Episode 41 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 43 - Correction Of A Child

 

Section 43, correction of a child by force, is another section of the Code, which protects those people who use force in certain limited circumstances. Indeed, the heading for this section and the next section 45 is entitled Protection of Persons In Authority. Section 43, and for that matter s. 45, are not sections protecting peace officers but are designed to protect people who may use force as a result of a relationship he or she may have with the recipient of the force. In the case of s. 43, the relationship is parental or quasi-parental as between a child and a parent or a child and a schoolteacher.

Let’s read the section in full:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

I am sure many of you reading this or listening to this podcast might be a little surprised that this type of protection is in the Code. The idea of hitting a child, be it a parent or worse a teacher, seems out of step with the fundamental values of our society and a throw-back to when age-based relationships were construed as hierarchal and power driven. As we will explore in this podcast, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged these concerns but in the final analysis the Court found there is a place for such a section in the Code, albeit in limited circumstances. In this podcast, I intend to explore some of these issues, which might give us pause for thought in assessing whether this section is a relic of the past or not.

Section 43 was thoroughly canvassed in the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada case Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General), [2004] 1 SCR 76. The opening statement of the majority decision, authored by Chief Justice McLachlin, speaks volumes on the essence of the defence:

The issue in this case is the constitutionality of Parliament’s decision to carve out a sphere within which children’s parents and teachers may use minor corrective force in some circumstances without facing criminal sanction.

The phrase “minor corrective force” envisioned by the Chief Justice adds clarity to the Court’s characterization of the defence as permitting “reasonable physical correction.” Essentially, it is this formulation of the defence, equating “reasonable” with “minor” force, which saves the section and places the defence in a neat continuum of what is acceptable and was is not acceptable societal behaviour.

I will not go into the niceties of the s. 7 arguments in the case, although I highly recommend those listening to this podcast to read the full decision as the argument presented to the Court takes a fresh approach to the protections found under s. 7 through the perspective of the victims or recipients of the force, in this case children. It is highly illustrative of the unique and persuasive arguments, which are available under the Charter.

The case also highlights the emotive issues involved by viewing the constitutionality of the section through the lens of another legal phrase often conjured in cases involving children: the “best interests of a child.” In what manner this phrase applies in the criminal law context is an interesting discussion, which requires a full blog posting. In any event, as found by the majority, the concept may be a legal principle but at least in 2004, it was not a principle of fundamental justice as required for the application of s. 7.

Let’s turn to the essential requirements of s. 43, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. First, the section requires the force used to be for the purpose of correction/discipline. Such acts would be “sober, reasoned uses of force” that “restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval” of the behavior. Although this element is understandable, the allowance for force to “express some symbolic disapproval” is a puzzling concept in the legal arena. Certainly the symbolic use of force is used in the broader context of military expression, such as retaliatory strikes. However, the symbolic nature of that force seems to be based on generating fear and domination over a populace. In the context of s. 43, it becomes difficult to envision force as a symbolic expression other than, as an example, an antiquated response to foul language – washing a child’s mouth out with soap or tugging on an ear to show disapproval. Whether or not this kind of symbolism can truly be viewed as “sober, reasoned uses of force” remains open to debate.

The second requirement, which takes the perspective of the recipient of the force, is the need for the child to benefit or learn from the forceful act. If a child is too young or developmentally challenged, use of force, even if for corrective purposes, is not appropriate and s.43 defence cannot be used.

Next, the Court must consider whether the force used is reasonable in the circumstances. The “reasonableness” of the force is delineated by reference to what is acceptable in society by looking at international standards and expert opinion. Again, corporeal punishment used on a child under 2 years of age is considered harmful, as may be such punishment on a teenager. The majority also considered force used to the head area as inappropriate. Additionally, using a belt or implement to apply force is unacceptable. In the end, reasonableness under the section is constrained by who is receiving the corrective punishment, the manner in which the punishment is being applied, and the target area of that force.

In the case of teachers, any type of corporeal punishment used - what comes to mind is the application of a ruler to the hand - is not reasonable force. Teachers, however, may need to remove a child or restrain one but any other force, even I would suggest “symbolic force,” is not acceptable.

