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posted March 7, 2005

The Breastfeeding Crisis of 2005
People's idea of the law part I

Emails from the "virtual village"

Cover of 1998 Dufferin Rink staff guide.
Drawing by Jane LowBeer
Emails - Page 2: People's idea of the law part I

A little anthropology of human rights notions about breastfeeding (excerpts from e-mails -- sent from all over North Americal -- about E.Ross's complaint against Dufferin Grove Park for an "illegal act of gender harassment").

Sections on this page:

In this digest, most excerpts have had the writers' names removed. Exceptions are: local City Councillor Adam Giambrone, Parks and Recreation Director Don Boyle, Public Health Manager Joanne Gilmour, Dr. Paul Rapoport ("Topfree Equal Rights Association"), Teresa Pitman (La Leche League Canada), and Janice Reynolds from Saskatchewan, who identifies herself as the "Consumer Rep on the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada." (Ms. Reynolds posted more messages than anyone else. She took pains to influence Public Health staff at City Hall and she weighed in to plan strategy on a public forum called "mothering.commune." was the source of many of the more extreme comments on this page. The two threads on that forum are here and here.)

[pictures on this page are taken at the park, over the years]

For related correspondence see:

For related material see:

Breastfeeding Practices at the Park

Several of the exerpts on this page refer to an editorial in the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park January 05 Newsletter. Here is an exerpt of that:

Here's our practice: breastfeeding a baby is welcome anywhere in the rink house at any time. Babies have to eat, and that's the best way to nourish them (so that they will become strong skaters and hockey players!). No need to hide the nursing baby by putting a blanket over its head while it nurses, either - why hide such a wonderful sight?

There is however a problem if a mother feels the need to disrobe in such a way that a good deal more than the nursing baby is visible. A few babies are a bit rowdy, and hard to nurse discreetly. In those cases, we have several options. There is a comfortable seat in the women's washroom (the washroom is bigger and brighter than normal, so there's room for a nursing corner). If the baby's mother wants to stay in the main room, there is a curtain that can be pulled across half the room, or if she prefers, there is a small screen that can be placed beside her, wherever she's sitting, to give a bit more privacy.

The reason why any radical disrobing during breastfeeding is screened like this is that many people find it unsettling to see a woman who is visibly undressed in the middle of the rink change room. Youth of both sexes are often modest, and so are many of the families of different cultures who have also come to use the rink house.

Friday night supper at the rinkhouse

Mixed-use rinkhouse

Note that most of the comments on this page come from individuals who are not familiar with Dufferin Grove Park.

Re: Differences between cultures, ages etc. about degree of undress

First off, the term "etiquette" used in conjunction with a human rights issue is completely inappropriate.

"breastfeeding etiquette" -- a quaint euphemism meant to conceal a basically anti-breastfeeding stance.

This bothered me, too: "Youth of both sexes are often modest, and so are many of the families of different cultures who have also come to use the rink house." Um, can't people be modest themselves without imposing their modesty on the rest of us? This smacks of the same sort of rhetoric certain subsets of America use when talking about "morality" and "family values."

What bugs me the most is that the individual in question still stands behind the assertion that nursing mothers must be "discreet". No, we don't, end of story. Get over it. There is a reason why this exact issue is covered in the Ontario Human Rights Code...Janice who are the topless activists and why the heck is Jutta involved in telling them what they can expose? ...I sooo wish I were in Toronto right now.... I would be on the freakin ICE of that hockey rink in my Bravado and long johns nursing my 3 year old... ;-) (Rochester)

There are a couple of statements in that one link where Mason really makes herself look like an a$$, IMO. Like "I wanted Erika to cover up more." Who gives a flying %&$! what you want, lady?. And "...There is a cultural sensitivity that can't just be condemned regardless of the context." ... I think some people need to shove their "cultural sensitivities." It wasn't so long ago that segregation of whites and blacks occurred (in this country, anyway) due to "cultural sensitivity." It's just a manipulation of semantics to make it seem like it's somehow personally offensive to have someone breastfeed. I wonder what culture Mason claims to belong to that is so sensitive to this, anyway?

