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B.C.’s Parental Responsibility Act — Is it Worthwhile?

B.C.’s Parental Responsibility Act — Is it Worthwhile?

In August 2001 – over 10 years ago – British Columbia passed legislation titled the Parental Responsibility Act.  At the time, it was heralded as a positive step towards making parents more generally accountable for the conduct and (mis)behaviour of their children.  Among other things the Act gives individuals whose property has been damaged by children the right to sue the children’s parents for compensation.   (It does not go so far as to create an offence – criminal or otherwise – of failing to supervise one’s children, however).

The key provision of the Act imposes potential financial liability for property damage on a parent of any child who “intentionally takes, damages or destroys property of another person”.  The maximum award under the Act is $10,000 (which falls within the jurisdiction of the B.C. Small Claims Court).

In terms of resisting liability, parents may rely on stipulated defences in the Act, specifically that he or she:

• was exercising reasonable supervision over the child at the time the child engaged in the activity that caused the property loss, and

• made reasonable efforts to prevent or discourage the child from engaging in the kind of activity that caused the property loss.

With regard to what constitutes the exercise of “reasonable supervision” and “reasonable efforts to prevent or discourage the child” from engaging in the damage-causing behaviour, the court may consider any of the following:

• the age and maturity of the child;

• the prior conduct of the child;

• the likelihood that the activity would result in property loss;

• psychological or medical disorders, psychological, physical or learning disabilities or emotional disturbances of the child;

• whether the likelihood of property loss arising from the child’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable by the parent;

• whether the child was under the supervision of the parent when the child engaged in the activity that resulted in the property loss;

• if the child was not under the supervision of the parent when the child engaged in the activity that resulted in the property loss, whether the parent made reasonable arrangements for the supervision of the child;

• whether the parent has sought to improve his or her parenting skills by attending parenting courses or in any other manner;

• whether the parent has sought professional assistance for the child, designed to discourage activity of the kind that resulted in the property loss;

• psychological or medical disorders, psychological, physical or learning disabilities or emotional disturbances of the parent; and

• any other matter that the court considers relevant to the determination.

It all sounds like a good idea, right?

The reality is that even though the Act remains in force in B.C., it seems to be seldom used in practice.  In the 10 years since it was enacted, there appear to be only two court decisions that apply or even refer to it.

Do you think we need a law like this in Ontario?   I would love to hear your thoughts.

For the full text of the legislation, see:

Parental Responsibility Act, S.B.C. 2001, c. 45  http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/00_01045_01

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com