YMCA admits mistake by lifeguard as woman files
complaint to rights commission
Sep 19, 2007 04:30 AM
family issues reporter
"Born to be breastfed."
"It's your right."
The message from recent public education campaigns is as clear as the cries of a hungry baby. A mother has the right to breastfeed wherever and whenever she chooses.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission said it eight years ago. Health Canada has spread the word for years. And so has the City of Toronto. But somehow, even in major family-oriented community organizations, not everyone hears.
A Pickering mother of three says she filed a complaint with the human rights commission on Monday after a lifeguard at the Scarborough YMCA asked her to move from the pool deck where she was breastfeeding her baby.
Carolynn Prior, a midwife, said the incident occurred on Sept. 1 when she was nursing her 5-month-old son while watching her older children, ages 7 and 9, take swimming lessons. According to Prior, a lifeguard approached her, suggested she would be more comfortable in the childcare facility and said "this is a family place and it might offend someone."
"I was shocked," Prior said. "It felt like a blow. I walked around for the rest of the day in a daze. I felt really singled out and embarrassed."
She refused to leave on the grounds she had a right to breastfeed there but says a prolonged exchange in front of other parents made her feel "that breastfeeding my son was obscene and breastfeeding should only occur away from public areas."
Steven Heipel, vice-president of communications of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, acknowledged yesterday the incident occurred and called it "an error in judgment" by the lifeguard and the supervisor she consulted.
"We are a breastfeeding-friendly and a family-friendly organization. That is not our practice. We are taking this very seriously."
Heipel said an email was sent out to all staff on Monday reminding them that no one should interfere with any woman nursing her child on YMCA premises. He said employees were told that if a member complains about someone breastfeeding, the onus is on staff to address that person's discomfort, and not the nursing mother's actions.
Prior said she wants a public written apology from the YMCA and an assurance that this won't happen to anyone else. She also wants the organization to agree to mandatory education and training for staff so they understand the rights of breastfeeding mothers.
The incident comes eight years after the case of a Newmarket woman, ordered by a restaurant employee to go to the washroom to nurse or leave, went to the human rights commission and won an apology and financial compensation.
As a result of that settlement, the commission launched a public awareness campaign with several other partners, including Toronto Public Health, aimed at stopping discrimination against nursing mothers and babies.
"Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, refusing or denying a service to a pregnant or nursing mother constitutes discrimination because of sex and being in a parent-child relationship," said a news release in 2000. That includes nursing in restaurants, shopping malls and stores, schools, parks and other recreational facilities.
Jeff Poirier, communications manager for the commission, couldn't confirm that Prior's complaint had been filed or comment on the specifics of the case. But he said it's an issue that routinely comes up and the commission's policy is clear.