Parental Authority and Rights

Parental rights in Canada are much narrower than they once were. Whereas children used to be viewed more as property, they are now entitled to all the same rights and freedoms under the Charter as adults. This does not mean, according to Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth, and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General) that children must be treated the same as adults in every situation, but they must receive full protection as children under the law. A current debate, illustrated by S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, concerns where the line is drawn between state and parental influence on children. Many parents are unhappy with this decision and hope to see change in the future.

Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General) – Supreme Court of Canada, 2004
The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth, and the Law sought a declaration that s. 43 of the Criminal Code violated the Charter rights of children. This provision justified the reasonable use of corrective force by parents and teachers. The SCC held that the section did not violate the Charter. The wording of the provision placed limits on what was permitted. It eliminated corporal punishment used on children under two and on teenagers, as it was harmful to children at that age. It also eliminated outburst of violence against a child; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and discipline by use of objects or slaps to the head. The SCC also found that s. 43 did not violate the equality rights of children, as children need the guidance and discipline of parents and teachers. Section 43 therefore met the actual needs and circumstances of children.

S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes – Supreme Court of Canada, 2012
Quebec passed a mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture Program for its schools. The appellants requested an exemption from this course for their children, but were denied. The appellants argued that forcing their children to take this course infringed their freedom of conscience and religion. The SCC held, however, that because the appellants did not show how this course would interfere with teaching their own religious beliefs to their children, there was no violation of freedom of religion. The SCC wrote that diversity and multiculturalism was a part of Canadian society and exposing children to this early on was simply a part of life.