[The city policy] says, in effect, that the proper response if a breastfeeding mother is causing a disturbance is not 'please cover up' to the mother, but hey, what do you think *you're* looking at? to those being 'disturbed.'

If seeing it causes someone to feel uncomfortable then who is the one with the problem? The breast feeding mother or the person who is offended? It is ridiculous to put into writing what is and is not acceptable with regards to breastfeeding in your park.

Councillor Adam Giambrone: it might well be determined that if the same situation were to happen again, and people of any age were to ogle, it is the oglers who should be challenged on their behaviour, and not the mother.

Don Boyle: The preferences or discomfort of other people, or the original use of the space cannot be used to justify a violation of human rights law. Any accommodation must respect the dignity of the individual; limiting breastfeeding to the washroom or providing screens because of some people's discomfort would be a contravention of human rights principles.

Under the current published "practice," I am very concerned that a mother's protected right to nourish her child through the act of breastfeeding may be impinged at Dufferin Park for another person's arbitrary sense of "modesty".

...give up the job of Arbiter of Social Mores. You don't get to make those choices for society. However, the Courts *do* have a say, and they have already spoken on this issue.

The "girl in Guelph" was a woman called Gwen Jacob, who fought in court for the right of all women in Ontario to appear topless in public. Her case went all the way to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the highest court in the province. In the time which elapsed before the appeal was heard, Ms. Jacob became pregnant and had a baby. When her appeal was heard, she brought the baby to court, and openly breastfed it in the Court of Appeal, in front of all the judges and court staff, while the appeal was being heard. Despite, or perhaps because of this display, Ms. Jacob won her case, and entrenched for all women in Ontario the right to appear topless in public. If the sight of a woman openly and immodestly breastfeeding (in a very formal setting) was acceptable to the Justices of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, surely it must be acceptable to the inhabitants of the rinkhouse at Dufferin Grove Park. And if it is not, those who feel uncomfortable are free to leave.

Re: Restrictions on breastfeeding women are like racism

A violation of human rights is an illegal act...I ask you to consider this same act in another context: if a member of a visible minority, a disabled person, a same-sex couple or any other group that the Human Rights Code is designed to protect was simply asked to go somewhere more discreet or cover up their disability/race/lifestyle so the community doesn't have to witness it, I'm sure you would agree that this is wrong. Why are one set of human rights considered optional whereas others are not?

As a community leader in a diverse ethnic community, I feel certain that you would not ask a Jewish man to remove his Yarmulke or ask a gay couple to stop holding hands as someone might find them offensive. The Human Rights Code clearly states that your actions are equal to the above.

Your "point of view" is wrong, and bigoted. It has no place in ANY "quilt", any more than putting a swastika or other culturally insensitive symbol on a community quilt would be welcomed.

We wouldn't tolerate an openly racist "policy" requiring Jews, or same-sex couples, or Aboriginal peoples to sit in the washroom for the comfort of others (although it is "quite big" and has a "pretty cushion"!) - I'm just left worried that if we do nothing, the "policy" will continue to be in place and the predictable future is that other nursing mothers will be asked to stop or move - with Jutta and or the "policy" backing them up. I really feel I cannot stand by and do nothing in this case.

Re: The fragility of breastfeeding

It seems to me that the point about disturbing, discussing, asking the mother to move, etc., is about protecting breastfeeding, and I think that is important. If women who are nursing their babies are asked to move, cover up, or engaged in a discussion or argument about whether or not they are breastfeeding discreetly enough, the message they may get is that nursing is somehow embarrassing and offensive to others. For some women this will be enough to get them to wean early or to start supplementing with bottles so they don't have to nurse in public. I think there is value in trying to protect breastfeeding in this way.

