British Columbia

Appeal court sides with B.C. man who wants 'free range' kids to ride bus alone

B.C.’s Court of Appeal says the province’s director of child and family services doesn’t have the authority to order a Vancouver man to supervise his children on public transit.

Court says director of child and family services doesn't have legal authority to order supervision

B.C.'s Court of Appeal says the province's director of child and family services doesn't have the authority to order a Vancouver man to supervise his kids on transit. But they can take measures to force him to if they feel the children are at risk. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s Court of Appeal says the province's director of child and family services doesn't have the authority to order a Vancouver man to supervise his children on public transit.

The province's top court sided with the father of five who was investigated by social workers after receiving a report that his four oldest children — aged 10, 9, 8 and 7 — were riding public transit without any adult supervision.

In a unanimous decision released Monday, the three appeal court judges found that B.C.'s Child, Family and Community Services Act doesn't give the director the authority to require a parent to supervise their children on a bus.

The judgment says social workers can give advice and make recommendations to parents, but that parents are free to disagree.

The judges point out that if the director still has concerns about a child's safety, there are various legal mechanisms they can pursue — including applying to the provincial court for a supervision order, or removing a child in extreme cases.

"There may be a practical fine line between giving strongly worded advice or recommendations, which if not accepted may lead to further action, and giving an order and taking no further action," the ruling says.

"But a line there is."

A court order prevents the release of any information that would identify the children or the man's spouse.

'Minimalist and free range kid lifestyle'

The case began in March 2017, when the Ministry of Children and Families received a report that the man's children were in possible need of protection because they were riding the bus alone.

The man told a social worker he had taught the four oldest children how to use transit in the city and that he ensures they have a cellphone.

The social worker reported that the man had "embraced a minimalist and free range kid lifestyle where children have independence." 

The man was told the children could not be left alone at home, on the bus, or in the community before the age of 10 and that it was "non-negotiable" for the children to be with a person 12 years of age or older on the bus.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge found that the strong-armed suggestions for supervision that the director called a "recommendation" amounted to a "decision" in the eyes of the law. 

But the same judge found the decision wasn't unreasonable.

The appeal court judges have now set aside that ruling and declared that the order requiring the man to supervise his children on the bus was unauthorized.

The judges declined to order the ministry to pay the man's legal costs.

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