Posts tagged parenthood

A teachers’ strike means, unfortunately, that we are living in interesting times

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Tomorrow is the start of a three-day strike that will impact nearly every person in British Columbia.  Roughly 41,000 teachers will withdraw their services following a recent vote of members of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (see the BCTF’s press release here). 

Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun reported that most public schools in the province will be closed tomorrow, as school authorities urge parents to make alternative arrangements for the supervision of their children.  With the strike having been announced on Thursday, parents will have had a couple of days to prepare for this, but school closures are never easy for anyone to deal with.  Many, many businesses and other organizations rely on employees, managers and contractors with children in public schools, and not everyone has a grandparent, friend or spouse with the flexibility to stay home and watch the kids.

In other words, this is gonna sting. 

So, how did we get here?!  Well, that really depends who you ask, but here are the basics of the story:

  • For the past decade or so, the BCTF and the provincial government – represented here by the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association - have locked horns over a variety of issues, including teachers’ wages and class size and composition.
  • The BCTF and the BCPSEA have been in high-level negotiation sessions without substantial progress for the past year, and the BCTF has been in a heightened state of protest since September. 
  • Last week, the British Columbia Labour Relations Board ruled that the BCTF could strike for three days without breaking the BCLRB decision designating education as an essential service, provided the BCTF gave the BCPSEA at least two days’ notice and the teachers did not picket.
  • Later that day, George Abbott, the Minister of Education, introduced Bill 22 (BC Legislature), which is intended to end the dispute and return the parties to mediation with particular references for the mediator.  The BCTF was horrified with Bill 22.

Which brings us to tomorrow.  Here is the Vancouver Sun editorial board’s take on the situation, clearly siding with the government. 

The BCTF has beat out the government on many of the legal issues connected to the tit-for-tat over the years.  Most recently, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled (see here) that certain provisions of the School Act (BC Laws) dealing with class size that were introduced by the government to remove them from the bargaining table were unconstitutional.

The challenge for both sides may be to try to win the battle and the war.  The BCTF may win in the streets, the legislature or the courtroom but lose in the dining rooms – and for the months and years that follow, that may make all the difference.

Never get parenting advice from your lawyer

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We rely on experts – doctors, accountants, electricians, plumbers, lawyers, etc. - a great deal for a variety of reasons, though not always for reasons we are ready to admit. 

We rely on them, obviously, because they know how to do something that we don’t, and the risk of us trying to do it anyways and failing miserably is far more concerning than devoting the right resources to get an expert involved. 

But another reason we rely on experts is that we’re just plain freaked out or too riled up by the circumstances we find ourselves in, and we need someone who looks like they know what they’re talking about to calmly identify what needs to be fixed and to provide a plausible solution.

My experience is that the second reason is far more significant than we are prepared to accept.  Occassionally, in those cases, the call to the expert is justified, but quite often the scope of their advice is not.  I don’t mean dentists giving you accounting advice along with a routine cleaning, or an electrician suggesting you invest in shares of Walmart.  The issue here isn’t necessarily with what they say or with them at all.  I am talking about our failure to put their advice in perspective

A dentist can suggest certain dental work be done, but ultimately it is on us to decide how that advice will affect the rest of our priorities (e.g. how much work will I need to miss, and how much will the work cost me?).  A dentist can be really good at answering dental questions, but it doesn’t relieve us of the burden of trying to make the dentist’s answers fit with our other, possibly competing, responsibilities.

This concern applies specifically to legal advice.  Dental work usually only affects the patient, but legal work is almost by definition something that is intended to impact others.  I have been fortunate to see clients who treasure their family above all else, and who scrutinize legal advice to carefully consider how it will affect their family in the short-term and the long-term and whether any other relationships important to them can be harmed by legal action.

But, as parents, our reliance on lawyers in the appropriate circumstances should never involve delegating our responsibilities as parents to people who are not experts in parenting.  Lawyers, even those that may be perfectly wonderful parents themselves, should only be expected to figure out one piece of the puzzle: to identify the legal problem and to provide a plausible solution that puts us, their client, in the best possible legal position, often to the detriment of others. 

From what I understand (and I would love to be proven wrong), parenting never gets any easier, no matter how old your children become.  Whether your child has a legitimate claim against an educational institution, or a dispute arises between family or community members, it is essential to remind yourself that a lawyer can make suggestions, but ultimately you are the one in the captain’s seat.

If your child destroys school property, your insurance policy may not cover it

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A couple wanting having a child may bring up the pros and cons, the arguments for and against, the risks and the unknowables.  What will it mean for their financial needs and goals to add the significant costs of parenthood while reducing the family income?  What will it mean for their parents and grandparents to hold the next generation in their arms and watch them grow?  How will they respond if the child is born with a severe illness or disability?  Will the child care for them in their old age?

Everyone is someone’s child, whether you know them because of their successes or failures, their acheivements or improprieties.  The miracle and nightmare of parenthood is that you can do everything or nothing right, and your child can end up loving you or hating you, making you proud or causing immeasurable sorrow and shame, burning through your money or providing for your in your retirement.  You feel compelled to do everything you can (and there is a lot to do), but ultimately your actions are no more a determination of your child’s conduct as adults and young adults than your parents’ actions were or are a determination of your conduct today.

Kids are, in different ways at every stage of life, like bulls in a china shop.  The question for parents is whether they end up barging, head-down, through the aisles, or moving responsibly on to the next challenge.  For some parents, they think: at least I have insurance.

In the recent case of Durham District School Board v Grodesky (CanLII), a parent was told their insurance wouldn’t cut it when it came to their child’s misconduct.  Here are the facts:

  • In the spring of 2007, Colton James started a fire to the contents of his school’s plastic recycling bins that ultimately lead to damage to the school building. 
  • The school board sued Colton along with his father, Tood James, claiming that Todd failed to act in terms of providing/enforcing a curfew, supervising, disciplining and instilling in Colton a respect for private and public property.
  • Todd tried to get his insurer, ING, to defend the claim against him and to reimburse him for any related costs, but ING denied coverage on the basis of the “exclusion clause” in Todd’ policy.  This is the exclusion clause:

Exclusion Status Section II: We do not insure your claims arising from: (6) Bodily injury or property damage caused by any intentional or criminal act or failure to act by: (a) any person insured by this policy; or (b) any other person at the direction of any person insured by this policy.

In other words, even though Todd had comprehensive homeowner’s insurance that covered any personal liabilities connected to property damage anywhere in the world, his insurance company insisted this one fell outside the line.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice agreed with the insurance company.  Here is how Justice Gunsolus summarized the law in this area (at least in Ontario):

Where an insured [e.g. Todd] seeks to enforce a duty to defend [e.g. in the lawsuit against his son and him], the onus is on the insured to show that the claim, if proven, falls within the scope of coverage provided by the policy.  Only when this threshold is met, does the onus shift to the insurer [e.g. ING] to show that the claim falls outside the coverage because of an applicable exclusion.  Where it is clear from the pleadings that the claim falls outside of the coverage of the policy, by reason of an exclusion clause, the duty to defend does not arise.

Translating from legalese, this is the idea: based on the language of the policy, Todd would need to first show that if he lost the lawsuit with the school board the resulting liabilities would be covered by the policy.  However, since in this case the lawsuit specifically claimed that Todd’s failure to act led to the property damage (and since that sort of conduct by Todd is outside the scope of the policy because of the exclusion clause), ING does not need to defend him. 

At the end of the day, the court may find that Todd did everything right as a parent in connection with his son’s misconduct, in which case ING would likely return to the fray.

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