CORNWALL, Ont. – An eastern Ontario city is facing a human rights complaint over its policy on female toplessness in pools, more than two decades after it became legal for women bare their breasts in public in the province.
Cornwall Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy said a woman has complained to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging the pool policy discriminates on the basis of gender.
“Our policy states that girls over the age of 10 must wear a top,” O’Shaughnessy said. “The clause that’s in there is specific to females.”
City councillors will decide whether to fight the complaint or change the policy in the coming weeks, and were set to be briefed by city lawyers on Monday evening, he said.
The tribunal has not yet scheduled a hearing on the matter and the full details of the complaint haven’t been made public, but O’Shaughnessy noted the complainant doesn’t live in the city or the surrounding counties.
The complaint also targets an eastern Ontario water park and seven hotel companies.
Cornwall’s toplessness policy dates back to 1996 – and O’Shaughnessy said he doesn’t know the reasoning behind it.
Bare breasts were a matter of public debate at the time.
In December of that year, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that a woman’s topless stroll down a street in Guelph, Ont., was not obscene, making it legal for all women in Ontario to be topless in public.
Municipal policies on the issue have been challenged in a number of Ontario cities on the basis of that ruling in the intervening years.
Cambridge, Ont., eliminated its toplessness policy after two women were charged with trespassing for swimming topless in protest of the city’s ban in 1997.
Guelph, Ont., changed its policy after an eight-year-old girl was told by city staff to cover up while she was in a wading pool wearing only a swim bottom in 2015.
The recent human rights complaint wasn’t sparked by a similar incident, according to Scott Lecky, the owner and general manager of the Ramada Cornwall, one of the respondents.
“Nothing really happened,” Lecky said. “We got an email from someone we thought was a guest.”
The complainant had emailed six or seven months ago to ask if she would be able to swim topless at the hotel, he said.
“Our response was ‘we appreciate your email, but you know we have a family establishment here,”‘ Lecky said. “‘We have a lot of kids and families that stay with us and we appreciate if you wore appropriate swim attire while staying at the hotel.”‘
Lecky said the documents he was served about two months ago indicate the woman had contacted each of the respondents in a similar manner to ask about their policies on toplessness.
However, the woman never stayed in the hotel, he said, adding it didn’t have a firm policy on toplessness and hadn’t needed one before.
But after hiring a lawyer, the hotel has made it a policy to allow women to swim topless from now on, he said.