VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver dad who let his children take the bus alone has won his three-year fight with the province’s Ministry of Children and Family Development.
The Vancouver father — who is not being identified due to a publication ban — was first contacted by the ministry in March of 2017 when someone reported he had let four of his five children, aged between seven and 10, take transit to and from their North Vancouver school without an adult.
The social worker assigned to his case found that there were no child protection concerns, but directed him not to leave his children unsupervised.
“I would like to take the opportunity to remind you that until the children are 10 years old they cannot be unsupervised in the community, at home, or on transit. In our meetings, we discussed that even at the age of 10 it would be up to the parent to determine if their child is responsible and prepared enough to be on their own. We also discussed that until a child is 12 years old, responsible, and ideally had taken a baby sitters course they cannot be responsible for younger children when there is no adult present. It is a parent’s responsibility to ensure that their child is appropriately supervised at all times,” reads the letter the social worker sent when closing the file.
On Monday, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that MCFD did not have the authority to impose this requirement on the father.
“There had been no incident, there’s never been an incident with them taking the bus, but it was something the Ministry just didn’t like, so they crafted this specific rule for me. The judges today said that was something they didn’t have the power to do. So that’s been struck down now, finally,” the father explains.
“The order requiring the appellant to supervise his children on the bus … was unauthorized and of no force and effect,” the judgment reads.
He says he only allowed the kids to ride the bus alone after he had taken the trip with them for two years and provided them with a cell phone.
After the ministry ordered him not to allow the kids to be alone, he says no social worker talked to his children, leaving him to tell them why things had to change.
“They sort of left it to me to explain that somebody decided that they weren’t allowed to do these things they’d never had an issue doing before,” he says.
“The thing that most bummed them out was that some of those little freedoms that they had really enjoyed — like just going across the street to go to the corner store — was something that they couldn’t do. For about a year afterward I returned to taking the bus with them twice a day, bussing to North Van and back. So that took three or four hours out of my day, but it was time spent, at least for half of it, with the kids.”
The decision does come as a relief for the father and his kids.
“It was nice to be able to tell them today that that thing that happened three years ago, that they’d still sort of been living under the idea that they had a specific set of rules that applied to them isn’t in effect anymore. It’s good to kind of relieve them of a little bit of worry,” he says.
But the father also says he shouldn’t have had to launch a years-long, $70,000 court battle.
“In some ways, it’s very disheartening because even in a case that seems as open and shut as this, it still took slogging through two levels of our courts, and just a lot of good fortune — in terms of having so many people supporting me — to get any resolution, and most parents do not have that, especially underprivileged parents and racialized communities. They just do not have this ability,” he explains, adding he received close to $50,000 in donations to fund the case.
He thinks the case could have the effect of making social workers reconsider when to launch investigations, and will force them to get orders from provincial court judges before ordering parents to follow conditions.
“Hopefully it just pushes back a bit and makes the ministry think twice about intervening in cases that don’t need intervention,” he says.
With files from Vanessa Doban