I agree that this is a serious violation of the safety of nursing mamas and babes, and I don't think a small quiet nurse in of mamas who use the park is the answer. Lots of people know about this now, and it has compromised mamas everywhere. I would like to see a larger direct action. If a large nurse-in in the rinkhouse feels too negative/confrontational, how about a large rally of nursing mamas and our supporters somewhere else? To raise awareness about breastfeeding? My little fantasy is lots of mamas nursing our babes, my friend who is bottlefeeding feeding her babe, my baby's daddy and my friends who used to nurse hanging out with us in solidarity.

...we [women who breastfeed our babies] are persecuted and society is often prejudiced against us...With commonplace and nightmarish episodes like that that Erika Ross experienced at her local ice rink, many women and their families opt not to breastfeed for fear of the breast nazis attacking.

Re: law (Ontario Human Rights Code)

Your response and a plan of action for correcting this unfair and outrageous policy and informing your staff of the human rights code in Ontario - particularly the individual who approved this most disgusting news item - is anxiously awaited.

...any crazed, charter basher can work their way up in our society to the point that they feel they can (without being elected to office, even) tell whomever they like what to do. This ESPECIALLY seems true when it comes to trying to quash people's rights. I mean, just because its legal for a woman to breastfeed in public in the City of Toronto, doesn't mean that she should! Forget the fact that it's legal in Ontario for a woman to go topless! I for one would like to call for this UN-elected (at least by me, an avid user of the park) representative of Dufferin Grove to step down. Our park should be a place we can all go that is free from bigoted people like her.

A letter was sent with the subject line: "illegal attitudes"

I am also shocked at your use of bold type and quotation marks in the term "illegal attitude". Asking Ms. Ross to cover up or to go somewhere more discreet is exactly the behaviour that the portion of the Human Rights Code that pertains to nursing mothers was written to protect.

There are no provisions made anywhere within these rights for 'radical disrobing' or 'rowdy babies' particularly since I'm sure you're aware that such subjective terms allow for discriminatory and illegal personal interpretation. Who within Dufferin Grove Park has appointed themselves the arbitrator of what is considered 'radical disrobing'?

Dear Ontario Human Rights Commission, ...the crystal clear language of the code...states: "You have rights as a nursing mother. For example, you have the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from nursing your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to "cover up", disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more "discreet"."

Ms. Mason's...actions were clearly in violation of the HRC. This is a very clear open-and-shut case and I look forward to seeing OHRC support Ms. Ross and join the public in demanding an apology from both Ms. Mason and Dufferin Park.

I believe that a formal apology to Erika Ross is in order, as she is fully within her rights to sue over the breastfeeding issue (this has been done successfully a number of times here in Canada),

This person greatly disturbed a nursing mom twice on Jan 7th, 2005 and admitted doing so in a message on an e-list for the organization while trying to justify and explain away her illegal behaviour.

Your assertion that it shouldn't be "solely a mother's own decision how much to expose when she nurses her baby" is a dangerous one, in my mind, as it opens up the possibility of a whole range of other breastfeeding decisions that shouldn't be up to the mother. We have come so far with regards to breastfeeding acceptance and I would hate to see us start down that slippery slope of intolerance and censorship.

The fact remains, if you have a problem with the rights Ontario has given her, you will most likely need to take it up with the legislature, and you owe her an apology.

...the laws are clear. Mothers can feed their baby anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Period. Toronto allows women to be completely topless in public areas if they choose. Most breastfeeding mothers are not wandering around topless, but if they wanted to, they could. The Councillor and the Parks and Recreation Director have made it very clear to you what the laws are, yet you continue to ignore them.

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.
Dr. Paul Rapoport
Topfree Equal Rights Association

[Janice Reynolds:] The "topless activists" are people involved with Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA) at I had contacted Co-ordinator Dr. Paul Rapoport about this incident. I met him last year when we both spoke at a Breastfeeding Conference in Edmonton, AB. I wasn't quite sure about involving "topfree" advocacy with breastfeeding advocacy, but he was a keynote speaker (to a room of 300 mainstream public health workers). Anyhow he really impressed me with his reasoning that until we truly have "topfreedom", women will always have trouble with NIP. Dr. Rapoport is a University professor, and has been involved with TERA all through the legal challenges that brought about the legality of being topless for women in Ontario.]

My comments were meant to say, first that women have the right to go topless, and second that breastfeeding can be done in a variety of ways depending on what the MOTHER is comfortable with.\\ Teresa Pitman, La Leche League

If it was me, at this point, I would just be suing her butt off...This woman is out of control.

I am not a lawyer and by no means an expert on any of these topics. However, it seems to me that the section on the website must have been approved by the commission, no matter who wrote it, and expresses the commission's intent even if it hasn't been tested by actual cases. ...

...I love how she keeps bringing up the whole "not yet tested in courts" clause. Does she really want to be the one who gets sued so they can be tested?... I still wish Jutta would back down, apologize, and shut up, but I'm guessing that's about as likely as Nestle turning into the world's largest source of breastfeeding advocacy...

I'm told that she is now telling the topless activists, exactly what can be exposed and what can't! Wouldn't it be interesting...if a former LLL leader was charged with breastfeeding discrimination under the OHRC? As it is, it seems like the OHRN, City of Toronto and Councilor Gambione are already doing a better job of defending Erika's position, than LLL itself.

Seems to me there are a few options at this point:

  • Erika chooses to file a formal OHRC complaint.
  • Continue to pursue the matter with the City. This may force Jutta out of the park, but is that really productive?

A friend in the community has let me know that the majority of people there do not agree with Jutta, and that I should come and feel comfortable. Her child is part of a parent co-op that uses the park. They've had issues about whether or not potty trained kids can go bare-bottomed in the park, around the wading pool. She says there has never been a real resolution to the situation...

Janice Reynolds: I have emailed the legal adviser for the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, who is currently reviewing all the website, and various correspondence. Her initial take on it is:

Her interpretation of the law is not quite accurate - the Code protects breastfeeding under the heading of "sex". The issue of disrobing doesn't really come into it. Though I am sure some judge could impose some cultural norm to how much clothing does one have to remove, lift up or leave on... I'd like to see the court case where various breastfeeding moms come to demonstrate how much or little flesh is exposed....

Janice Reynolds: What I was thinking about a nurse-in, was not a -lets get publicity first, rally as many mothers as we can (who may not actually know and understand the current issue), we are going to force our way on them, type of nurse-in.

I was thinking more about a small group of moms, who ideally are already supporters of the park, quietly going, (and nursing in a group, if needed to support each other) and just nursing. Just to see what would happen. Just to quietly but forcefully show Jutta that bfing moms are not detterred. And if she speaks to anyone, then there are witnesses, and another person would have a basis to complain instead of just Erika.

It would show a pattern of behaviour - a defacto policy being implemented - rather than just a one off mistake.

Re: punishment

Ms.Mason: I am a breastfeeding advocate supporting moms everywhere through an email list and web site I manage. I plan to put your name everywhere I can to show the WRONG ways of treating Bf moms. How sad you publish lies and info as you have about this mother and bringing breastfeeding into the dark ages.

I feel sorry for your children if you have any. You should hope you never meet me. I breastfeed as I wish where I wish and I'd have simply laughed in your face had you the audacity to come to me and as me to leave and nurse elsewhere....then you may have gotten a breast in the face!<br>

Have a nice day!

You are NOT entitled to force your views or your will on others under the guise of "taking into account all the different points of view"...If I had the authority, I would take away your newsletter privileges and make sure you were never again in a position to bully any individual... You owe Ms. Erika Ross a very loud and public apology, in addition to anyone else who you may have treated this way in the past...You also owe anyone who has read this newsletter and found it offensive a contrite retraction and sincere atonement, because your entire demeanour in and method of defending your illegal actions is offensive. [Mother's Milk magazine]

If Ms Mason is not prepared to accept this and to apologize in public... to Ms. Ross for her error in judgment, she quite simply should not be permitted to be associated with a City facility.

