BASS: All fledgling parents should give thanks to Fiona Johnstone
When my first maternity leave was about to end, I advertised for an in-home child-care provider.
Several people responded to the ad, but none really resonated with me until the woman we all came to know as Nana walked into my life.
A retired senior, she was the only one to ask to meet my then six-month-old daughter — and it was more than just going through the motions.
Nana engaged with my daughter and it just felt right to hire her.
Two children later, Nana was still with me, showing up every morning by 8 a.m., ready to spend another day with the kids.
Sure, she would get bored when they napped and used that time to do laundry — something she said she wanted to do and, boy, she was a lot better at it than I was — or she’d simply sit and rest.
After all, she wasn’t some young, in-there-for-the-money child-care provider. She was a senior who was quite content to simply make enough money caring for my kids to pay the rent on the house where she lived.
After that, she had her pension and the survivor pension left her by her husband.
Nana was integral to our life.
Even when the kids started to attend a pre-school for half-days a few times a week, she came to the house to be there when they came home.
Again, I was lucky enough to have an employer who would accommodate my need to get my kids to the pre-school — a parent-participating one, which meant I also spent a few hours there once or twice a month, again with my employer’s blessing — or bring them home from school.
On the days when Nana didn’t feel quite up to riding the bus to work, she’d have me take the kids to her house, where she had a room set up with toys and puzzles and everything a kid would want to play with.
It was a perfect setup that lasted until the middle child entered kindergarten, when age finally caught up with this amazing woman.
By then, she had spent five years with us and was part of the family.
By the time the last two boys came along, we had found another wonderful woman just up the street who was offering child care.
She had a little on the age of one of our two kids and it was more like a play date every day for them.
By the time the one was ready for kindergarten, there was a day-care facility in the school providing care for children during the other half-days they weren’t in class.
Not everyone has this kind of situation.
In fact, it’s far from the norm.
And, it’s why working parents need to thank Fiona Johnstone and her husband, parents probably few Canadians have ever heard of in the past.
In 2003, the Johnstones had a child.
The couple both worked at the Canada Border Services Agency at Pearson Airport in Toronto, scheduled for rotating shifts.
The agency operated a schedule that included six start times on different days of the week over a 560-day period.
Fiona asked that she be given more-stable shifts so she could deal with child care.
All she wanted, she said, was to be given three 13-hour shifts a week to keep her full-time status and work out child care with her family.
Her request was denied.
The explanation the agency gave her was that stable work shifts could only be accommodated if she dropped to part-time status.
Fiona had another child in 2004 and, returning to work in 2005, made the same request and was given the same answer.
She filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and, years later, it was finally heard.
The tribunal ruled in her favour, saying the border agency’s actions were discriminatory.
The federal court reviewed the case and, in a ruling released earlier this month, Justice Leonard Mandamin ordered employers to accommodate reasonable child-care-related requests from employees.
Experts in the legal field are now expecting this interpretation to be expanded in coming years to address elder care, as well.
But, for now, parents need to know about this ruling and share it with others.