Jack Hulland Elementary School. (Yukon News file)
Jack Hulland Elementary School is seen in a file photo. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Jack Hulland Elementary School. (Yukon News file) Jack Hulland Elementary School is seen in a file photo. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

NDP MP says Jack Hulland Elementary accusations show need for Criminal Code change

Private members bill would make corporal punishment of children illegal

The allegations of confinement and the use of restraints on students at Whitehorse’s Jack Hulland Elementary School has been adopted by an NDP Member of Parliament as another example of why Canada should remove the element of its criminal code that allows for the use of corporal punishment on children.

Peter Julian, the federal NDP’s house leader representing the New Westminister-Burnaby riding, tabled a private member’s bill this May calling for the removal of section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code.

Section 43 reads: “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.”

Julian spoke about the issue alongside Yukon NDP Leader Kate White and Donna Miller Fry, who was formerly the Yukon Department of Education superintendent in charge of Jack Hulland Elementary, in an online press conference on Dec. 7.

White detailed the use of force alleged to have taken place at Jack Hulland Elementary between 2008 and 2020 and introduced Miller Fry as the one who reported it to the RCMP.

“In May of 2022, thanks to pressure from parents and stuff, the Department of Education finally admitted that physical punishment had been used for years at Jack Hulland Elementary School, they admitted to the use of holds restraints and isolation cells as forms of discipline” White said.

White said the holds and restraints were part of a “zero-tolerance disciplinary culture” and were employed as punishment, sometimes for minor infractions, rather than in the interest of student or staff safety. She also claims that the government has not been giving parents of students at the school much information with some parents only finding out that their children had been confined or put in holds when they were contacted by the RCMP as part of its investigation.

Miller Fry spoke of efforts to support families of past and current students at Jack Hulland over the past eight months. She noted that she was neither the first or the last person to report what was happening at the school, but said she stubbornly pursued the matter. She contrasted what was going on at Jack Hulland with efforts at other schools in the Yukon to offer trauma-informed education.

“We need to be really, really clear. It’s not okay to hurt children. And this message will only be clear when we repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code,” she said.

Julian said that the Criminal Code section can serve to provide cover for the physical coercion of children and as long as it is on the books Canada will continue to see examples like the one at Jack Hulland. He said Canada is lagging behind in this regard as more than 60 countries have banned the physical punishment of children.

Along with falling behind what he sees as the international standard, Julian said the Criminal Code section improperly condones or accepts the use of force against children even in the context of a Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled on what amount of force is considered reasonable.

The speakers noted that the abolishment of section 43 of the Criminal Code is one of the calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the removal of similar laws is recommended by the United Nations’ convention on the rights of the child.

Julian said that his private member’s bill is the first time in recent memory that the repeal of section 43 has been brought to the House of Commons. He noted that it was brought forward by an NDP MP once before but did not succeed. In light of both events like the ones at Jack Hulland and the national conversation around the effects of the residential school system, Julian thinks the climate is much more favourable for this type of reform now.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com