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Halifax parents say son traumatized after witnessing disciplinary caning

Grand Master Woo Yong Jung is seen during a martial arts demonstration in January 2017.
Grand Master Woo Yong Jung is seen during a martial arts demonstration in January 2017. - The Chronicle Herald

The parents of an 11-year-old taekwondo student say instructor Woo Yong Jung’s disciplinary caning of a teen has had an adverse effect on their son.

“Our son has been having nightmares ever since the incident happened,” said the father, who wished to remain anonymous. “He has been acting out in class.”

The incident occurred on Jan. 9 at Woo Yong’s Taekwondo Academy on Kempt Road in Halifax. Master Jung struck a 17-year-old student, Rodrigo Meier of Kingston, Kings County, 10 times with a bamboo cane as punishment for verbally and physically abusing Jung at a Christmas party.

The Maritime Taekwondo Union (MTU), the governing body of the sport in Nova Scotia, suspended Jung from all coaching credentials at local and national taekwondo events. The MTU is having the incident investigated and will turn over the results to an independent disciplinary panel for review and possible additional sanctions.

Halifax police investigated the complaint, confirmed that the caning took place and said that no charges will be laid.

Jung, through his lawyer, and the teen’s father, Rolf Meier, argued that the disciplinary action had the consent of the teen and his parents and it was a traditional form of Korean discipline. Lawyer Jason Gavras said no one in attendance felt intimidated by the incident.

The 11-year-old’s parents disagree.

“We were unwillingly made a party to this,” said the boy’s father.

“If (Rodrigo’s) family and (Rodrigo) agreed to do this and they determined that this was appropriate punishment, it is not my place to judge that,” the boy’s mother said. “But there was no need to involve other people’s children in this. If they felt strongly that this was an appropriate action, the class was over, they could have sent the class home and then administered the punishment. There was absolutely no need to involve our child or anybody else’s child.”

Instead, Jung sent the younger students to the change room and asked the parents to wait in the hallway, the mother said.

“Master Jung told them, ‘Let this be a lesson to you,’ ” said the father, adding that as their son retreated to the change room he looked back to see Jung holding the cane.

“It really struck me and hit home and almost hurt when he said to me, ‘Is this going to happen to me if I get my patterns wrong? Is Master going to beat me?’ At that age, it’s either black or white, you’re a good student or you’re a bad student, and let this be a lesson to you, this is what happens to bad students.”

The hard lesson surfaced in his elementary school a few days later when the class was talking about how to handle unruly students, the father said. The 11-year-old struggled to deal with what he had seen and it came to the fore during that conversation. He acted out, his teacher sent him along to a guidance counsellor, who informed the parents that he was exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress. The guidance counsellorrecommended therapy.

“And they say that everybody consented and there were no ill-effects or ramifications with the administering of the (caning) punishment,” the father said.

He said other young students have had difficulty, too. Multiple students, including their son, have left the taekwondo school, he said, and “there is at least one other child who has been profoundly impacted and traumatized by this.”

Wade Junek, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who teaches at Dalhousie University, is not surprised.

“We believe that there should be no use of corporal punishment,” Junek said of a large group that advocates the repeal of Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which he said essentially sets out specific criteria for its use.

“The adverse effects of it are too great and the benefits of not using it are fairly clear,” he said.

Junek said it is not a condemnation of parents or anyone else who uses corporal punishment, but rather a call for additional assistance for them to help develop strategies that work better for children in the long run. Junek said children who are subjected to corporal punishment show a greater propensity later in life toward partner violence, aggression and anti-social behaviour.

“The child must at all points have a close and open and trusting relationship with the parents,” Junek said.

“This discourages some of that and incites a certain fearfulness in the relationship.”

The same broken relationship can occur with children and other people who are in a position of trust, Junek said, and studies have shown that children who witness inter-partner violence even once can show adverse effects in later life.

“Taekwondo is a wonderful sport and it is something that he is incredibly passionate about,” the mother said of her 11-year-old. “I don’t want this to come across as the sport is bad or the people who teach it are bad. Honestly, I don’t even think Master Jung is bad. Master Jung made a bad decision, but he’s not a bad person.

“This was a very traumatic experience for (our son) and I just can’t bear the thought of the narrative of this story being that there are no victims here. . . . No one is paying attention to the fact that there were minors there. If there were minors there who were unaffected, that’s strange to me.”

The parents also say that it is unfair that Rolf Meier attributed MTU president Doug Large’s actions to envy and vindictiveness against Jung.

“We’ve been just trying to deal with this as best we can,” the father said. “This isn’t normal behaviour. It’s not part of taekwondo. Master Large is not out to get Master Jung. He’s done the best he can. We haven’t gone to Master Large’s (Chimo) school. We’ve gone to a separate school. All the parents weren’t forced to go to Chimo after this. The aspersions that are being cast are not very factual.”

The mother said their son has difficulty sleeping and getting past the caning.

“This has been very much about what has been done to Master Jung and how his rights have been violated, about how there was no real assault so there is no real story. But we are dealing with a real story and a real fallout from this incident every day.”

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