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Canadian Officials Crack Down on Single Father for Letting His Kids Ride the Bus

Here's an excellent example of overzealous government agencies getting in the way of what should be normal, healthy activity for children.

Adrian Crook, a single father who lives in Vancouver, spent two years teaching his five kids -- ages 7 through 11 -- to ride a public bus to school together. They learned the ropes, haven't encountered serious problems, and endeared themselves to other passengers, Crook writes at his combination dad-and-urbanism blog Five Kids 1 Condo.

But because he violated North American parental norms and taught his kids to get around independently, he now has to defend his actions to the authorities at Canada's Ministry of Children and Family Development, a national version of child protective services.

An anonymous tipster ratted on Crook to the ministry for letting his kids ride the bus. The agency conducted a weeks-long investigation, then rendered a decision, he writes:

The Ministry called me into their office where I met with my caseworker and her supervisor. It started off in a favourable way, with the supervisor insisting that I’d gone “above and beyond” what any parent should have to do to train their kids to be responsible and conscious transit riders. They said they understood that this was not a case of me being negligent. If it had been, they would have rendered a decision much faster.

Ultimately, however, the Ministry 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. That included not just the bus, but even trips across the street to our corner store, a route I can survey in its entirety from my living room window.

Furthermore, the Ministry advised that until my oldest was 12 (next summer), he could not be deemed responsible for the other children.

The caseworkers further maintained that four kids taking a public bus together was more dangerous than staying home alone, an assertion debunked by statistics. In the U.S., an average of 10 school bus passengers are killed annually, versus an average of 2,300 children killed annually in the home by accidents such as choking, suffocation, drowning, submersion, falls, fires, burns and poisoning.

Beyond that, the #1 killer of kids ages 5-14 is actually car accidents, something most parents do every day without a second thought. And the odds of your child being kidnapped by a stranger on the bus? Incredibly long. A 2003 study in Canada found just one case nationwide of a stranger abducting a child, in the entire two years prior.

Crook was told that if he doesn't comply with the order to never leave his children under 10 unsupervised, he could lose his partial custody. No more independent public bus trips to school -- now Crook chaperones them 45 minutes each way:

Being a divorced, single dad who has his kids 50% of the time, I have little recourse to challenge the Ministry’s decision. Disobeying it even in the slightest (i.e. allowing a trip to the corner store by my 9.75 year old), could result in the Ministry stripping me of equal custody of my children, a remarkably draconian outcome I would never risk. The Ministry has effectively mandated I either spend hours each day driving or busing with my kids, or hire a nanny to do that for me – an outcome they’d be hard pressed to recommend if I were a full-time single parent without the financial resources to accommodate this request.

Many parents in North American cities are, of course, worse off and have a more difficult time managing transportation for their kids. The prospect of having their children taken away as a result of needing to get around without a car is all too real.

Crook says he's planning a court challenge to establish the right of Canadian children to ride the bus. He's been crowdfunding for the legal defense and has raised more than $22,000 in eight days. So the story isn't over and might result in an important precedent.

More recommended reading today: The Bike League is asking supporters to take action against a spending bill in the House of Representatives that would undermine local funding for bikeways. And Greater Greater Washington has an update on Virginia DOT's plan to slap a bike trail right next to a noisy, exhaust-filled highway.

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