In the end, the Chief Justice viewed the section as a necessity in the realities of family relationships when she stated at paragraph 62:

The reality is that without s. 43, Canada’s broad assault law would criminalize force falling far short of what we think of as corporal punishment, like placing an unwilling child in a chair for a five-minute “time-out”.  The decision not to criminalize such conduct is not grounded in devaluation of the child, but in a concern that to do so risks ruining lives and breaking up families — a burden that in large part would be borne by children and outweigh any benefit derived from applying the criminal process.

This above recognition of the limits of the criminal law, limits which we as a society desire and need in order to maintain our fundamental social constructs, really does define this section as it is presently applied. In fact, I represented a client who was charged with assault as a result of restraining a teen, who was acting violently and was under the accused’s care. It was this section, which provided the litmus test and ultimately resulted in his acquittal.

More controversial, however, is the use of the section where punishment is meted out on the basis of cultural or religious norms, which differ from “Canadian” norms. In those instances, what may be acceptable punishment in the accused’s social circle may not be acceptable in the broader Canadian view. In the dissenting decision of the Canadian Foundation for Children case, Justice Arbour raised this possible dichotomy in support of the position that the concept of “reasonableness” under the section is more of a moving target and less of an articulable standard. She commented in paragraph 185 that:

Corporal punishment is a controversial social issue.  Conceptions of what is “reasonable” in terms of the discipline of children, whether physical or otherwise, vary widely, and often engage cultural and religious beliefs as well as political and ethical ones.  Such conceptions are intertwined with how other controversial issues are understood, including the relationship between the state and the family and the relationship between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child.  Whether a person considers an instance of child corporal punishment “reasonable” may depend in large part on his or her own parenting style and experiences.  While it may work well in other contexts, in this one the term “reasonable force” has proven not to be a workable standard. 

Finally, I leave this podcast with a more esoteric or philosophical view. As touched on by the Chief Justice, the truth behind this section, and all of the sections, which justify the use of force, may not reflect the kind of society we truly want: we want a society free of violence and the threat of violence. However, the reality is that even our rule of law carries with it an aspect of violence. As Walter Benjamin opined in his “Critique of Violence,” not only is violence the means to preserving the Rule of Law, “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence.”

This concept is further explored in Robert Cover’s electrifying article entitled “Violence and the Word,” which reminds us that whenever the justice system metes out punishment or even pronounces a judgment, a person is coerced to do something they do not want to do. In some instances the force is minimal, in others it involves a total loss of liberty. It is this use of force, which we try to contain, hoping its use will be based on reason and equity. Yet this “force” still remains part of what we would all consider a well-run society and fundamental to the justice system.

Section 43, albeit a seemingly simple defence is in reality a section, which causes one to re-think the meaning of force and its place in today’s society. It has been more than a decade since the Court has expounded on this section. As a result, it will be interesting to see how this section holds up to the ever-evolving societal conceptions of law’s function in our private relationships and law’s responsibility to protect vulnerable members of our society.

For more on Robert Cover, read my previous blog discussing his work here.

 

THOUGHTS ON THE INTERSECTION OF LAW AND ART: LEGAL ARCHITECTURE

I recently read a compilation of essays, in a work from an outstanding publishing house Sternberg Press, Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics, on the connection between contemporary art and law, particularly courts of law, where the art theory concept of “representation” and the physical and legal attributes of law intersect through the courtroom. From that connection the comparative analyses are many and varied: the courtroom as theatre, evidence as iconoclastic images, and the changing role of new media. But what struck me was the concept of the law court as a bounded space, which reinforces the separateness of the law world from the real world.

In his essay In Between: Power and Procedure Where the Court meets the Public Sphere, Richard Mohr observes the fixity of our courts within a self-constructed bounded space and the resultant tension between those inside, the legal players, and those outside, the public. He argues this border between the two is not just physical but conceptual as well. Not only does the courtroom have a fixed address with an enclosed space but the rules or procedures too emphasis closure through the rules of evidence, which permit only certain forms of approved facts into its space. This closing off of the law not only impacts public access but also public perception.

Other essays in the collection go further and suggest the advent of new media and the relaxation of media in the courtroom has expanded the courtroom walls and changed the static concept of law. However, one of the editors, Judy Radul for whom the essays were published to celebrate her World Rehearsal Court exhibition, in her essay, Video Chamber, argues to the contrary: in her view, the ability of the courts to be connected elsewhere through, for example, CCTV, makes the court an even more enclosed space “monolithic and unmovable” as the court hunkers down, forever fixed in place, as the images come to it.

The legal architecture then becomes an impactful aspect of the law, particularly in light of the access to justice issues Canada has been recently facing. It may also impact how the Supreme Court of Canada view evidentiary rules: should they unbind the courtroom or provide further enclosure?

The connections between art and law may, at first glance, appear superficial: yes, the lawyers are like actors in a Shakespearean play, albeit their backs are usually to the audience. However, when viewed through the lens of art theory, the representational force of the law cannot be doubted. This is something to think about when arguing in the bounded space of the law.

 

 

 

 

Read More

The Philosophy Of Testimony And Belief And The Criminal Law

As mentioned in my previous post on RPG (reasonable and probable grounds) and The Theory of Knowledge, I am in the midst of a MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh on Philosophy. Last week, the lecture was on “testimony and belief” and specifically discussed the opposing philosophical theories of David Hume and Thomas Reid on the subject.

Much of the intractable disagreement between the two philosophers is really more about religion than it is about philosophy. Thomas Reid, was a deeply religious man and a curate for the first few years of his professional life. David Hume, a staunch critic of religious belief systems, was a religious skeptic. Reid, a proponent of “common sense” and the human ability to sense his or her surroundings, argued that human beings innately believe in the veracity of another person’s testimony. In other words we are genetically disposed or “hard wired” for this belief. This “principle of credulity” as he termed it was connected to our human nature, which is naturally disposed to community, and our desire to trust our senses or feelings in accepting another person’s testimony. Therefore, this divine intuition was an appropriate and logical reason to accept another’s testimony.

Hume, ever the skeptic, required independent evidence that a person’s testimony was likely to be correct. In Hume’s opinion, humans have an incentive to lie when doing so would benefit their own self-interest. Politicians may come to mind as the example. Further, Hume argued, humans are naturally disposed to telling, and enjoying, unsubstantiated stories for the sheer pleasure these stories give themselves and others. The popularity of gossip magazines and the longevity of The National Enquirer can attest to this point.   

Immanuel Kant, who was awakened from his “dogmatic slumbers” by Hume’s philosophical theories, also weighed in on the issue. Kant went a step further than Hume by praising “intellectual autonomy” or the ability to be guided, not by another’s testimony, but by an individual’s own understanding and beliefs.

In light of this, how does the law approach testimonial evidence? Does the criminal justice system side with Hume and Kant requiring independent evidence before testimonial evidence will be accepted or does it side with Reid and the God-given nature of people to speak truthfully?

The general rule, it seems, is for Reid – permitting testimony to stand on its own, without requiring corroboration, but in the heightened circumstances of an oath or promise. This binding over of the witness to tell the truth does have a hint of Reid as it invokes the support or, in some ways, corroboration from a higher deity in the case of an oath or a higher power in the case of a promise. However, it is questionable whether Reid himself would deem this precaution necessary.

The criminal justice system relies on testimonial information to support two distinct aspects of a crime. Firstly, testimony is needed as part of the investigation of a crime. Secondly, it is required for at the trial of a crime. Although both aspects view testimony differently, clearly Reid’s principle of credulity applies to both.

During an investigation, the police interview witnesses and possibly the accused to provide the evidence of a crime. Such evidence gathering may precede the officer’s RPG (reasonable and probably grounds) for arrest or it may be gathered after the arrest, when RPG is already present. Although there may be some consideration of the credibility or believability of the testimony given, typically the police will leave the assessment or weighing to the Courts.

Once in the courts, the testimony is received without corroboration or without requiring independent evidence of the testimony. Historically, corroboration was required for a child’s unsworn testimony and for accomplice evidence, but these requirements were abolished or relaxed (Vetrovec warning for accomplice evidence), leaving the trier of fact to determine credibility by assessing the whole of the evidence.

So it appears our laws have applied both Hume and Reid and that the “common sense” approach of Reid has prevailed.

