'Free-range' father who taught kids to ride bus wins court challenge

VANCOUVER — A father of five who taught his children take public transit by themselves has won an appeal against a B.C. ministry that told him he had to supervise them on the bus.

Justice Barbara Fisher of the B.C. Court of Appeal says the director of Child, Family and Community Service did not have the authority to make the order.

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Court documents say the Ministry of Children and Family Development received a report that the man's children may be in need of protection, in part because the oldest four were riding public transit without adult supervision.

The children were 10, nine, eight and seven years old at the time, and the youngest was five.

The ministry found the father, who lives in the Vancouver area, had taught the four older kids how to use transit in the city, having spent the previous two years taking the bus with them and slowly stepping back.

It found that he ensures the children have a cellphone equipped location trackers with them at all times, and there was evidence he had a healthy relationship with them.

A publication ban prevents the identification of the children and their mother.

The court documents say a safety assessment concluded the children were "safe with intervention" and set out a plan requiring the father to ensure a responsible adult cares for the children on the bus, which he signed.

The father "has embraced a minimalist and free range kid life style where children have independence. He has taken many safety precautions and has taught his children how to take transit on their own," the safety assessment says.

It goes on to say he "fails to see the safety concerns around letting young children take the bus on their own. He believes the risks are minimal and that the precautions he has taken will suffice."

The social worker who wrote the assessment told the father the children cannot be left alone at home, on the bus or in the community before age 10.

The father then sought a judicial review on the basis that the director had no statutory authority to require him to supervise his children. The reviewing judge held that the decision was both reasonable and correct.

However, the three-judge Appeal Court panel unanimously disagreed in its decision released on Monday and set aside the ruling requiring the father to supervise the children on public transit.

"I would allow the appeal, set aside the order of the chambers judge dismissing the petition, and replace it with a declaration that the order requiring the appellant to supervise his children on the bus ... was unauthorized and of no force and effect," Fisher writes on behalf of the three judges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020.

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