Saanich Police responded to a call early Wednesday afternoon reporting that a parent had left their four year old child alone in their SUV while she apparently went into the grocer to pick up a few items.
“We received a call that the child was alone in the SUV in a car at McKenzie and Shelbourne (Tuscany Village). The windows were open and the mom was on the scene by the time our officers arrived a few minutes later,” said police spokesperson Sgt. Jereme Leslie.
“B.C. Ambulance had also been contacted and they ensured that the child was medically OK, and we’ve contacted the Ministry of Children and Family Development as they’re the ones who are responsible for child protection in B.C. Our portion of the investigation is over.”
It’s not unusual that this sort of call is made to the police, particularly as the weather begins to warm up, but Ministry spokesperson, Shawn Larabee said that there are no hard and fast rules about how long a child may be left unattended.
While not able to comment on this specific case, he went on to say that the ministry has received occasional calls in the past about this issue.
“It is the public’s duty to report any situation in which a child may be at risk, which could include being left alone in a vehicle. If a child is in immediate danger, you should call police to intervene. Police will then work with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to determine whether the child is in need of protection,” said Larabee.
“Each and every time the ministry is contacted we look into the circumstances, assess the risk to the child and the parent’s ability to provide care. Based on those findings, we would take the most appropriate course of action to help ensure the child’s safety and protect their best interests.”
The majority of provinces and territories do not limit the age at which a child can be left alone in their statutory rules. However, in two provinces (Manitoba and New Brunswick), the welfare acts state that a parent cannot leave a child under the age of 12 unattended without making provision for adequate supervision.
In Ontario, the statutory limit is 16 years.
When it comes to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, only Quebec establishes a statutory age limit (seven years).
However, where the statutes are silent as to the age at which a child can be left home alone, the courts have weighed in their position and courts have noted that cars are subject to some inherent dangers.
Children restrained in a car seat are unable to escape the vehicle, should an emergency arise. The vehicle itself can be hit, even in a parking lot, catch fire or be stolen in mere moments.
“”Parents should exercise sound judgment and be aware of the significant risks of leaving infants or toddlers alone in a vehicle,” said Larabee.