I think she needs to be stopped...she just isn't very, well, smart, even after being informed she has violated the law she continues to defend her action...she doesn't get that she violated the human rights code(and ignorance of a law is not a defence)...I truly hope the victim in all this does make a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission. I had success when I informed our local school board that I was reporting a school principle who told me she would ask me to move or be descreet if I bf at the school (it never happened, she just said she would do it.) She was forced by the school board to apologize in writing and guarantee that no bfing woman would be asked to cover up or move in the school. That was all I wanted and the complaint was dropped by me...this lady needs to apologize and make the same guarantee or be removed from her position. She is only a volunteer...why should her own personal bias have any weight in policy at this public park?

Anyone who wants clarification of the rights of breastfeeding mothers need only look at the succinct summary on the Ontario Human Rights Commission website... The City owes it to Ms Ross and to all other mothers in this City to make it absolutely clear that no volunteer in a city facility will be permitted to contravene the Ontario Human Rights Code. There is simply no room for debate on this matter, regardless of any attempts by Jutta Mason (the volunteer in question) to generate such debate.

Ms. Mason has been permitted by someone to have more power than she can handle. I trust that those with decision making rights aren't motivated by fear to side with her. I'm sure that she will threaten to withdraw her huge contributions of time, energy and other resources if confronted or try to make the park experience less friendly and welcoming to everyone in the community, but it is plain for an objective party to see that her attitude and conduct is inappropriate. Someone needs to step up to the plate and make this right, clearly it isn't going to be her. Erika Ross needs to get the message that she is doing a wonderful thing for her community by speaking out against this bullying behavior.

If you were a paid employee, you would have been suspended or terminated by now. ...You also posted a highly offensive newsletter section, which not only could be used as evidence against you at a Tribunal hearing, but has been read around the world and taken as offensive. I am not sure why you do not understand - perhaps it is ego, perhaps it is hurt feelings - but you broke the law, and you readily admit it. As they say, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse". You made a heat-of-the-moment decision a few weeks ago, and it was an error. Since then, you have had lots of time to ponder it and you still refuse to acknowledge your misconduct. It is no longer a snap-decision judgement error. Now it is a pattern.

I think if I were running the city's parks department, I'd seriously consider forming an official group that does fall under the employment of the city to run this park, and basically shove these people out.

Re: The City's stand

Don Boyle's policy letter: "You have rights as a nursing mother. For example, you have the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from nursing your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to 'cover up' disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more 'discreet'. Staff are aware of these policies and strive to uphold them. Please be advised for future occurrences, that the Friends of Dufferin Grove and other volunteers abide by City of Toronto policy. Thank you again for your attention in this matter."

Don Boyle: "Your desire for further and further clarification (including your question above) to an issue we have clearly explained is preposterous. A woman's right to breastfeed is protected under the City of Toronto's Human Rights and Harassment Policy as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code. A woman has the right to be topless in public. We must recognize / respect these rights and move forward."

[Joanne Gilmour, Toronto Public health] Women have the right to decide where and when to breastfeed and to be supported in this decision. The Ontario Human Rights Code is clear that women have the right to breastfeed a child in any public area... We believe that Toronto Parks and Recreation staff are handling this matter in an appropriate way. A copy of their recent letter to the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park is attached for your information.

[to the Mayor] you should be distancing yourself from the wingnut who has dragged you into this mess. This is an affront to us all. And Erika Ross deserves not only an apology from Mason, but from the City as well.
CEO Bravado Designs [Brassiere Company]

It has everything to do with HUMAN rights. The real issue is that Mrs. Ross' rights were violated during the incident... I feel that my own rights could be the next to go should I walk into Dufferin Grove Park on a bad day, and I doubt this is the image the Friends of Dufferin Grove have worked hard to create for the community they serve.

