Thursday, April 05, 2007

Craig Smith responds to Benson Pope

Craig Smith of Family Integrity responds to claims made in David Benson Pope's standard "why I support repeal of Section 59" email, with which it would seem that he replies to every email he recieves with the words "don't repeal s59" in the subject line. Many of the pro-repeal MPs appear to be sending out the below letter (italicised) in email and letter form in response to the requests they recieve to vote against repeal.
You will find Craig's well-written responses interesting.

Subject: Thank you for your email regarding section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 .

Benson Pope: Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 is currently available as a defence to parents or caregivers charged with offences involving the use of physical force to discipline their children.

Craig Smith: You have strayed from the exactness which truth requires, and you will pay the price. During this entire debate, the pro-repeal lobby has been consistently incredibly sloppy, ill-informed and irresponsible in what they say about the issues surrounding the debate. Section 59 is used as a defense, but for the use of force that is for the purpose of correction and that is reasonable in the circumstances. This is a vital piece that you left out, because it causes further statements of yours to become lies.

Benson Pope: In the type of case in which charges are usually laid, people who have violently abused their children, such as beating them with a piece of wood, have used this section to successfully defend their actions. This defence was recently used by a woman who beat her son with a riding crop. I have yet to meet a New Zealander who considers that acceptable. I'm sure you don't either and would agree therefore that the law that permits this must change.

Craig Smith: Here is where your omission of the law stating that the force must be reasonable in the circumstances, plus your inaccurate and emotive use of words, mirroring the rest of the pro-repeal lobby's sloppy, ill-informed and irresponsible debate, causes you to be guilty of propagating lies. In both of these cases, the jury acquited the parents. That is to say, you can meet any of those 24 people who did consider the use of the riding crop not only acceptable but a case of reasonable force for correction. Were you there at the trial? Or did you collect your information from hearsay? Or do you actually read the sensationalised newspaper reports and form your own opinion of the judge and juries intelligence from those reports? Or worse still, does your information about these cases come from Bradford or Kiro?

Can you tell me when and where the piece of wood case took place? How big was the wood? What was the incident that led to the smack? Were there any marks involved? What did the boy say about it? What was the actual reason for acquittal? Why did the jury decide the parent (was it mum or dad?) was innocent if the boy, according to you, was violently abused, beaten with a piece of wood? You are clearly saying that the jury was populated by a pack of idiots who are too incompetent to tell the difference between a violently abusive beating and reasonable force. You are also implying that the jury system of justice is useless.... or are you just saying it is useless when you don't like their decision, even though you know next to nothing of the details of the case?

I have spoken at length to the woman who, as you say, "beat her son" with a riding crop. How do you define "a beating"? What are the essential ingredients that set "beating" apart from "reasonable force"? Which of these were involved in this case? By what standard do you compose your list of essential ingredients? Is it simply your own opinion or is it informed from legal precedent? Can you tell me how many strokes she applied? Can you give me any indication of the strength behind the smacks? Can you tell me if the boy willingly submitted or not? Can you describe the relative differences between the size and weight of the boy and the size and weight of the mum? Do you know the ages of the boys in either case? What was the incident that caused the smacking? Again, where did you collect your information about this case and again, why do you think the jury acquitted her, especially when neither she nor her lawyer called any witnesses or spoke in her defence: she let the prosecution do all the talking...and he convinced the jury she was innocent! And why didn't the prosecution appeal the decision in either case?

Benson Pope: The Justice and Electoral Committee has concluded its consideration of Ms Bradford's bill aimed at repealing section 59, and reported the Bill back to Parliament on 22 November 2006. The majority of the Committee recommended that the Bill proceed with amendments developed by the Law Commission, which is led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer. The Bill seeks to protect our children...

Craig No, it does not. It seeks, as per Bradford's explanatory note, to remove protection from parents and to reduce their legal authority to use corrective force with their children to the same level as any passing stranger: to nil.

Benson Pope: ...and remove a defence that is used by a small group of people who are charged with violently assaulting their children.

Craig Smith: It is significant that you concede that Section 59 is only used by a small group of people. Lawyer John Hancock of the pro-repeal lobby, could only find 18 cases where such a defense was used in the 13 year period from 1990 to 2002, that is 1.4 cases a year. More that half of these returned a guilty verdict. So the defense is only successfully raised 0.7 times per year. We are talking about an insignificant number of cases. If you are really concerned about violence against children, and I note your own personal track record as a school teacher in this regard, you would do well to address the out-of-control bullying and drug use in schools. And why is it you care nothing for the 18,000 children slaughtered in their own mother's wombs each year? I would be interested to hear your apologetic for non-involvement on that one and why you think it is not violence of the most obscene and extreme kind when a mother is encouraged to pre-meditate upon the murder of her own child and then recruits others to help her search and destroy her own flesh and blood.

Benson Pope: Complaints against violent parents are investigated now. That will not change, but they will no longer be able to use the defence that they were using "reasonable force" to excuse their actions. Good parents will not be at risk because of this change.

