National Post

December 2, 2000

Father asks court to protect child from mother's smoke

B.C. man denies 'power trip' and says son's health is at stake

King Lee
National Post, with files from The Times Colonist

Jason Arsenault

VICTORIA - A British Columbia man is seeking a court order to stop his former wife from taking their seven-year-old son on an extended trip because she smokes in the car.

Jason Arsenault, 28, has refused to give Elizabeth Howse, 27, permission to take their son, Dustin, on a trip to Arizona on Dec. 15 because Ms. Howse will not agree to refrain from smoking in the car. Her boyfriend, who is going on the trip as well, also smokes.

Although the case will be watched closely by anti-smoking groups, Mr. Arsenault, a former smoker, said he did not want it to become a test case for non-smokers' rights.

"This is all about speaking for the child," he said. "Go ahead and smoke; just keep it away from the children."

Mr. Arsenault said smoking has been an ongoing problem between him and his former wife. He said the issue came to a boil about six weeks ago when Ms. Howse admitted lying to him about not smoking around their son.

He and Ms. Howse have been separated since Dustin was about six months old, but Mr. Arsenault said they had a verbal agreement when the child was born that they would not smoke around him.

"We wouldn't smoke around our child," Mr. Arsenault said yesterday.

Mr. Arsenault, who has two daughters, aged six and two years, living with him and his current wife, Shelley, said he launched the court action after Ms. Howse refused to sign a form promising not to smoke around the boy.

"She thinks I'm on a power trip trying to control her life," said Mr. Arsenault, who will be representing himself when the case is heard in Family Court in Victoria Dec. 14. He maintained it is a health issue and said his son is angry at him over the publicity generated by the court case.

"My son doesn't like me and doesn't want to see me right now."

Shelley Arsenault said Dustin told them his mother and her boyfriend smoked in the car and the house and that he didn't like it. She said the boy was to ask them not to smoke in front of him and that when he did, he was told it was their car and their rules applied.

Eike Kluge, a philosophy professor at the University of Victoria specializing in medical ethics, said the issues raised by the court action have generated considerable interest.

"What it goes to is the very heart of the issue of what the obligations of parents are to their children in terms of doing the best for the children, and whether parental habits or addiction may put a child at risk."

"The very same logic would then entail that an alcoholic parent should, in fact, have the children removed even though they may have control of their alcoholism."

The outcome of the case could be far-reaching if such wide issues are pressed, he said.

Jeff McDonald, spokesman for the B.C. Lung Association, said the case raises the issue of the danger of second-hand smoke.

Ms. Howse had no comment about the case when contacted yesterday.

While she has sole custody of their son, Mr. Arsenault has guardian rights and must give his written permission for Dustin to be taken out of the country.

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