Your right to breastfeed anywhere, anytime is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Despite this, breastfeeding is still an endangered practice. The entrenchment of a bottle-feeding culture, public policy, institutional practices and negative attitudes towards breastfeeding have all minimized and undervalued the contribution breastfeeding women make to the health and well-being of our society. As a result, they still risk harassment - stares, leers and even expulsions - when feeding their baby in public places.
Know your rights!
In Canada each province and territory has a Human Rights Code. These codes protect women from discrimination on the basis of sex. To date, only Ontario (http://www.ohrc.on.ca/english/guides/pregnancy-breastfeeding.shtml) and British Columbia specifically detail the rights of breastfeeding feeding mothers. These provisions include time, access and accommodation in the workplace and in public. Ontario has also has a policy on Discrimination Because of Pregnancy (http://www.ohrc.on.ca/english/publications/pregnancy-policy.shtml). Other provinces should take note.
Federally, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also affords some protection. Section 15(1) states as follows:
· 15(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.
To ensure that women receive full benefit of all Charter guarantees, gender equality is also enshrined in Section 28 of the Charter.
· 28 Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
What can you do if you are harassed for breastfeeding you baby?
Report the incident to the Human Rights Commission in your province. As commissions don't handle many complaints about breastfeeding, individual officers may be unfamiliar with the issue and require some explanation of why this is discrimination, or why the provision of an alternative place to breastfeed is not enough. Be persistent. Contact a women's rights organization, La Leche League or other group for help and support if you feel you are not being heard.
Legal precedent has not been set to specifically include breastfeeding under human rights protection to date, however, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision, Brooks v. Canadian Safeway Ltd. (1989), 59 D.L.R. (4th) 321 (S.C.C.), Dickson C.J.C. states;
...how could pregnancy discrimination be anything other than sex discrimination? The disfavoured treatment accorded to Mrs. Brooks, Mrs. Allan, and Mrs. Dixon flowed entirely from their state of pregnancy, a condition unique to women. They were pregnant because of their sex. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination because of the basis of the biological fact that only women have the capacity to become pregnant.
Help to protect the rights of all women to breastfeed in public
Article: Spring 2003 Newsletter: