March 8, 2004
In the February 4th issue of Toronto's NOW Magazine, an article caught my eye. It was about how the Supreme Court of Canada failed to make the beating of children a criminal offense. The article was powerful and unusual in its primal insights, and I was delighted to see that the author was Robert Priest. Robert is an acclaimed poet and performance artist who also happens to be a primal veteran.
I wrote a note of thanks to Robert, and a letter to the editor in support of Robert's article. NOW Magazine did publish my letter, but printed only a shorter, edited version. I am releasing the full letter here. Robert's article is below.
Today I witnessed a middle-aged man screaming and writhing with pain and humiliation. He was in a therapy session, reliving the long-repressed visceral memory of a childhood spanking. Like millions of people in the world, my client is discovering that much of his life-long depression and anxiety is rooted in beatings he received many, many years ago.
It is shameful that children are still the most oppressed group in Canada. It is shameful that children are still legally allowed to be beaten by others. It is shameful—and uncreative—to deal with a conflict by beating those who are younger and smaller than us. It is shameful and irresponsible to ignore the fact that this type of abuse plays a significant role in the multi-billion-dollar pandemic of emotional illness.
Robert Priest's article on the Supreme Court ruling allowing the spanking of children is frank and refreshing. Priest's writing indicates a deep awareness of the pain a beaten child suffers. He has not forgotten or glossed it over like so many adults and lawmakers. And he makes a brilliant point that many in the peace movement forget or ignore—that childhood violence is the real cause of global violence.
SWIFT INJUSTICE: Smackable Area Of A Child's Flesh Has Shrunk
By Robert Priest
The recent Supreme Court ruling on spanking - which by some eerie coincidence was reported the same day the papers detailed the desperate fight of five-year-old Farah Khan as she was beaten to death by her father - reads like something out of Jonathan Swift. The harm done by a drubbing must be "transitory and trifling" and "reasonable under the circumstances." No objects such as the biblical "rod" or the modern "ironing cord" can be used in the beating. There are now age limits. A child must be over the age of two and younger than 13. Fortunately, there are limits on body parts, too. The smackable geography of a child's flesh has now shrunk. The territory of the face is forever ceded. No one may now strike a child about the head.
This is definitely progress, but strangely, the law does not exempt from violence one of the few areas of the body that is not commonly left in public view - the buttocks. And so the evidence of a beating, the handprints, that have been stamped onto you by somebody's ancestral fury, can be hidden. I remember as a child thinking that was the reason it was called a "good hiding."
Anyone who has ever had a "good hiding" or two knows about the involuntary sobbing that goes on for hours afterwards. Your body is caught in a hiccup of sobs that begin to have their own kind of pain.
Whether you were whacked rightly or wrongly, you won't be filing a paper with the court of appeal. There'll be no "after the fact" investigation of the evidence.
Usually, you're caught in the act, your guilt assessed in a lightning bolt of a look, and suddenly your world is yanked upside down, the usually forbidden ass is shamefully exposed, and whack! You're beaten on your blind spot, and already an image of your violator's hand is starting to appear like a photograph being developed in your flesh, and whack, there's another, disfiguring the first, and another and another, until your flesh is a burning criss-cross of finger-welts.
You'll wish you didn't have so much flesh in your ass. And the back of the thighs - there the pain can be so unbearable you'd do anything, say anything, for it to stop.
Such a standard spanking as I'm describing can easily blow out a child's paradigm. If you've got small young moral constructs or little hero stories with you as hero in them, it can blow all that away. All those high thoughts of self, once they have been startled off like so many sparrows, may never come settling back down. And the only thing instilled is that most dangerous of responses - blind obedience.
While the justice system doesn't trust its own police with arbitrary and instantaneous retribution, this ruling means any psycho who becomes a parent is legally an absolute ruler, a judge and executioner.
There are no screening tests for those who are given the right to administer intense pain to a two-year-old. There are no schools of correct spanking. Any parent can do it if it's "reasonable," the judgment says. Nor are its victims assessed first to see if they're psychologically or physically suited to such an extreme method of "education." There are no guarantees that children themselves will be grateful or understanding of this process. Some, like Farah Khan, will fight back and further enrage their attackers.
No wonder we live in such an era of rape and rage and revenge. I believe those hands send missiles down on the innocent of Iraq. They justify the jackboot and the gun. All violent movements everywhere find their stamp of approval in this brutal beating between generations. Where else may the large and the mighty beat the young and the vulnerable with impunity and even righteousness?
Justice for Children and Youth, the organization that has led the fight to repeal the law, can be proud that it has made Canada a little safer for its children. Its labours are clearly not over.