A mother and her autistic daughter were forced to leave a public outdoor swimming area in Mississauga last week after the woman said she wouldn’t enter the pool to provide supervision due to religious reasons.
Shazia Dawood says she was at the edge watching her 11-year-old daughter wading in the shallow end at Applewood Heights pool when she was approached by staff and told she had to be in the water at arms’ length.
The Muslim woman said she didn’t want to swim with men in the vicinity for religious reasons but would stand by closely. At the point, she says, the lifeguard called security.
“He started yelling ‘ma’am you have to go,'” Dawood said. “I said, ‘What am I doing?’ That is racism because I am not doing anything.”
Mississauga aquatics admission standards state children under the age of five must be supervised by someone in the water within arms’ reach. Those between six and nine years old also need to be supervised if they aren’t able to pass a swim test.
The area manager for recreation for the city has apologized for the behaviour of staff at the site but denies there were racist motives.
“We strive to ensure all of our facilities are inclusive and safe for all residents and take all complaints very seriously,” Jodi Robillos said in an emailed statement.
“Our staff were concerned for the child’s safety and swimming ability as she was moving into deeper water and appeared to be struggling.”
Dawood says her daughter has completed swimming lessons in the past and was having no problems while enjoying her time in the water this time.
“I feel humiliated and insulted for no reason,” she said.
While the family has been going to the Applewood Heights pool regularly before now, they don’t plan on returning again this year.