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posted January 31, 2004

Breastfeeding at the rink

Contrary to the impression that some readers of this newsletter may have got from NOW Magazine [ed. read the article] or the dufferingrovefriends list serve recently, breastfeeding is (and always has been) as welcome at Dufferin Rink as breathing, talking, or any other basic human activity. For the record: Dufferin Rink is probably the most family and baby-friendly rink in Toronto. Where there are lots of babies, there are lots of babies being breastfed. Mothers can, and do, nurse their babies on the rocking chair by the rink wood stove, at the checkers table while playing a game with another child, out at the side of the rink while watching their family skate, during the farmers' market - anywhere, anytime. It's the rare mother who chooses to cover herself with a blanket while she's breastfeeding at the rink - why should she? She and her baby are part of the colourful quilt of all that goes on in the rink clubhouse, all that makes it beautiful. Often there's so much else going on, nobody notices the babies being fed anyway. And if a baby is very fussy or the rink house is too crowded, and a mother wants to withdraw into a quieter, more private place, there's a comfortable wicker chair in the sink area of the women's washroom. That sink area is also, incidentally, the cleanest part of the rink house. (Our park budget doesn't include a CUPE Local 416 janitor-cleaner, despite the very large numbers of people who come to the rink house every week. So the clubhouse section gets rather dusty.)

Once in a while, a breastfeeding mother exposes more of herself than usual, perhaps forgetting that she's not in her living room, but rather in a mixed-age/ mixed-gender/ mixed-culture/ mixed-income rink house. Jutta Mason recently asked a mother to cover up more of her upper body, as she was preparing to breastfeed just after Friday Night Supper. The mother was very unhappy about the request. She reported Jutta to the city councillor and to the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park, saying that her "comments constitute gender harrassment and are a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code." This action started an e-mail flurry on the park list serve, spreading out to NOW Magazine and then being passed to several breastfeeding list-serve forums elsewhere in North America. Our local elected representative, Councillor Adam Giambrone, worked with the City of Toronto Parks Department and a Saskatchewan advocacy group called Breastfeeding News to create a city breastfeeding policy. The policy is very cutting-edge. It exempts breastfeeding mothers from any clothing restrictions whatsoever, and broadens parts of Human Rights Commissions "guidelines" (not yet tested in the courts) to interpret even the drawing of a privacy curtain near an unclothed mother as an unlawful interference in the delicate process of feeding a baby.

Such a radical interpretation is impressive, but not practical in a rink house with such diverse users as ours. And although some of our recent e-critics are of the opinion that "those who feel uncomfortable are free to leave," we prefer to keep all the rink users with us, mixed as before. If necessary, the clubhouse can revert to its separate male side/female side change areas. That's how it used to be, until about eight years ago (a group of us committed an act of "community vandalism" and demolished the inside wall that separated the two areas). There has been lots of wonderful fun in that joined-up clubhouse since then, but the curtain to separate the areas is still there for tournaments, and therefore it's easy to re-establish separate change areas.

That may not be necessary though. In the eight years since the wall went down, we never had a demand for a policy statement, nor a human rights complaint, nor even much evidence of careless undressing by persons unmindful that they are in a community that reaches beyond their own kind. There was some recent e-discussion among a group wanting to come from other parts of the city and beyond to set up a "rowdy nurse-in" at our "infamous" rink. If that occurs, the separate change areas will be re-established. Until then, we'll keep the rink house joined up and friendly as before.

posted January 19, 2005

Email Correspondence with Dr. Paul Rapoport of the Topfree Equal Rights Association:


As you are probably aware, many American states have recently passed pro- breastfeeding laws that do not tell a mother how she must perform that act. Some make it a crime to interfere with breastfeeding of any sort. Strictly, Ontario needs no such laws, because it is legal for a woman to be completely barebreasted nearly any time, including in the rink should she wish, for no evident purpose at all. I refer you to the appeal of Jacob v. R., decided in the appellant's favour on December 9, 1996 in the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Women in general are unlikely to be able to breastfeed in the best way possible, which is however they freely choose to do so, as long as others lay claim to controlling those breasts. In addition, North American cultures would lose their obsession with the sexuality of women's breasts if children could observe them being used for the life-giving purpose they are designed for.

Dr. Paul Rapoport
Topfree Equal Rights Association

Dear Dr.Rapoport,

Thank you for your counsel. Since you are part of the "topfree equal rights association" you will be aware that the Gwen Jacobs case specified that a woman could take her shirt off wherever a man could take his shirt off. Because our rink house is also a community clubhouse, men are not permitted to disrobe out in the open either, so we are breaking no law. You will be aware, also, that many commercial locations (e.g. restaurants, etc.) do not permit women to take their shirts off, nor are they required to permit this so as long as men are not permitted to take their shirts off.

Since I happily breastfed my three children everywhere and counselled many more breastfeeding mothers, I do agree with you that breastfeeding is the best way to go, and that the sight of a baby breastfeeding is entirely wholesome and to be celebrated. However, my considerations also include the wonderful multicultural, multi-ethnic world that makes up our neighbourhood. For that reason, it is the additional disrobing, beyond what is needed for the baby to be nourished, that needs some limitation at our rink house. Since our rink house/ clubhouse has become a well-loved destination for people of all ages and cultures, including far more nursing mothers than are present in any other rink house in the city, I think we can assume that our approach is a good one.

Jutta Mason, editor.

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