B.C. legislature modernizes dress code following ‘bare arms’ controversy

Bhinder Sajan, right to left, Shannon Waters, Liza Yuzda, Justine Hunter, Jen Holmwood, Katie DeRosa, Tanya Fletcher and Kylie Stanton pose for a photo at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Thursday, March 28, 2019. A dress code debate at British Columbia's legislature has prompted some women staff and journalists to roll up their sleeves in protest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Drik Meissner

Women in the B.C. legislature now have the right to bare arms in the Speaker’s corridor.

Speaker Darryl Plecas has informed MLAs, legislature staff and press gallery members that following a preliminary review of the dress code conducted by the legislature’s acting clerk, Kate Ryan-Lloyd, there will not be a “principle-driven” dress code.

“Dress guidance at the Legislative Assembly should be principle-driven and not overly prescriptive,” reads the memo. “For women, professional business attire includes a range of contemporary conventional options, which may include sleeveless dresses, sleeveless shirts and blouses. For men, jackets, collared shirts and ties will continue to be the expected standard of dress.”

READ MORE: The right to bare arms — Women in B.C. legislature fight for changes to ‘outdated’ dress code

The B.C. legislature has been using a dress code that was almost 40 years old. The issue triggered protests from staff and press gallery members last week when a government employee was asked to leave the Speaker’s corridor because she was wearing a short-sleeved blouse.

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The previous legislature policy maintained that men and women must wear “suitable business attire,” and that did not include short sleeves.

The memo released on Monday details that the expectation is the dress guidelines will not undermine gender identity or the right of individuals to “comfortably contribute to this unique workplace.”

“I am committed to supporting gender sensitivity and awareness at the Legislative Assembly — a workplace setting that has been dominated by one gender for far too long,” Plecas writes.

“Due to this historical imbalance, I am more than open to accommodating concerns brought forward by many women, as articulated over the past few days.”

The legislature still plans on putting together a full report on the dress guidelines. As part of the preliminary report, the sergeant-at-arms and his staff will no longer be responsible for enforcing what people wear. Instead, each individual will be responsible for their own dress.

“There are many individuals within this institution working to make it better,” Plecas writes. “Let’s come together on that important undertaking.”

Last week, Finance Minister Carole James told reporters that things should be modernized and it’s “extraordinary” that this issue is still coming up.

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“I certainly think a change is well overdue. Last year, we dealt with babies in the chamber. When I first started here, they were still converting some of the washrooms to women’s washrooms,” James said. “I think the dress code is long overdue and needs to be done.”

READ MORE: Babies in the House: B.C. to allow infants onto the legislature floor

Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau said Legislative Assembly staff told one of her staffers to wear a slip under her dress as it was clinging to her legs as she walked.

“The women in this building are here to work, not dress for outdated rules,” she tweeted.

“The notion of telling women how to dress is, indeed, crazy,” Furstenau said. “I have never seen any unprofessionalism in this place. I am grateful to be working with the women in this place, and they are all capable of making decisions on how they dress.”

WATCH: Debate over dress code in the B.C. legislature

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Debate over dress code in the B.C. legislature – Mar 28, 2019

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