The Streetwalker

Last Night my twelve year old was picked up for streetwalking.

No, I really mean it. Last night two police cars with two big burly officers brought my beautiful blond haired boy home at 6:20 in the evening, and told me that they had picked him up in broad daylight... for walking down the street.

Images of Aodhan climbing up a lamp-post to get a closer look at the traffic signals flashed through my mind. Pictures of him standing at a dark alley explaining the negative aspects of smoke inhalation to a group of heroin shooting prostitutes and their pimps filtered in. Visions of him throwing a tantrum in the middle of the street because his overfilled knapsack finally gave up and spewed sketchbooks and pencils under assorted vehicles.

I shot Aodhan a look. You know, one of those looks only that only your mother can give you; the one that fills you with guilt for causing her pain in childbirth.

“I just wanted to walk home” he said dejectedly. “He’s not in any kind of trouble” the first officer said cheerfully. But then more sternly added “but he was walking on the downtown streets”. “We live downtown” I said, becoming confused. “Where is his school?” asked the second officer. “He’s in a camp this week, at the Jewish Community Centre - it’s at Spadina and Bloor”, I said wondering why two policemen would think a kid was in school in the middle of July. “Well ma’am, we picked him up at Yonge and Adelaide” he says, looking all strong and concerned. “Yes, I said, he was walking home, is that a problem?”. “He was walking.... alone...... downtown..........!!!” the officer gritted his teeth at my stupidity and spat out. “He’s 12”, he added as if this would make it all clear. “Do you not see the issue” he spurted? “So are you trying to tell me that because my child was getting exercise, being environmental and increasing his geographical skills, rather than sitting in the basement playing a video game, or hanging out in a mall, or sitting in a fast food restaurant filling his gutty wuts with hydrogenated trans sugar chemical slop, you were worried about him? Do you realize that at 12 he is old enough to babysit?” I asked.

I closed my eyes and thought of the 10, 11 and 12 year old International students I have had stay in my home. These kids had flown from places as far as Russia and South Korea... alone. Yes, their parents drove them to the airport, and put them on an airplane to go to a foreign country to live there with people they had never met.

My head swam as I thought of the hollow look in the eyes of a twelve year old boy living on the streets in Honduras. The sad look of the 12 year old girl selling candy in the marketplace in Bolivia, and the far away look in the thoughts of the 12 year old gypsy selling flowers at the restaurant in Greece. She dreamed of being on the streets in Canada. The Africa Trust tells a story about a group of abducted girls in Uganda. They were ordered to kill one of their peers for trying to escape, and beat her with sticks until she died. They were twelve years old. in Afghanistan the soldiers are continually confronting 12 year old suicide bombers. A twelve year old Yemen girl is happy to be divorced from her abusive husband... two years ago. They all would dream to be in as much danger as Aodhan.

No, my son is not in danger. I mean sure, some random occurrence could happen, but can we just keep them locked in their bedrooms? Safe in their bedrooms, like Cecilia Zhang or Madeleine McCann. So even this tack doesn’t work. Fear and adventure at some point has to be balanced. The chance of a child being abducted is 1 in 750,000. The chance of a child being solicited sexually by a stranger on the internet is 1 in 25. And, a child has a one in 6500 chance of being killed in a car accident. So picking him up after camp and driving him home so he can sit on the computer, well... you do the math. I guess I should really wait until he is older to let him walk on Yonge street alone. But then again, age didn’t do much for Jane Creba - and she was with her mother, so maybe I should just lock him in closet and hope for the best.
Last month I offered two women the chance to live in my downtown Toronto home for a week. The opportunity to have a free vacation in the city, in exchange for house-sitting and cooking dinner for my international students while I went to Brazil on a Federal Trade Mission with my husband.

One of the woman came to my house from a farm in the countryside. She had a lovely time and said that she and her children enjoyed meeting students from other parts of the world and had a great time exploring the city.
The other woman, who was supposed to be there for the other half of my visit, e-mailed me in Brazil. “I am SOOO very sorry, but T and I got to the house and did not feel safe there... I am not at your house and am not staying there... I don't want to offend anyone and I don't want to get into it anymore than saying we didn't feel safe in the house, in the neighbourhood, with my car in the back laneway. I could hear your one student who was home yelling in a different language thru his door.”

Wow! There I sat. 8000km away, and I now have to deal with someone who is afraid of being in their own country. Our house has been assessed by multiple International Language schools and Companies. They have toured my home and deemed it safe to place students, some as young as age 10.
We have never had any kind of break in to our house or vehicle parked at my house either in front or behind. We have never had any incident involving a student in my house. Fear, irrational fear. She knew I lived in downtown Toronto. She used to go to Ryerson and said she was familiar with the neighbourhood. She said it would be exciting to meet students from other countries. But somehow, when it all came together, it was just too much for her. Too much fear. Too afraid. This woman was so fearful of the city, that she felt justified to abandon me, to leave me in a lurch, to walk out of a contractual obligations. What kind of a world are we living in that allows people to believe that they have the right to hurt someone based on their own fears. The only thing I was really glad of through all of this, was that I was not her, and refuse to live my life controlled by fear and anxiety.
But I did some research, and I guess I kind of get it, I mean last week they just arrested someone in Toronto for keeping a loaded gun in their bedroom, but then again, he was out in the west end and not downtown. And, oh ya, he was 12. I guess that 12 year old realized what a dangerous city he was living in and felt he needed to protect himself. It’s so sad that Aodhan is under the delusion of living in a safe city where he feels he can just walk alone in broad daylight on major streets.