 

 

 

 

Reasonable And Probable Grounds and Philosophy’s Theory of Knowledge

In an effort to increase my knowledge, I decided to take a MOOC or Massive Open On-line Course offered by Coursera. I chose Introduction of Philosophy taught through the University of Edinburgh. Admittedly, I am finding the course a bit elementary but what did interest me was the lecture on Epistemology and the Theory of Knowledge, a philosophical area concerned with “knowledge-that” as opposed to “knowledge-how.” “Knowledge how” is how we know to do certain tasks – how to build a birdhouse, for instance. “Knowledge that” or propositional knowledge involves knowing that birds fly or knowing that s.265 is the assault section in the Criminal Code.

Plato was the first philosopher to detail the requirements of propositional knowledge, which is known as the “traditional” analysis of knowledge. Propositional knowledge or how someone knows a proposition is true, according to Plato, is based on three criteria. First, the knowledge must be believed by the person proposing it, meaning that one can only know something if they believe it. Second, the knowledge must be true. Thus, even if we believe in a state of facts, if that belief state is not true, there is no knowledge. This criterion requires objective truth. Third and lastly, there must be a justification for believing the knowledge is true. In other words, we must be able to articulate, based on “sound reasoning and solid evidence,” why we believe the knowledge to be true. If all three criteria are present, then the knowledge is accepted as true knowledge as opposed to “random” knowledge, which is based on a “lucky guess.”

All of this sounds very familiar and it should sound familiar as indeed in the legal arena, this Theory of Knowledge is used. For example, in criminal procedure, before a police officer can arrest an accused he must have reasonable and probable grounds or RPG for the arrest. There is no “fixed” definition of rpg, primarily due to the Charter, which prefers a contextual approach to determining whether or not an officer has RPG in the circumstances of each case. However, there are descriptions of rpg in differing areas of the law, which seem to be consistent. For instance, RPG is similar to the traditional English concept of “reasonable and probable cause” required for prosecuting a malicious prosecution case. The term is defined in the 1938 English House of Lords case Herniman v. Smith where Lord Atkin described it as


… an honest belief in the guilt of the accused based upon a full conviction, founded upon reasonable grounds, of the existence of a state of circumstances, which, assuming them to be true, would reasonably lead any ordinarily prudent and cautious man, placed in the position of the accuser, to the conclusion that the person charged was probably guilty of the crime imputed.

In the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court came to similar conclusions in Bernshaw when Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dube commented on previous decisions, which called rpg “credibility-based probability” and “reasonable probability.” Despite, no single definition for the concept, there seems to be a very good general understanding of what RPG means. This differs from the concept of “reasonable suspicion,” which, according to Kang-Brown “means something more than a mere suspicion and something less than a belief based upon reasonable and probable grounds.” As discussed in a previous blog, the SCC will clarify “reasonable suspicion,” hopefully, when they release the judgments on two sniffer dog cases, MacKenzie and Chehil.

Clearly, the concept of RPG is Plato’s propositional knowledge, which is fulfilled when the person has a sincere belief in a true set of facts based on justifiable reasons.

However, not all philosophers have agreed with Plato’s Theory of Knowledge. Edmund Gettier did not agree that justified true belief was knowledge. To support his dissent, he created what is known as Gettier Counterexamples or Gettier Cases, which present situations where Plato’s Theory fails.

Two Gettier Counterexamples were given in the lecture I watched. One counterexample was called The Stopped Clock Case. In this case, every day you pass by a clock and check the time. One morning you pass by the clock, which shows the time as 7:00 a.m. As you have taken time from this clock countless of times before, you sincerely believe the time is correct and your objective belief is justified, as the clock has been correct every other time you have used the clock. Indeed, it is 7:00 a.m. However, the clock is not working and had stopped at 7:00 a.m. the previous morning. It is just luck that you happened to glance at the clock when it apparently showed the correct time. Although on the surface, Plato’s Theory was fulfilled, in actuality the sincere belief was not premised on truth.

These fallacies show that knowledge is not necessarily justifiable true belief. Yet, it is this very premise – that knowledge can be justified if it is based on a true belief – which lies at the heart of reasonable and probable grounds. It is possible, therefore, that what is accepted as RPG is merely a Gettier Case and should not form the basis of a criminal charge. Perhaps, it is time to rethink even the basic propositions of criminal law to ensure we have a relevant and viable system.

Not only, did this MOOC make me think, but it also left me wondering; does the law need fewer lawyers and more philosophers?