Toward the Repeal of Criminal Code Section 43

Dr. William Morrow
Professor, School of Religion

It’s often said that trying to get a group of academics to agree on something is a bit like herding cats. As a rule, people in universities take pride in their independent thinking and the virtues of healthy skepticism. Recently, I had an opportunity to herd some cats.

On the weekend of Oct. 20 and 21, a group of 25 people came together to hammer out a statement calling on Christian churches to support Call to Action #6 in the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Indian Residential Schools (TRC). This article calls on the federal government to repeal section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which provides a defence for parents to use physical force (i.e., spanking) as a means of correcting children. Of course, corporal punishment was widely used in the Indian Residential Schools.

To this day, certain constituencies in Canadian Christianity are among the most vociferous advocates for the retention of section 43. However, many mainline Canadian denominations have committed themselves to carrying out the calls to action of the TRC. The goal of the conference was to craft a statement that provided a theological justification for supporting the widespread conclusions of social scientific research, which over the years has unambiguously demonstrated the deleterious effects of even “mild” corporal punishment on children’s development. Our hope is that churches can use our statement as an impetus to support current efforts to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code now before the Senate.

The people who gathered for the consultation came under the auspices of a Canada 150 connections grant awarded by SSHRC with additional funding from Queen’s School of Religion. They included university professors, graduate students, prominent church leaders (including two bishops), undergraduates, and community members. Several were of First Nations or Metis heritage. It was appropriate that this event was connected with Queen’s not only because the University is committed to the TRC’s calls for reconciliation, but because of its own history. Queen’s University began as a college for preparing ministers for the Church. There is a strong likelihood that some of the graduates of what was once Queen’s College, as well as the former Queen’s Theological College played a part in the Indian Residential School system.

The conference provided some good lessons for all those who find themselves in the place of having to herd cats. While I was the Principle Investigator, the chief organizer was Dr. Val Michaelson. Together with her assistant, Kacey Dool she spent a great deal of time thinking carefully and consulting widely about how to set up a useful group process for decision-making. And that made all the difference. So, by the time I was called on to get 25 people of very different backgrounds to agree on a common statement, it was actually a pleasant task. The statement this consultation issued can be found through this link: