pass for ‘physical abuse or for violence’.
Jan 30/12 Shafias convicted of murdering 3 teen daughters/sisters and “aunt” Rona
Globe and Mail – All 3 Shafia accused are convicted, Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger saying: ‘It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime…the apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour…that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.’
The joint murder trial began Oct 20/11 in Kingston. Because the case raises important issues of parental power and control over children and the approach of child protection authorities, an outline of the trial from its beginning to Jan/12 is summarized in indented paras below. The 3-month trial was covered in detail by all major Canadian media. The summary below is from reports in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.
The bodies of 3 teen-age Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13, and their ‘aunt’, Rona, 50, were found floating freely inside a submerged Nisan Sentra in the Kingston locks near Kingston Mills, Ont, on June 19/09. On July 23, the father of the girls, Mohammad Shafia, his wife, Tooba, and their son, Hamid, were charged with 4 counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. A computer search of the family computer found that Hamid had searched for a safe place to commit murder. On police questioning, he denied he had ‘drowned his sisters’, but did not give evidence at trial. Their lawyers advised that all would plead not guilty. At the time of the deaths, Shafia was 58, Tooba, 41, Hamid 18.
The Crown alleged this was an ‘honour killing’ staged to look like an accident and that the accused had in fact planned a night trip to the locks, checked in at a nearby motel, drowned the women in an undisclosed place, piled them into the Nissan and, when it got stuck on the canal edge, pushed it into the water with their Lexus SUV. Pieces of the Lexus headlamp were found at the scene and at the site of an accident staged by Hamid in Montreal, in an attempt to show that the car had been damaged there. The autopsy could not confirm whether the victims had drowned in the car or were dead before the car went in the water. No body was found in the driver’s seat. The parents said Zainab had taken the car keys without permission for a late night joy ride with the 3 others and all had died when the car fell into the water.
The Crown alleged that the motive for the killing was the family’s disapproval of the girls’ wish to dress, visit friends, have boyfriends, not wear a Muslim hijab headscarf, and live like other Canadian teenage girls. The family were Muslim but apparently not particularly religious. The Crown called an expert witness from Iran to give evidence on the culture, religion, patriarchy, and violence against women – specifically honour killings – in the Middle East and diaspora in Europe and North America. She said there is disagreement about whether ‘honour killings’ should be classified as distinct from domestic violence, but there is no debate that such killings exist.
Shafia, a wealthy businessman from Afganistan via Australia, Pakistan and Dubai, had immigrated to Canada in 2006 as an ‘immigrant investor’ and lived in Montreal. Rona, who was not the ‘aunt’, but Shafia’s first wife, had entered Canada as his cousin. Shafia had married his second wife, Tooba, in Afghanistan, when Rona was unable to bear children. Rona apparently cared for the girls as if they were her own, but was treated like a servant rather than a wife.
Zainab had a boyfriend and when this was discovered, she was kept out of school for a year and in April/09, fled to a women’s shelter where she described a pattern of domestic abuse. Teachers, counselors, police, and child welfare authorities were all notified, but their response was ineffective. When the father arrived unexpectedly at the house during an interview by child welfare authorities, the girls changed their story and the file was closed.
Sahar had expressed worry, sadness, rejection by her mother, and suicidal thoughts to teachers and child welfare workers. She also complained of physical assaults by brother Hamid and fear of being beaten by her father.
Geeti wanted to be removed from the family home and placed with foster parents. A month before her death, her last school report card showed frequent absences, lateness, and failing grades. Sahar wanted to leave home and take Geeti with her. There were 2 other incidents in 08/09 in which child protection workers had been alerted to problems in the family.
In comments by Shafia, picked up by wiretap during the police investigation, he called his daughters ‘whores’ and ‘prostitutes’ for their style of dressing and associating with boyfriends; that they were dishonouring their family by their behaviour; betraying Islam; were ‘treacherous’; had brought about their own ‘rightful deaths’; and that if Sahar came back to life, he would ‘cut her to pieces’. In a wiretapped van on July 19, Shafia exclaimed: ‘Every night I used to think of myself as a cuckold. Every day I used to go and gather (her) from the arms of boys.’
Jan 31 Toronto Star editorial asks – ‘Is Canadian society turning a blind eye to domestic violence in some communities out of misplaced respect for cultural differences? and concludes that ‘those who stand guard over society’s most vulnerable must be sensitive to cultural differences without putting young lives at risk.’
Jan 31 Globe and Mail editorial – ‘Child protection authorities failed utterly to protect these children and a public inquest or other form of inquiry is needed to understand this failure.’
