Globe and Mail

Mother ordered to butt out in the car

From Friday's Globe
Globe and Mail Update
Friday, December 15, 2000

A judge is allowing a British Columbia mother to take her seven-year-old son to Arizona on a Christmas holiday after she promised in court yesterday not to light up in the car during the trip.

But the boy's father is still seeking a court order to prevent his former common-law wife from smoking around their son Dustin in a Victoria case that sparked attention over the effects of secondhand smoke on children.

"I'm pleased," Jason Arsenault told reporters outside family court after Provincial Court Judge Wayne Smith approved the three-week trip on the condition that the boy's mother not smoke in the car during the vacation. "But I just hope she holds to the agreement."

The 28-year-old truck driver had refused to sign a permission form allowing his son to go to the United States unless the boy's mother, Elizabeth Howse, and her boyfriend promised not to smoke during the trip.

Ms. Howse took Mr. Arsenault to family court to seek access during the holidays. The couple, separated since Dustin was an infant, have joint guardianship of their son. The boy spends weekends with his father and requires the permission of both parents to leave the country.

Ms. Howse's lawyer, Leigh Freeman, told court the boy's mother and her unnamed companion, who sat together in the front row of the courtroom, agreed to refrain from smoking in the car during the holiday so they could start their vacation as planned today.

The 27-year-old sheet-metal worker would not comment.

Ms. Freeman, who had asked for a court ban to prevent media from attending or publishing the proceedings, also refused to comment. She told court the publicity around the case has not been in Dustin's best interest.

Mr. Arsenault's lawyer, Gary Coad, said he will seek a permanent court ban to prevent Ms. Howse from smoking in front of her son at a hearing next month. A date has not been set.

Mr. Arsenault told reporters he is looking out only for his son's health.

"He understands where I'm coming from," he said. "He was quite understanding that his Dad is looking out for his best interests and that's what it's all about."

His son's vacation was to include a trip to Disneyland in California, he said.

Mr. Arsenault said the media coverage hasn't bothered the boy.

"He thinks he's a star," he said. He said it was his son who raised the issue of his mother's smoking.

Mr. Arsenault, who quit smoking two years ago, said the case isn't about non-smokers' rights.

He also has two daughters, aged six and two, living with him and his current wife, Shelley.

He said he and Ms. Howse had a verbal agreement when their son was born that they would not smoke around him. Mr. Arsenault said he has never smoked in front of his children.

Antismoking advocates across Canada were watching the case closely yesterday.

The issue of secondhand smoke and children has been raised in family courts in Ontario and B.C. in recent years by parents seeking to legally block smoking parents from visits and custody.

Some involved cases of asthmatic children.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society in Ottawa, said the legal battle mirrors long-held concerns by advocates over the impact of secondhand smoke on children.

"We recognize the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on children and adults," Mr. Cunningham said. "There's lots of evidence that it causes bronchitis, pneumonia, inner-ear infections in children." Secondhand smoke has also been linked to children with asthma, he said.

The dangers are clearly spelled out on federally regulated warning labels by Health Canada on cigarette packages cautioning parents about secondhand smoke's harmful effects on children, he said.

The Victoria case could set a precedent for Canadian parents who smoke around their children, said Jack Boomer of the Clean Air Coalition of B.C.

"We know secondhand smoke causes cancer and it does contribute to serious illnesses in children," he said.

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