Here is the story.
B.C. fuming over judge's smoking privileges
It's not uncommon to see a gaggle of smokers huddled outside an office building. But at the British Columbia Supreme Court, one senior employee is allowed to light up inside, thanks to renovations paid for using taxpayer dollars.
Madam Justice Mary Southin of the B.C. Court of Appeal received $19,000 of public money to pay for a ventilation system in her office, allowing her to smoke without leaving the building.
An anonymous complaint last fall prompted a Worker's Compensation Board investigation of the Supreme Court building's fourth floor. In one office, the WCB found two ashtrays and "detected a faint smell of tobacco smoke." Investigators concluded workers on the floor were being exposed to second hand smoke.
The complaint led to extensive renovations on Madam Justice Southin's office, including the addition exhaust fans, new wiring and a new window. The total tab, all of it passed along to taxpayers, was almost $19,000.
B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant defended the costly renovations by saying they will keep Madam Justice Southin in place. Without them, he says, she might have resigned.
"We thought it would have been a loss to the public, possible additional years of her service and her tremendous expertise, but also a financial cost in terms of paying the pension she'd be entitled to if she stepped down now."
There was also the legal issue of whether Madam Justice Southin's offices were considered part of her workplace or were more of a post-work sanctuary.
While the ventilation system ensures clean air for Madam Justice Southin's colleagues, city councillor and anti-smoking activist Fred Bass isn't sure the renovations were the most democratic solution.
"I think people should be treated the same," said Bass. "In a democratic society hopefully people would be treated the same."
Smoking in the workplace is not permitted in Vancouver unless there is a separate smoking room with a ventilation system