For a few dozen hours this week, Canada threatened to supplant Singapore as the locus of world debate over corporal punishment and to eclipse even its own substantial record for rationality and coolheadedness. Then it thought better of the idea.
At issue - and the source of headlines and jaw-flapping across Canada - was the case of an American tourist, David Peterson, who was caught red-handed in a Canadian parking lot last fall as he gave a spanking to his 5-year-old daughter.
An outraged Canadian witness called 911 and confronted the overwrought father with the news that it was against the law to spank in Canada.
It isn’t, exactly. But London, Ontario, police charged Peterson with assault, and he spent a night in jail. He returned voluntarily this week, according to news reports, to stand trial and clear his name. In a not-guilty verdict rendered Wednesday, Ontario provincial Judge John Menzies agreed that the father’s punishment fit the daughter’s crime and met Canada’s legal tests of appropriate discipline.
Peterson, a 39-year-old selfemployed electronics specialist from Warrenville, Ill., told a parent’s story of extraordinary provocation:
The Petersons were returning from a visit to Niagara Falls over the Labor Day weekend and stopped in London for a meal. During the lunch hour, Peterson led his daughter, Rachel, and 2-year-old son, William, to the restaurant parking lot to retrieve a birthday card and gift for their mother, Paula Peterson.
As Peterson rummaged in the front of the car, Rachel and William began fighting in the back seat, and Rachel pushed her little brother out the rear door onto the asphalt. As she began to close the door on her smaller sibling, Peterson testified, he warned her to watch for William’s fingers. She ignored the warning, he said, and proceeded to do exactly what her father had feared.