British Columbia

'Spanking' over nude Snapchat photo leads to assault conviction for parents

A religious couple in Salmon Arm, B.C., have been convicted of assault for "spanking" their daughter with a mini hockey stick and a skipping rope after learning she had sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend on Snapchat.

Religious couple hit 14-year-old daughter on buttocks with mini hockey stick and skipping rope

A provincial court judge found there was no valid excuse for a Salmon Arm, B.C., couple to 'spank' their child with a mini hockey stick and skipping rope. (Summer Skyes photography/Flickr)

A religious couple in Salmon Arm, B.C., have been convicted of assault for "spanking" their daughter with a mini hockey stick and a skipping rope after learning she had sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend on Snapchat.

In a case that tests issues of consent, discipline and parental responsibility, provincial court Judge Edmond de Walle found no excuse for the parents' behaviour.

"In this day and age, any reasonable parent would be concerned about a teenager sending nude pictures of him or herself via a cellphone or any other electronic device. The pitfalls and dangers of such activities are well-reported. Such behaviours can lead to bullying and even suicide," de Walle wrote.

"To suggest that responding to such acts by a teenaged daughter (14 going on 15 years), by spanking her with an object, would be educative or corrective, is simply not believable or acceptable by any measure of current social consensus."

2 options: grounding or spanking

The incident occurred in 2015 on Valentine's Day.

It came to the attention of police when the daughter showed bruises on her buttocks to two of her girlfriends, who in turn reported what they had seen to the school principal.

According to de Walle's ruling, the father had previously confiscated the daughter's cellphone because of her renewed relationship with the boyfriend.

The Supreme Court has ruled that children between the age of two and under the age of 13 can be spanked if the action is seen as corrective and reasonable.

But she was still able to use an iPad.

"On reviewing the text messages on the iPad the father discovered messages that referred to his daughter sending nude photographs of herself," de Walle wrote.

"The daughter believed that the photos only lasted a few seconds after transmission using the Snapchat site."

The father confronted the daughter and told her "she needed to respect herself and not throw herself at boys."

He then discussed what form of punishment would be appropriate. "The daughter subsequently recalled that her father offered her two options: to be grounded for a really long time or to be spanked."

She opted for the spanking. 

According to the decision, the father struck his daughter two or three times with a plastic mini hockey stick about 45 centimetres in length. He then told his wife what had happened.

"The mother became upset and picked up a skipping rope that was in the garage," the decision says.

"She hit her daughter two or three times on her buttocks with the skipping rope. The mother said she was doing this because she loved her daughter."

The hand is for love, not discipline

On the stand, the father, who had no criminal record, described his family as Christian. His father used to discipline him with an orange plastic spoon.

"He testified that the hand is used for compassion and love, not for discipline," de Walle wrote.

"In other words, the father believes that an object, not the hand, must be used when administering discipline."

Legal arguments in the case centred on a child's ability to consent to an assault from a parent and the consideration that goes into "corrective force" used by parents as discipline.

The judge found that the parents were in a position of authority, and she wasn't offered a choice beyond grounding or assault.

"Although the complainant chose a 'spanking,' it was not a fully informed consent with an appreciation of all the consequences," de Walle wrote.

As far as discipline is concerned, the Supreme Court has set out considerations whereby "corrective force" is deemed reasonable as opposed to assault: It must be intended for educative or corrective purposes, and the force has to be reasonable under the circumstances.

The law generally accepts that those rules don't apply to corporal punishment used on children under two or teenagers.

In the case at hand, de Walle found the father had clearly intended the spanking as punishment for sexting.

"The parents took no educative or corrective steps by seeking out expert help or any other assistance," de Walle wrote.

"Their actions were solely punitive and not corrective. In my view, the actions of the parents were also degrading."

The judge also found the use of weapons — "namely the plastic mini hockey stick and the skipping rope" — was not reasonable under the circumstances and amounted to excessive corporal punishment.

He found both the mother and the father guilty of assault. The couple have yet to be sentenced. Their next court date is in March.

CBC Forum: How should we teach kids about the dangers of sexting?