Vancouver techie Adrian Crook allowed his four oldest children, then aged 7-11, to ride the city buses to and from school in 2017. It was going fine until someone called child protective services to report unsupervised kids on public transit.
The Ministry of Child and Family Development, or the MCFD, informed Crook that not only were unsupervised bus trips not allowed but that his kids under age 10 were also not allowed to do anything unsupervised, inside or outside the home.
During the three years the case dragged on, Crook had 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 told me in a phone conversation. But after the Ministry issued its edict, he didn't dare let them do that anymore.
He didn't even let them take out the garbage.
The wheels of justice go round and round, round and round, round and ... you get the idea. But they sometimes end up right where they should be.
And last week, British Columbia's highest court declared that the Ministry had overstepped its bounds by imposing the equivalent of a decree on Crook, when all it had the right to do was to issue recommendations.
"For our family, (this ruling) means we no longer live under the bespoke rule the Ministry of Child and Family Development created for us," Crook wrote me in an 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." And yet, that's exactly what the authorities had done.
The story began about five years ago, when Crook started teaching his kids how to ride the local buses in Vancouver, British Columbia. By all accounts, the kids were fine. Crook once got an email from a random bus passenger saying how pleasant and well-behaved his kids were.
And in fact, after the MCFD was notified about the unsupervised kids and the authorities came to Crook's home to investigate (he's divorced), a supervisor on the case reported that Crook had gone "above and beyond" in training his kids to be responsible.
But, unable to believe their own eyes as to the kids' competence — why wasn't that enough? — the ministry officials started digging around for any guidelines as to whether children are officially allowed to be independent public transit riders. Finding no specific rules, 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 of hours after school with a latchkey. (That case was horrible, too. )
So, the ministry made Crook sign a "safety plan," which included the provision that the kids always had to be with someone 12 or older. That meant Crook "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 someone with a couple of babies at home, would be crippled by such a rule.
Crook kept fighting, and finally, last week, he had his day in you know where. In writing the opinion of the court, 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. But this round, that's what happened — a victory for competent kids and the parents who train and trust them.