B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George, B.C. (Google Maps)

Returning children to father “essential travel” judge rules in Pitt parent’s case

A custody dispute hinged on fears of the children catching coronavirus en route

Fears over coronavirus contamination were behind a child custody dispute between a Pitt Meadows mother and the father in Prince George.

The parents, identified as V.C.S and T.S. in court documents, had split their custody between the residence of the father, V.C.S., in Prince George when school was in session, and mother T.S.’s Pitt Meadows home during holidays.

Two of the couple’s three children spent the March spring break with their mother, while the oldest child stayed in Prince George.

But after spring break ended, T.S. was reluctant to give up custody.

“T.S. argues that due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is unsafe for the children to be transported from Pitt Meadows to Prince George, a drive of around eight to nine hours,” noted Justice Cassandra Malfair, in her April 1 decision in Prince George Provincial Court.

The lawyer for T.S. mentioned news reports about the potential dangers of COVID-19 and the mysteries around its transmission, but the judge noted that she cannot base a decision on “anecdotal news reports of individual cases.”

T.S. argued that asymptomatic people could be using public washrooms along the route to 100 Mile House, where the children were to be exchanged, or beyond to Prince George.

“The potential transmission of the virus by asymptomatic people is a possibility in any public setting, including sidewalks and grocery stores, and is not particular to washrooms,” the judge said. “Despite that risk, I note the health authorities have not sequestered everyone to their houses and banned all public outings.”

“I have been provided no evidence as to why it is particularly unsafe for the children to use public washrooms in these facilities when it is not unsafe for other Canadians to do so,” she added later.

The judge also noted that the mother did not object to the journey the opposite direction at the start of spring break.

“I note that V.C.S. drove the children down to T.S. on March 15, 2020, in the midst of this pandemic,” said the judge. “She expressed no concern about the children being put at risk when the children were being transported to the Lower Mainland so as to facilitate her parenting time.”

The trip home to be with their father was essential travel, the judge ruled.

“For the last six years, the children’s residence in Prince George has been home. They should go home.”

She also made an RCMP enforcement clause on the order to return the children.

As far as concerns over food, T.S. could pack meals for the children, thus avoiding take-out restaurants, the judge said.

This is not the first time T.S. has refused to return the children at the end of holidays. V.C.S went to court in 2014 after T.S. refused to return the youngest child, and a judge had to order her to give up her custody.

T.S. has also been ordered to pay child support to V.C.S.

This is not the only local child custody case that has been impacted by COVID-19.

Another case in April about whether two children of a separated couple would live in Vancouver or Maple Ridge also included issues in which Judge Patricia Bond ruled the two children could go to Maple Ridge for visitation with their father.

She note the parents had communicated poorly about the father’s steps taken in the household to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

BC Supreme Courtchild custodyCoronavirus

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