Craig Smith: This is more irresponsible spin doctoring. You are saying that the label of "reasonable force" is routinely used to justify, using your words again, violent abuse and beatings; and none of the repeal lobby I have asked has yet been able to demonstrate that this charge is at all accurate or has any credibility. If it were true, then the rewritten version of Section 59 that you are now promoting is justifying violent abuse and beatings (which in your account of things is routinely equated with "reasonable force", a phrase still in the Bill) to stop offensive, disruptive, criminal or harmful behaviour or when incidental to good care and parenting. You cannot have it both ways: "reasonable force" is either violent abuse or it is reasaonable force. But you and the rest of the repeal lobby want to use the term in diametrically opposed ways whenever it suits you.

Good parents have everything to fear from this because it bans a lot more than light, reasonable bans, no, it criminalises the use of reasonable force (how reasonable is that) used to correct children. This is criminalising a core responsibility of parenthood: correction. How does one correct bad behaviour, attitudes, speech, etc., into good habits without the use of force? At the very least it is the parent forcing his will upon the child. Good parents have requirements and prohibitions and do not let their children either wander or willfully go into error. They do not simply STOP them, as this bill allows.....good parents correct the errant behaviour. They make their children do the right and they do not let them do the wrong. Force, as per the Crimes Act Definition in Section 2, does not need to be physical force: intimidation or gestures will do. So, as I say, a lot more than smacking will be criminalised....virtually all efforts to correct children will be hamstrung.

Benson Pope: We are not talking about punishment, for that is not permitted in either the current Section 59 or the rewrite....punishment was only mentioned in the amendment banning the cane in schools, for it was clear teachers were engaged in excessive and abusive and illegal punishment, which is not justified in the current Section 59 anyway. I believe we all want to ensure that good and caring parents are supported whilst protecting children from abuse. The Government believes that the amendment to the Bill is a move in the right direction and the Government will be supporting the Bill with the amendment recommended by the select committee.

Craig Smith: As I've said above, this rewrite of Section 59 is incredibly damaging to parental authority, which will damage their ability to parent effectively, and ineffective parenting will damge children. This bill will have no effect whatsoever on the kind of undisciplined and out-of-control parents who bash kids to death. This Bill is a move to establish Bradford's and the UN's extreme feminist ideology to attack the foundational structures of the traditional family: parental authority. This bill will harm all sectors of society, for none are untouched when every family suffers.

Benson Pope: Under the amended Bill, section 59 would be replaced with a new provision to clarify that reasonable force may be used for the purposes of: preventing or minimising harm to a child or another person; preventing a child from engaging or continuing to engage in criminal conduct, or offensive or disruptive behaviour; and performing the normal daily tasks of good care and parenting.

Craig Smith: Subsections 1a and 1b of the bill are totally redundant as they are already covered by other parts of the crimes act. And in the areas of disruptive and offensive behaviour or what constitutes good care and parenting, the question no one has bothered to address is: by what standard? To me, good care and parenting are inseparable from correction, training and discipline. It would be child abuse NOT to incorporate these things. Who is defining the word "correction", since it is now to be regarded as an evil action toward children. What do you say "correction" means? No one else I've asked has bothered to give a definition. And by what standard shall I determine "offensive behaviour"? If the 13-year-old daughter wants to strut around topless in the privacy of her family house, how can the parents claim it is offensive if neither the police nor the city councils of Palmerston North, Auckland and Christchurch would declare toplessness in the centre of town at midday to be offensive, even though it was performed before pre-schoolers and some school children to promote pornography? You need to come up with something good on this one.

Benson Pope: The Select Committee also recommended that a public information focus should be strengthened further. The Government has already invested $10.8m over three years to establish the SKIP (Strategies with Kids - Information for Parents) programme. This programme promotes positive parenting and assists parents by informing them about effective, non-violent ways of disciplining children. The 2006 Budget provided an additional $14.8m over the next four years to enable this valuable programme to continue. I have included information about the programme, below. It would be irresponsible to close this letter without reference to the unacceptable level of violence in our community, violence mostly against women and children. Everyone I discuss this matter with agrees we must do something. Yours sincerely
David Benson-Pope MP for Dunedin South
Craig Smith: So get the police to charge the real bullies who are doing real
physical, sexual and emotional damage on school grounds every day of the
week. Enforce the many sections of the crimes act that already condemn
violence and abuse against children. When you allow extremely realistic,
gory and sexualised violence to be pumped into our society via TV,
magazines, video games, DVDs, etc., and the bullying on campus and the
drugs and the abortions and seriously consider assisted suicide and
euthanasia, and go so very soft on real violent criminals when you catch have no credibility saying, "Something has to be done," and
then threatening to charge good, everyday parents with assault, the ones
who actually care enough to train self-discipline and self-control into
their children, the ones who are part of the solution, not part of the

Your commitment to this highly damaging, totally anti-family,
anti-parent bill calls your judgement and competency into question. It
also flags you as a person with a very scary attachment to a radical
feminist, totalitarian ideology. By ignoring the 80% of voters who
oppose this and ignoring the clear indications of how divisive this bill
is going to be to our social cohesion, you show yourself to be no friend
of democratic processes or the peace we all desire.

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