A Canadian dad has won the right to let his kids ride the local bus without the threat of the government taking them away from him.
Vancouver, British Columbia, tech manager Adrian Crook had taught his four oldest children, all between the ages of 7 and 11, how to ride city buses on their own to and from school. But in 2017, when they began to travel without him, someone called child protective services to report unsupervised kids on the bus. Crook was then informed that not only were unsupervised bus trips not allowed, but also that kids under the age of 10 were not allowed to do anything unsupervised, inside or outside the home.
The wheels of justice go round and round…but they sometimes end up just where they should be. And last week, British Columbia's highest court declared that the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) had overstepped its bounds by imposing the equivalent of a decree on Crook when all it had the right to do was issue recommendations.
For the three years the case dragged on, Crook felt he legally couldn't let his kids out of his sight. "For years [before the MCFD got involved], they'd been going across the street to the 7-Eleven I could see from my window," he tells Reason. But after MCDF issued its edict, he didn't dare let them do that anymore. He didn't even let them take out the garbage.
The recent ruling "means we no longer live under the bespoke rule the Ministry of Child and Family Development created for us," Crook writes via email. "Personally, it means the highest court in our province agreed with me that the MCFD didn't have the authority to impose such a rule."
The story began about five years ago when Crook started teaching his kids how to ride the local buses. There's a route that starts near his home and ends at their school. He accompanied them on these trips for two years until he felt they were ready to go by themselves.
And by all accounts, he was right. The kids were fine. Crook once got an email from a random bus passenger saying how pleasant and well-behaved his kids were. But in March 2017, someone notified MCFD that there were unaccompanied kids riding the bus, and the authorities came to Crook's home to investigate.
While the supervisor on the case noted that Crook had gone "above and beyond" in training his kids to be responsible, the ministry started digging around for any guidelines as to whether children are allowed to be independent public transit riders. Finding no specific regulations, it eventually deferred to a court decision from 2015, wherein British Columbia's Supreme Court ruled that no child under 10 can stay home alone, even for a couple hours after school with a latchkey. (That case was horrible too—take a look.)
Still, the ministry told Crook he had to sign a "safety plan" which included the provision that the kids always had to be with someone 12 or older. So, Crook says, "I had to return to taking the bus with them" 45 minutes each way, twice a day. You can see how someone trying to work full-time, or with younger kids at home, would be crippled by such a rule.
Now, Crook is not oblivious to reality. He grew up the son of a homicide detective. He knows that crime exists. But he did his research and discovered that buses are one of the safest forms of transportation—safer than cars—and gave his kids a cellphone to use in case of emergencies. And the kids all traveled together.
Nonetheless, Crook says, over the course of the last three years he has received threats, both written and spoken, from the Ministry's director and from social workers saying they would take "more intrusive action" if he failed to comply with the order.
As Crook writes on his blog, 5kids1condo: "Since going public with this case I've heard from dozens of families similarly affected by MCFD overreach. Many much worse off than my own. And in most cases, those families lack the resources or privilege I have to be able to take this fight on." In the end, it took $70,000 in legal fees to fight the edict. Donations totaling $55,000 mean he is still $15,000 in the hole.
For anyone without such resources, Crook notes, MCFD can "rely on the overwhelming power imbalance between themselves and parents in order to impose their decisions…While MCFD argues that parents 'agree' to comply with their 'recommendations' and that the process is a 'collaborative' one, in reality parents often have no choice, no advocate, no recourse, no money to fight it, and are cowed into compliance under threat of losing their children."
In writing the court's opinion, Justice Barbara Fisher said that the MCFD and its social workers "had no authority to require the appellant to supervise his children on the bus (or elsewhere). It follows that this purported exercise of statutory power was unreasonable."
It's not every day that the unreasonable government power is recognized as unreasonable. If I were Crook, I'd celebrate by putting my kids on the bus. Then I'd go round and round to some pubs.