A Vernon woman is serving two years' probation on a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to assaulting her four adopted children with a weapon.
The weapon she used to spank the children with? A spatula.
The woman, who cannot be named by court order to protect the identity of the children, has already lost custody of the children to the Ministry for Children and Families, where the charges originated. According to Crown prosecutor Shirley Meldrum, the children reported being spanked numerous times—around six strikes each time. They said their mother held them over her knee and used the "time out stick"—a metal spatula with a rubber end—to spank them on their bare buttocks as punishment for various misdeeds including sloppy writing or poor scores on their home-school tests. Meldrum said the spankings produced no bruises or injuries.
Both the woman and her husband were originally charged, though it appears from court proceedings that his charges were dropped the same day she pleaded guilty. He sat at her side as she was sentenced, comforting her as she cried. Her lawyer, Richard Hewson, offered no explanation on behalf of his client, other than to say her version of the incident didn't match the Crown's.
Judge Ann Wallace wondered aloud whether the guilty plea and lack of explanation were strategies the accused was using to maintain compliance with the Ministry in order to regain access to the children. The woman's husband nodded his head as she spoke.
Wallace also noted 22 character letters describing a kind, gentle, soft-spoken woman.
"I find it hard to read these letters and hear these allegations," Wallace said. "If it were one or two letters... but it's 22 glowing letters. It's hard to think she's anything but that (gentle and soft spoken)."
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a parent's right to spank their children but set out certain restrictions and requirements. Using an object to spank your own child is illegal, as well as using any kind of force on a child under two or over 12. The details, listed under section 43 of the criminal code, dictate that using force by way of correction is only justified if the child is capable of learning from it, and if the caregiver is administering it educationally, not as the result of "frustration, loss of temper, or abusive personality." Just this year, the Canadian Medical Association produced studies saying corporal punishment has no beneficial effects and recommends that Parliament outlaw spanking. However, parenting and family websites still contain numerous questions about the law and many comments suggest the practice is still commonplace—and condoned when within reason—in many homes. The U.S. is among many countries that still allow and even encourage spanking as a form of discipline.
The accused and her husband have refused attempts by InfoTel News to get their side of the story. The family has been active in Christian churches and organizations and the children were home-schooled. Some of the woman's friends did, however, speak about it, though they can't be named either to protect the identity of the children.
A member of a church the accused once attended has heard rumours about his friend's criminal charges, but says all he can say for sure is that she is a "wonderful person".
"I like them (the husband and wife) very much. I think they are good people, (and) it was very sad to see them leave," he says.
He says the accused's family was very active in the church group, made up of about 50 people. The close-knit group has a family-like feel to it, with music jams and prayer meetings held weekly in members' homes. The activities are always inclusive to the group's youngsters with crafts and games. He says he and his wife attended numerous such events held in the accused's home.
A close friend of the woman says the Crown's account doesn't tell the truth. She says the children came from troubled backgrounds and questions the truthfulness of their reports to social services. She says the accused is not a violent person, and that she may have spanked her kids on occasion, but that it was used rarely and as a last resort.
"They (the accused and her husband) are the kind of people we went to for advice on parenting. I learned a lot from them," she says.
She is adamant the kids could find no better, or more loving, place to live and says the whole affair is owed to a combination of made-up stories and overzealous social servants.
"They just took the kids (from) the only parents that love them," she says. "She took the blame just to get her kids back…. It looks like no one is listening. She just wants this thing over and to get her kids back."
The Crown recommended the accused be banned from visiting parks, school grounds, and other places youth are likely to be, to prevent her from harming other children.
The judge said there was no report of the accused harming anyone else's children, and that banning her from these public places would make it difficult for her to find a place to visit with her kids.
"The hardest part will be how you build a bridge back to your children," the judge said.
The mother will only be able to see her kids on supervised, pre-planned visits.