Truly, the only boobs exposed at Dufferin Grove seem to be Ms. Mason, and her unwavering pride. May The Friends of Dufferin Grove, and the Toronto Parks and Recreation board consider this the next time they choose their representatives.

You cannot exempt yourself from the law, plain and simple. The councillor for your area has said so. I can't believe you are still harping on this. The law is there to protect mothers from nosy busybodies LIKE YOU. ...Perhaps you ought to start thinking of yourself as an ex-Dufferin Park volunteer, because you are not doing anyone any favors in your current position.
Santa Cruz, California, USA

Janice Reynolds: I haven't entirely given up on the City doing something more. The bureaucrats move slowly and carefully. I know from my contact who works in Toronto Public Health (high up) that this whole thing has become a "hot issue" across several depts, and she was just starting to work on their response this week. Also the Medical Health Officer asked to be briefed about it. I am forwarding everything I know to her, including Jutta's statement this weekend that she will NOT apologize.

Janice Reynolds: I am aware that Parks & Rec has written directly to Mason, on Jan 27. specifically addressing the excuses that she has been using (ie we are a unique community, history of rinkhouse, preferences or discomfort of other people, already very breastfeeding friendly) and directly stated that there never is any reason to override the HRC and City of Toronto policy. They also state that they expect all members of the public that use City of Toronto facilities, to abide by City of Toronto policy. [that would include volunteers].

They also note that Erika would have a legitimate complaint of harassment if she was asked to cover up or move, even one time. They also state that the City will continue to take steps to make sure that people are clear about the City of Toronto policy on breastfeeding (although they didn't say what they will be doing).

I'm also told that Parks & Rec will be apologizing to Erika.

Janice Reynolds: This incident, has brought the issue of breastfeeding in public to the attention of the bureaucrats and politicians of the largest city in Canada. It has forced them to think long and carefully about the HRC and how it protects breastfeeding. How hard would one have had to work to get an appt with the mayor or councillor to discuss this issue? Even if one got the appt, the politician would probably just have listened politely for 15 minutes, and then forgotten about it all. I can guarantee that the Mayor and Councillor completely understand the Code as it relates to bfing, now!

And that is how true change is made - from the top down, not from the bottom up. The staff in those offices will understand, and the Parks & Rec staff will understand. I suppose we could still write the City (Mayor & Councillor) and Parks & Rec to insist that the letters from Parks & Rec be posted/circulated, to offset the fact that the psedo policy of Dufferin Grove was posted on their website and newsletter, and continues to be posted.

Whether Erika decides to pursue the Human Rights compliant is up to her. I haven't heard from her about this, at this point. I think from the way that the City is distancing itself from Jutta, the complaint would basically be directly against Jutta.

Whether she realizes it or not, or likes it or not, Jutta's actions have caused the largest municipality in Canada, to clarify and educate itself on breastfeeding rights as protected by the Human Rights Code. They have confirmed in writing that no person has the right to decide how discreet a mom needs to be while breastfeeding in public, and that there is no reason that would excuse a person or organization who asks a mother to cover up or move due to breastfeeding.


WHAT A VICTORY!!!!!<br> For Parks & Rec to apologize... that's great! And Councillor Giambrone's letter was VERY strongly worded...

I'm sure Jutta will find some "wiggle" room to continue to defend her indefensible position..... but the important thing is here, she does not have a leg to stand on with:
The City
Parks & Rec
and anyone outside her circle of devoted fans.

It is the City of Toronto's policies that govern the spaces which are owned and paid for by all citizens and taxpayers. And they, in turn, are clearly in favour of a woman being able to breastfeed her baby in any way, shape or form she wants. Don't tell me you're up for a fight with the Ontario Human Rights Commission...

Janice Reynolds: My question - why is Jutta allowed to use city-owned space/equipment to attack city policy?...I now realize know that Jutta has a history of challenging the City. This breastfeeding policy just seems to be her latest fight. This is so much more than about the Jan 7 breastfeeding in public incident, for sees that Jutta has a recurring history of conflict with the City.

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