In a recent Quebec decision that made headlines, a father was stripped of custody of his son, in part because of his beliefs and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents Go to Court over Custody

The parents’ son was born in 2009. The parents separated in 2010, and the son lived mainly with the mother.

In 2016, a court awarded the parents joint custody of the son.

However, from the start, the son complained to his mother about living with his father. Specifically, the son complained that his father, who had become vegan, forced him to eat foods he didn’t want to and used natural products on his clothes instead of detergent. The son also claimed that the father used non-toxic creams instead of sunscreen, which led to the son having several sunburns.

While the mother encouraged the son to maintain his relationship with the father, in 2018, the then 9-year-old told his mother that he would rather stop living that go to his father’s house.

When the court heard the case in December 2020, the son also accused the father of swearing and instances of physical violence, which the father denied.

Additionally, the son claimed that the father refused to follow COVID-19 health measures, including refusing to wear a mask and calling people who followed the government’s health recommendations idiots.

Mother Awarded Sole Custody

The court began by setting out the relevant provisions to custody decisions under the Civil Code of Québec:

32. Every child has a right to the protection, security and attention that his parents or the persons acting in their stead are able to give to him.

33. Every decision concerning a child shall be taken in light of the child’s interests and the respect of his rights.

Consideration is given, in addition to the moral, intellectual, emotional and physical needs of the child, to the child’s age, health, personality and family environment, and to the other aspects of his situation.

While the court noted that the status quo should generally be maintained in custody cases, it explained that stability should not be maintained in all cases. 

In evaluating the evidence, the court first accepted the son’s claims that the father had been violent with him and rejected the father’s denial. The court also observed that, while a parent is entitled to adopt a vegan lifestyle, there should be limits to the extent it is imposed on a child.

The court then turned its attention to the father’s behaviour with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. It noted that the father refused to wear a mask in most situations, including in public places and around the child. Additionally, it found that the father did not wear a mask at work, where he was employed as a janitor in a day care center.It accepted the son’s testimony that the father mocked people who followed COVID-19 health guidelines. The court then stated:

“The father’s behaviour is precisely one of the causes of the spread of the virus within the most vulnerable population. 

Secondly, the reasons given by the father regarding his failure to wear a mask are neither justified nor justifiable. He says he has health problems but there is no medical evidence for his claim. Simply finding wearing a mask unpleasant is not enough to self-diagnose a medical condition. Few people really like to wear a mask, yet it is compulsory to protect the health of others.” [translated]

With regard to the father’s negative comments about those who follow COVID-19 health guidelines, the court stated:

“[A]lthough freedom of expression is a recognized right, this does not go so far as to allow an adult to denigrate and discredit, in the presence of his minor child, citizens who respect the rules decreed by the health authorities in the midst of a pandemic. The message sent by the parent to his child is then that it is not important to respect the law or the health and safety of others, which prompts this court to question the father’s parental capacities in matters of education and well-being of the child and, consequently, the arrangements for custody.” [translated]

As a result, with regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the son’s wishes, the court awarded the mother sole custody of the son, with access visits for the father.

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At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (905) 695-1269 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.