Jan 28 Globe and Mail – After the conclusion of the evidence, reporter John Allemang asks why the Quebec child-protection system failed to intervene effectively. The answer seems to be that the system ‘must balance protection of vulnerable children with the sanctity of the family’; the girls’ accusations didn’t seem enough to convince a judge that a court solution was ‘worth the family disruptions it would cause’; intervention could ‘tear a middle-class family apart by putting children in foster homes or shelters’. Allemang asks: did caseworkers miss cues of abuse and violence because ‘they were too respectful of authoritarian traditions and behaviours?’
Allemang quotes Professor Nico Trocmé, McGill School of Social Work, who wondered if the lack of decisive intervention had more to do with breakdowns in the child-protection system than with the cultural component of the case. Another social work professor wondered whether an unreasonable level of evidence was required to start an investigation and questioned why the sisters had to explain their situation in the presence of their parents. Sahar, who had tearfully complained to her schoolteachers about her treatment, later denied her statements. Social workers explained that to protect the family from ‘too much state intrusion’, Quebec investigations have to be carried out quickly; and resolved, taken to court, or closed. Well-intentioned decisiveness may have counted against the girls, as they were not in a position to speak out fearlessly.
Feb 2 Toronto Star columnist, Rick Salutin, ended his column with this question and comment (in brackets): ‘Was sex involved in the Shafia case? Think of this astounding statement that ‘every night I used to think of myself as a cuckold’ about his daughter. Analyze that’.
Feb 4/12 Safia father and son, Hamid, file intent to appeal
Globe and Mail – The son’s lawyer believes all three will appeal the verdict.
Feb 4/12 ‘Shafia crimes horrify Afghan community’
Globe and Mail journalists interviewed Afghan men and women in Montreal and Toronto who said the murders have bewildered and outraged the Afghan community as they have rest of the country. They said Afghan fathers have to make major adjustments on arriving in a far more permissive land and this causes family conflict, but this must be resolved through love and trust – ‘not handcuffs’. The Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Organization in Toronto said that 30 years of war have spawned a serious gender divide. As a young woman in Afganistan she was a ‘skirt-wearing PhD candidate who lectured to classes of men’ but when she visited Afghanistan during the Taliban era, she did so under a veil. She said misogyny is less imbedded in the fabric of Afghan society than it is a byproduct of generations of war. ‘It has nothing to do with culture. The more weakened and isolated and vulnerable women are, there’s more risk of being abused. It’s power against powerlessness’.
Feb 5/12 ‘Shafia kllings spark fatwa’
Toronto Star – Muslim clerics in Canada issue a fatwa against honour killings, domestic violence and hatred of women, saying these crimes are major sins in Islam, punishable by ‘the court of law and almighty Allah’. It is a reminder that Muslim men are not superior to Muslim women and should deal with family discord gently with love and kindness.
As for the Quebec child protection authorities: If they approach situations where a child is at serious physical or emotional risk with the view that there is a ‘sanctity’ about the family; that intervention will ‘tear it apart’; that they must protect families from ‘too much state intrusion’; that intervention in a ‘middle-class family’ is particularly intrusive, they are setting a very high standard for intervention and beginning with a strong a bias against removing children from risky situations. In fact, contact with the family need not have been completely severed, as supervised visits with the parents could have been arranged. As noted in some press comments, the authorities may also have been intimidated by the authoritarian attitude of the father and too inclined to overlook abusive words and actions on grounds of cultural differences. We agree with the Globe’s Jan 31 editorial that a public inquiry into this case is needed to understand the failure to protect these 3 teenage girls. This is not the first supposed ‘honour’ killing of young girls in Canada, and with immigration from countries with different traditions and attitudes to children, we need a better understanding of how to prevent such deaths.
Jan 23, 25, 27/12 Former Toronto parents of ‘Baby Angelica’ face new charges in Jamaica
Toronto Star – Former Toronto parents, Stephanie and Alphonso Warren, who abandoned their 8-month-old daughter, (nicknamed ‘Baby Angelica’ by child protection workers) in a freezing Toronto stair well in 2008 (see our Jan 30/08 item) are charged with concealing the death of their 2-year-old son in Kingston, Jamaica and failing to care for and protect him. The decomposed body of the child was found in their Kingston home. The cause of death has not yet been determined but police say the child was not a victim of ‘foul play’. After neighbours complained they had not seen the toddler for 2 months, police visited the home but left after the mother’s assurance that the child was fine. Angry neighbours then stormed the house, discovered the body, and threw sticks and stones at the father. Police could not control the crowd.