I looked up at the Police Officer standing in my living room. He looked down at me. Our eyes met and he stated bluntly. “I guess we have a different opinion of what is safe eh?” “Ya” I replied. “I guess we do”.


Cookie said…
This past week I've read about a woman in Detroit charged by the city's bylaw enforcement for having a garden in her front yard rather than grass, women in the US being charged with murder when they have actually miscarried their babies, and one other truly ridiculous thing that I can't recall at this hour. There is something rather twisted about our society but this is the reality of putting too much emphasis on Law and Order, and giving the police way too many resources that they don't honestly need - now they have to justify their existence.

I would love to say I'm surprised by what happened to Aodhan, but sadly I think the inmates are currently running the asylum and their biggest weapons are "Fear of the Other", "Fear of the Unknown" and "Fear of the Possible".

Now I'm going to go put another bandage on Rusty's chest - he scrapped himself while trying to jump off a swing but landing squarely on his front instead. And where was mother? Reading…. AT HOME!
Linda said…
And here I thought only Americans were this foolish about giving children some space. I applaud your defense of your son's ability to walk in the world. Good parents, too many Americans and Canadians apparently think, are those whose kids are hidden from the world, preferably indoors.
jon said…
I guess the policy officers are addressing the issue of your son walking in the streets by himself, from the standpoint of what they have seen in their experience in the past and not on what threat may or may not be present for your son. So they are not being objective. For people working in that field I think objectivity is sometimes very hard to come by.
Hilary said…
I'm sure you've heard of a little website called "Free Range Kids"...check it out if you haven't, it lots of fun and this would be a perfect story for them!! Anyway, great job on letting your son out and about, experiencing his world, gaining confidence, independence and a bit of exercise!

Jesus Christmas! That''s absurd. Glad it turned out ok in the end
Jesus Christmas! That''s absurd. Glad it turned out ok in the end
Patti said…
What a phenomenal story.

I admit to being irrationally plagued by fears that something will happen to my one of my children if they are out of my sight for even a minute. I might need to get couselling about it! LOL!

Thankyou so much for sending the link to Toronto Home Ed Events. It is the first time that I have found that it to be useful.

I look forward to reading more adventures of your family.
Definitely check out the Free Range Kids blog, if you haven't already!

This reminds me of an incident the other day where a bank manager tried to warn me that my son was having a conversation with a stranger. :-o

I was thrilled, but he clearly believed I was a negligent parent.
Like your son's incident, it gives a very strange and perhaps sad glimpse of emerging attitudes.
Anonymous said…
Wow. And here I thought we were safe from this American-style idiocy.
shlomit said…
Incredible. Every day I work with young people who are in real danger. My job is to support them and to elevate their voices. Getting adults to listen to them about their daily experiences and routine rights violations. I live in the same city as you. Crazy.

Good for you for raising a curious, confident boy!!

Don't give into the cops' worst first thinking. Let him walk alone again, maybe with a piece of paper in his pocket with written and signed consent from you for him to walk alone.
Anonymous said…
I have traveled to Toronto many times. It is a safe, clean city. The cops see bad things, but they need to step back and see they have actually done a good job and the city is safe.
As I put in a comment at FreeRangeKids, we need to reclaim the public streets. As these officers (and many more besides) demonstrate, the streets are for cops and suspects. No one else as any business being on the streets at any hour and if they do venture out, they are either a criminal or a victim — a crime waiting to happen.

Is that what we want?
Andy in Bayonne said…
I dunno, but Aodhan looks like he can take care of himself without police protection. What an odd world we're in.
Edward said…
Is there an internet address for the Police Department these Officers are a part of? You need to post it so we can all demand they explain the actions of these guys. We all need to demand an explanation.
Anonymous said…
@ jon: Not necessarily. I have a number of friends on the force. A sent them this blog, and they replied with "I wonder who those girlie girls were" (they are in a different division). Basically they thought those cops were too fearful. Sure they see a lot of things, but even they admit that it wasn't as bad as 15-20 years ago. When kids were allowed to walk downtown at younger than 12 with no problems with police.
Cynrey said…
Hi Elaine,

I'm writing a web article for Canadian Parents ( about how to know when your child is ready to walk to school alone... and when the rest of the world is ready.

I read your story about your 12-year-old getting picked up by police (so odd) and would like to interview you for my piece.

If you would be interested in speaking with me you can email me at (please don't publish that!) and we can set up a time for a phone interview. My deadline is this Friday, August 12, so I would need to speak with you before then.

Thanks much, Cynthia Reynolds
Mlle. Mak said…
Wowzers! That is one hell of a story!! I can't believe the cops felt that way so early in the evening..

I remember coming across Aodhan one afternoon in the Leslieville area, he was on his bike and I was on my way somewhere. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I have to admit I was surprised to see him alone, some vestiges of a "teacher instinct" kicked in -- the mild paranoia involving solo children that comes with my profession, but then I figured he obviously can take care of himself and I wished him a good day.

Your post puts this in perspective the larger, paternalistic perspective of the culture we live in.

For An Angel said…
This story reminds me of the short film 'The Most Beautiful Man in the World', which you can watch on Youtube. Some parents think that their being overprotective is good for their child and for their own safety but they have no idea how it really affects them because it's not obvious.
Ben said…
What a crazy story. I can no believe that happened.