The "Teachers' Defence": Section 43 in the Modern World

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Originally published in Leadership Update, Volume 9 - Number 3.

An increasing number of teachers are being criminally charged with assault in Alberta. Sometimes these allegations are exaggerated or maliciously brought by students or parents to advance a hidden agenda. In many of these cases, it is not disputed that the teacher had some physical contact with the child.

Not all physical contact by a teacher with a child is unjustified or criminal. Teachers charged with assault have the same defences available to them as anybody else, including self-defence, defence of others, etc. However, teachers and parents have an additional defence - s. 43 of the Criminal Code, the so called "parent and teacher defence." It is the most important justification for a teacher's application of force to a student. The question for the criminal court in most assault cases is whether or not s. 43 applies to exonerate the teacher.

Physical contact of various types is common between teachers and students in modern schools. Teachers who wish to remain employed and stay out of the criminal justice system need to understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable contact. It is important for teachers in the trenches to understand how the offence of assault is defined and the limits of the s. 43 defence.

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