A Vancouver blogger who coached his four young children to take the bus to school on their own has been ordered to stop.
Adrian Crook, who writes about parenting and urban living in his blog, 5 Kids 1 Condo, had been teaching his four oldest children – aged 7, 8, 9 and 11 – to take a city bus to and from their school for the past two years. His youngest child, who is 5, does not take the bus with the others.
This year, he is riding the bus with them after the province's Ministry of Children and Family Development told him that children under 10 could not be unsupervised "in the community, at home, or on transit," and that a child under 12 cannot be responsible for younger kids when no adult is present.
"Our family's freedom of mobility has been dramatically restricted for little reason beyond the complaint of an anonymous person," Mr. Crook said on Tuesday in a blog post.
"All it took was one report from a stranger to shrink our world beyond everyone else's," he added.
On Tuesday afternoon, speaking from a Dollar Store as his children chattered in the background, Mr. Crook said he hopes to challenge the government order in court. His blog post included a fundraising appeal for a potential legal challenge.
"It wouldn't be worth doing this personally – my oldest will turn 12 next summer and then it's no longer an issue, they [the younger children] would just travel with him," Mr. Crook said.
"For me, the challenge has to do with letting families choose the safest way for their family to get around."
Mr. Crook said on Tuesday in a blog post about the investigation of a report that raised concerns about his children's safety, which he posted as the new school year begins, garnered considerable attention on social media, with critics questioning the restrictions imposed on the family and raising concerns about coddled, overprotected kids.
It also tapped into broader issues, including transportation planning.
"The public-policy implications of this are significant," said Brent Toderian, an urbanism consultant and former chief planner for the City of Vancouver.
"We have transportation problems in cities that connect to our irrational fears of letting our kids walk, bike and take transit to school. It's surprising how much of our traffic in peak hours is related to parents thinking they have no other option but to drive kids to school," he added.
And while some big cities are designed in a way that makes transit unsafe or inconvenient, that is not the case in Vancouver, where recent planning efforts have emphasized walking, cycling and transit for getting around, Mr. Toderian said.
The ministry, in accordance with its legislation, would not comment on the specifics of Mr. Crook's case.
But in an e-mail, a ministry spokesperson said the department looks into all reports concerning children's safety and acts accordingly.
If a child were reported as being left unattended, social workers would take steps to assess the child's safety, based on factors including maturity, and whether there have been any other concerns affecting the family.
Everyone has a duty to report a situation in which a child might be at risk, the spokesperson added.
Mr. Crook said he spent months teaching his children how to take the bus, travelling with them as they learned to get on and off the vehicle safely and to recognize their stops.
In a June 23 letter that Mr. Crook provided to The Globe and Mail, the ministry said it looked into concerns that "you were pulling the children's ears and allowing them to take transit unsupervised." Asked about the ear-pulling, Mr. Crook said it was treated as an afterthought in the investigation and follow-up, and that the main focus was the bus trips.
The letter says there are no child-protection concerns and that the children are safe in their father's care.
Mr. Crook also provided a separate letter, dated Aug. 2, 2017, from the ministry's legal counsel to the social workers on Mr. Crook's case.
In that letter, the ministry's lawyer said, "it is likely that a court would find that protection concerns do arise" in the circumstances of a 10-year-old taking transit without being accompanied by an adult.
In Canada, only three provinces have established a legal minimum age at which children can be left alone or in the charge of other children, the letter said, adding that, "Manitoba and New Brunswick state a parent cannot leave a child under 12 unattended; Ontario sets the age at 16."
The letter cites several court cases that found children could not be left at home alone unattended for long periods of time and that the Canada Safety Council states that a child cannot be left alone at home before the age of 10, and even then, only if the child is mature enough.
"These scenarios primarily deal with a child being left at home alone," the letter says. "Arguably, a child moving around in the community exposes the child to at least the same level of risk as being home alone, if not greater risk."
In his blog post, Mr. Crook challenged such safety concerns, saying transit is the safest mode of daily travel.