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City parent defended by 'worst mom'

Abandonment case continues

'Worst mom' Lenore Skenazy is a New York-based writer who founded the Free-Range Kids movement.


'Worst mom' Lenore Skenazy is a New York-based writer who founded the Free-Range Kids movement.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/1/2015 (1963 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Was a Winnipeg mom wrong to leave her six-year-old son home alone for 90 minutes?

Or are police and justice officials acting like helicopter parents?

Either way, America's worst mom is on her side.

New York City resident Lenore Skenazy says the Winnipeg mom -- who left her son alone in a locked bungalow on a summer afternoon with the TV on and food and water with him -- should not have been charged with child abandonment.

Skenazy said, at most, the mother should have been told "don't do it again."

"Just because something makes you feel uncomfortable or self-righteous doesn't make it dangerous," Skenazy said during a phone interview Tuesday.

"This mother loves her child more than anyone. She knows her child better than the judge, lawyers and police.

"Every parent makes decisions that other parents don't agree with."

Skenazy knows what it's like to be accused of bad parenting.

She made international headlines in 2008 and was dubbed America's worst mom after she gave subway fare to her nine-year-old son so he could fulfil his request of finding his way home by himself.

Since then, Skenazy has written the book Free-Range Kids, is the host of the TV show World's Worst Mom, and has been interviewed by media outlets from around the world. She said free-range kids are treated as smart people who don't need to be watched constantly.

Earlier this week, a Winnipeg mother was on trial after pleading not guilty to child abandonment.

Provincial court Judge Margaret Wiebe was told the woman left her child alone at home for 90 minutes so she could run some errands.

Court was told the child's father -- the parents are separated -- spotted the mom driving alone on Pembina Highway and phoned the home. When the child said he was alone, the dad called police.

The Crown called it abandonment and argued there were numerous ways the child could have been injured or worse while alone, including turning on the stove, choking on food or falling out of a window.

"Just because nothing bad happened, that's not the test," Crown attorney Nancy Fazenda said.

Michael Law, the woman's lawyer, said there was no evidence of potential harm brought forward and said people who had been convicted of the offence in the past had left their children in vehicles during hot summer or cold winter days, or with weapons.

"It must be more than purely speculative," he said.

Skenazy said she doesn't understand why the mother has not seen her son since she was arrested 18 months ago. Law would only say Child and Family Services is involved in the case.

"That's horrific," she said. "How's that in the best interests of the child?"

Skenazy said the court case is one more example of how North American society is too protective of children.

"I was walking to school as a kindergartner. Now you can't ever walk to school when you are 10," she said.

"What we have done is massively underestimate our children and massively overestimate the danger."

Arthur Schafer, a University of Manitoba professor and the director of the U of M Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said whatever happens to the Winnipeg woman will be at the discretion of the court and will take into consideration whether harm was intended or negligently risked through her actions and what, if any, punishment there should be.

"The defence that nothing bad came of it, if the child had come to harm, it would have been worse," Schafer said. "Imagine two parents who leave their kids for the same length of time in a locked house in similar circumstances and one house burns down and the other doesn't or in one, the child manages to fall out of a window to its death and the other that doesn't happen. But they could equally have happened so both can be very serious."

If the woman was convicted, Schafer said he would expect any punishment would take into account that the woman hasn't seen her child in 18 months.

"It seems unlikely they'd need to imprison her or fine her heavily. The fact that she has suffered greatly, she's lost custody of her child, she's been stigmatized, she's been charged, even if she's not convicted, might be viewed by the court as sufficient punishment. Or not."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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Updated on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 8:08 AM CST: Replaces photo

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