In a case that has grabbed worldwide attention, a Vancouver father of five is planning to mount a legal challenge over the right of his children to take public transit unsupervised.
Adrian Crook says he spent over two years grooming his four oldest children, who range in age from 7 to 11, to ride the city bus from downtown Vancouver to their school in the North Shore, a total of 13 kilometres. He made sure the children always carried a cellphone equipped with a GPS tracker, and the bus rides went without incident.
So he was shocked when the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) informed him last spring that he could no longer allow his kids to ride without adult supervision after provincial child welfare officials conducted an investigation based on an anonymous complaint.
“We’re talking about daytime, commuter hours—[the kids] even know the bus driver and even some of the passengers,” Crook said. “If we can’t take this level of risk with our kids then we shouldn’t be even putting them in cars.”
The ministry also told Crook he couldn’t allow any of his children under age 10 to be unsupervised at all, even when going to the corner store across the street or while he puts out the garbage, something he says as a single father of five has put him on edge worrying about custody repercussions.
His dilemma quickly gained attention from parents across the country—and also from media outlets around the globe, including the BBC—sparking the helicopter-versus-free-range parenting debate and what role the state should have in raising children.
Crook, who works in the video game industry and also blogs on urban and sustainability issues, decided to launch a legal challenge and to that end has been raising funds through GoFundMe, to the tune of $40,000 so far.
He says every penny will be put to use to defend not just his own case but the freedom of kids of all ages to take public transit on their own.
“I want to try and push back on the helicopter parenting as a standard that the government now enforces,” he says.
“I don’t want this to just be another case in the cannon that the government uses to enforce other situations like this where they are just needlessly intervening with parenting decisions.”
He has been gathering evidence and statistics from experts related to safety and child development to use in his case.
“I do think statistically everything is better than it used to be; crime is lower than it’s ever been, and with the case with taking the public bus, it’s the safest way to travel by a long shot,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter—people’s fear has been so heightened and their decisions are based on fear rather than evidence.”
According to data collected by the University of British Columbia, riding the city bus is the least risky form of transportation by far—about 25 times safer than riding in motor vehicles. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14.
Nanny-state approach to parenting
Crook said the MCFD based its decision on a case in 2015 in Terrace, B.C., when a 9-year-old was left alone at home after school for a couple hours. The judge ruled this was not allowed based on evidence from experts showing that it is unfit for children under 10 to be without adult supervision because they lack cognitive development.
The Ministry told The Epoch Times it could not legally comment on specific cases but issued a statement in response to questions.
“In B.C., there is no legislated age that is uniformly applied: Every circumstance is unique and treated on its own terms, and our ministry completely supports building independence in kids,” the statement reads.
“However, when the Ministry receives a child protection concern it is legislatively obligated to assess it.”
But Crook said the government didn’t look at his case on its own merit, or take into consideration all the work he did being a responsible parent in making sure his kids were safe and prepared to travel by bus. He said the ministry merely checked with their lawyers “across the country” and determined that children under 10 could not be left unsupervised in or outside the home for any amount of time.
Other child experts agree that the ministry’s decision isn’t based on logic and evidence, but rather a growing trend of fear and a nanny-state approach to parenting.
“Suddenly the lawyers are being made to be the experts on child development,” said Michael Ungar, a family therapist and an associate professor in the school of social work at Dalhousie University.
Ungar is the author of the book “Too Safe for Their Own Good,” in which he talks about the phenomenon of the bubble-wrapped kid—children who are denied opportunities to experience risk and responsibility.
He said in Crook’s case the government is doing his children a disservice by not allowing them to build confidence and independence, which can negatively impact their development in the long run.
“What they don’t put into their equation is the collective long-term harm that such policies are having on the well-being of our children,” he said.
“These decisions are causing our children to have low confidence and making them feel anxious—the world is made to be viewed as something dangerous—and they miss out on developing life skills that they actually need.”
Ungar said it will be interesting to see on what point of law the government will argue that the children were in real danger, considering the extremely low probability of abduction in Canada, where violent crime rates have lowered significantly in the last two decades.
A similar case gained international headlines a decade ago when mother Lenore Skenazy from Queens, New York, was dubbed the “world’s worst mom” for allowing her son to ride the subway by himself at age 9.
“You can’t make your decision based on the worst-case scenarios; the government didn’t give an example of how these kids were in danger,” Skenazy said by phone from New York.
“The government has taken away how to raise our children from the mom and dad and have taken it upon itself to decide what age the kids can do anything, with zero consideration with how they are raised.”
Crook is currently deciding on a lawyer he feels comfortable with and says he’s rolling up his sleeves for what he expects to be a long battle in the courts.
“You have to be prepared for the long haul. I’ve been told there could be a couple of appeals in the process, but we will have to stick with it,” he said.
Jared Gnam is a freelance reporter based in Vancouver. He broke into the world of journalism covering the Stanley Cup Riot in 2011.