Self-employed video game design consultant Adrian Crook is a Vancouver divorcé who shares parenting of his five young children with his ex-partner. In his spare time Crook blogs proudly and candidly about raising his “brood” from a smallish – as most are – condominium near the city’s downtown core. Until this summer he’d been doing it for years without incident, although some of his readers have posted critical comments, usually along the lines that in his zeal to teach his kids self-reliance, he’s “forcing” them to live too modestly.
Then someone anonymously complained to the British Columbia Ministry of Child and Family Development about his parenting methods. The MFCD launched an investigation and started making demands, the most intrusive among them an order that the oldest four of his kids – aged 7, 8, 9, and 11 – stop using public transit without direct adult supervision. Overnight, Crook became a champion for parental rights and a symbol of resistance against the nanny state.
“Living a more sustainable, minimalist, urban lifestyle is something I force on my kids because I know in the long run, the skills and awareness they acquire now will make them better people,” Crook blogged in March 2017, after a panelist on a CTV daytime gabfest took aim at his family living arrangements. Slow news day, apparently. “Usually I get a smattering of negativity in the comments section of any online article and someone invariably accuses me of forcing my kids into this life,” he added. “But this was the first time someone in the media had attempted to advance it.”
Soon after, MCFD bureaucrats received the anonymous complaint, “from someone concerned about my kids taking the bus on their own.”
His four children, Crook explains, were carefully trained over a two-year period to take public transit to their school in North Vancouver, a straightforward, 45-minute trip from their home. Before letting them make the journey without him, Crook contacted Translink, the public transit provider, and asked if there are any age restrictions on riding its buses and trains. No, there are not, he was told.
And so the four youngsters began making the journey, all on their own. They even earned praise from a fellow bus traveller, for their good manners. All good, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.
The anonymous complaint to MCFD triggered a “weeks-long” investigation by ministry officials, says Crook, culminating in a meeting inside a bureaucrat’s office, where Crook was told his children must immediately stop using city transit on their own, because, well, just because.
The province’s directive, and Crook’s pointed retort, ignited a week of national and international headlines. The nanny state had reached too far, most pundits and parents agreed.
The story seemed to awaken Canadians to the fact that social workers and other bureaucrats have unfettered powers, including the right to deny the freedoms of sensibly-raised and competent, polite children and, moreover, to penalize parents who have done nothing wrong. All based on arbitrary and subjective bureaucratic decision-making, unsanctioned by any legislative direction or prescribed law.
The extra-legal overreach makes Crook’s counter-punch all the more powerful. He’s not some angry, stressed-out dad taking shots at a meddling ministry for wasting his time and causing some inconvenience: Crook is drawing attention to a flawed system, in which Canadian lawmakers and judges have abdicated important areas of decision-making to unaccountable government drones who bully citizens for imaginary transgressions based on their feelings and assumptions. And then claim they are working within the rules.
Crook says MCFD officials told him their people had “checked with their lawyers ‘across the country’ and the Attorney General, and determined that children under 10 years old could not be unsupervised in or outside the home, for any amount of time.”
The problem – perhaps the worst in this matter – is that the ministry’s claim is false. Few provinces have laws restricting the age at which children can be left unsupervised by an adult. Manitoba and New Brunswick do require parents to provide children aged 12 and under with “adequate supervision.” Ontario has a similar law with the age threshold set at 16 years.
But B.C. has no such requirement. There is some case law, notably a 2015 B.C. Supreme Court decision upholding a lower court ruling in a matter that involved a mother and her eight-year-old son. She wished to leave him at home, alone, for two hours every weekday after school. The woman objected to an MCFD order that she stop the practice because it was not based on legislation, arguing that the ministry was “usurping the function of the legislature of this province by adopting a policy that children under the age of 10 should not be left unsupervised.” The court rejected the argument, noting that, “while the legislature may have chosen not to set such an age, …that does not mean that trained social workers cannot, based on reasoned principles, set such an age limit themselves.”
There it is: in B.C., social workers can set age limits in circumstances that warrant their intervention, but they’re not enshrined in any law. Apparently, someone at MCFD tried to mislead Crook into thinking he was breaking a law, in their attempt to justify a baseless, unnecessary order. He was not fooled.
“Our family’s freedom of mobility has been dramatically restricted for little reason beyond the complaint of an anonymous person,” Crook writes. “The freedoms my kids enjoyed for years were removed. Even simple trips like several kids crossing the street to the corner store, or walking to school on their own when they’re at their mom’s place were ruled out – effectively made illegal to our children, but not to every other [as yet unreported] family.”
Many parents might have capitulated, but not Crook. He is challenging the ministry’s order and raising money via crowdfunding for a legal appeal. By mid-September, he had raised more than $37,000, well above his original ask of $15,000. If there’s a silver lining in this sorry story, it’s that many other Canadians aren’t being fooled into submission, either.
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