There was an interesting decision from a Kamloops judge this week in a case that speaks, in part, to when a person gets to call themselves a parent.
It’s a decision that might raise a few eyebrows, as it sets aside the usual notion many of us have that biology is what determines if a parent is, in fact, a parent.
A man was found guilty of assaulting his young daughter, a three-year-old child he fathered with a woman with whom he no longer shares a life. He had their child overnight after she dropped the girl off for a visit. He got frustrated when she squirmed when changing a diaper and became violent.
In this case, Judge Stella Frame ruled the man’s conduct when he smacked his child on her legs with his hand, leaving a deep red welt, contravened Canada’s legally acceptable limits for corporal punishment.
That’s nothing new. Judges have long drawn a line in the parental punishment sandbox. Parents cross that line when a physical act of reprimand leaves a physical reminder, a mark. He left a good one on his daughter’s legs. He will be sentenced later this month.
I don’t intend to question the court’s intervention into acts of parenting. I’m more interested in exploring the judge’s comments in this instance regarding whether the man was a parent.
While the judge acknowledged he was the biological father, she said that does not make him a parent in the eyes of the law.
Judge Frame used a line of legal reasoning set out in other cases in support of her decision. Other judges have also ruled the act of creating a life does not necessarily give one the right to claim care and control of it, especially when someone claims a parental right to use force as a reprimand.
One of the court decisions referenced by Judge Frame states: “The person who is a parent must be someone who has assumed all the obligations of parenthood.”
Frame said, based on the evidence, this father is not a parent with respect to “custody, birth registration or access.” In other words, he had virtually nothing to do with the girl or her upbringing.
Many people today, especially men, are bitter about how they feel judges treat them, believing judges set one parent above the other in a kind of hierarchy of power and control. This is the kind of case they will wield as proof that judges are in fact against them.
How can a judge rule a natural father has no authority to be a parent, they will ask? It seems counter-intuitive — a blow against notions of family — to suggest blood links aren’t the most important. Such thinking, however, ignores one factor. Canada’s courts are largely guided by one principle in cases involving children — the welfare of the child. In other words, judges will consider the needs of children before the demands, wants, desires or needs of adults. What is in a child’s best interest?
With that question in mind, it is easier to accept the notion a father should not always be considered a father just because they are tied to a child by blood.
The premise in this decision is that actions (or lack of them) speak with an intensity sufficient to break blood bonds. To put it simply, if you want to be considered a parent, make sure you act like one. When viewed in that context, this decision makes a lot more sense.