Twelve Tribes defends use of sticks to discipline children


Child and Family Services says it’s looking into allegations children might be abused

A Winnipeg religious group called Twelve Tribes is defending the way it physically disciplines children, using a type of stick.

Manitoba’s child welfare authorities said they are looking into the group after CBC’s story earlier this week.

Twelve Tribes, a Christian sect with members around the world, defends its behaviour, even though using anything other than one’s hand to physically discipline children can be considered assault in Canada.

The group’s spokesperson, Maurice Welch, said the law interferes with parental authority.

“We are basing what we do on the word of God,” he said. “The scriptures make it very clear that if someone ‘spares the rod,’ they hate their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

But a Winnipeg man who counted some of the community’s members as friends is also raising concern about the group.

Michael Welch (no direct relation to Maurice Welch) became concerned about similar allegations and joined the group undercover last summer to investigate for himself.

Michael Welch said he lived with the group for more than six weeks in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point neighbourhood.

He said while he knew he was deceiving them by not telling them he was trying to learn the truth about how they treat their children, he felt he owed it to his friends in the group to find out.

“If the allegations … were true, then I owed it to Stephanie [his friend], her children and anyone else who may have entered this arena to ascertain the truth,” he wrote in an opinion piece for CBC.

Sticks easy to find in living quarters

Welch said it didn’t take long to find the instruments the group’s critics allege were used on children.

“That very first evening I managed to find five of the rods that were described by ex-members. They are slender wooden sticks roughly 60 centimetres long. I found one above a cabinet in the main floor washroom, one in the classroom they turned into a guest bedroom for me, and three in the basement,” he said.

He said he found 20 rods over the course of his stay.

Welch said while the people were kind to him and he never saw children being disciplined with the sticks first hand, he is sure it was happening.

“Tribe members have admitted to me that spanking takes place,” he wrote. “I came close on two occasions to catching them in the act, both times at the shop [on Des Meurons Street].”

In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, Michael Welch maintained the children and adults in the insular community are at risk.

“The kids seem very closed off from the wider world, so if there was something happening in the community I’m not necessarily satisfied that it would be dealt with in a responsible way,” he said. “There’s a risk to children and to adults.”

Group numbers about 70 people in Winnipeg

The sect which has been around some 50 years, has about 70 members in Winnipeg, 20 of whom are children.

They live in two homes in Armstrong’s Point and they own in a farm outside of Winnipeg as well as a shop on Des Meurons Street.

On Wednesday, the group declined to do another video taped interview, but did speak with CBC by phone.

Maurice Welch was asked about whether he realized the group could be breaking the law by disciplining children with a stick.

“We are aware of that,” he said. “But we are basing on what we do on the word of God. And the scriptures make it very clear.”

Welch said Twelve Tribes welcomes Child and Family Services investigation.

Welch maintains the group answers to a higher authority and has no plans to stop using rods to on its children.

2 Comments On “Twelve Tribes defends use of sticks to discipline children”

  1. I grew up there and know first hand the severe abuse that alot of the children who grow up in the twelve tribes experience. Please look into!!!

  2. Seems Michael went there with the goal of catching someone actually spanking the children and he feels bad about his deception. Come on Michael, Bad News sells. You would have no story otherwise. People who abuse children don’t invite others in their homes. You saw the kids, were they afraid, marked, reclusive or obviously badly adjusted? You only wanted sensationalism – the stuff The Inquirer pays for. You should MAYBE have talked to the teenagers there who have been part of the group to see how they felt about their experiences – that’s investigative journalism! Emma – a little expansion would be good given such a statement.
    Some errors are probably made in the group and some members may well be quick to punish or overdo it but it seems they don’t get a lot of runaways like we normal folks do.

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