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Toronto woman sounds alarm over sexual harassment at city pools

Last Updated Feb 24, 2017 at 8:29 am EST

A Toronto woman is sounding the alarm over the city’s sexual harassment complaint procedures after her experience at a community pool.

Lindsay Zier-Vogel said for weeks a male swimmer had been getting uncomfortably close to women in the pool at the Annette Community Recreation Centre, sometimes swimming in between their legs and staring at them underwater.

“He was so close to me, I turned around and I exclaimed aloud because I was so startled at how close we was to my bare legs, ” she recalled.

When she made a complaint to the lifeguard, she said she was told the man was known to staff and the supervisor, but there was nothing they could do unless the women were physically being touched.

“I was appalled,” Zier-Vogel said. “Harassment and an unsafe feeling can encompass a lot more than being physically touched.”

In a statement to CityNews, Toronto Parks, Forestry, and Recreation spokesperson Matthew Cutler said city staff receive mandatory training on harassment and discrimination.

“Any behaviour that creates an unsafe space, not just physical contact, is a concern for our staff,” the statement read, adding that policies undergo regular reviews and are prominently posted in staff areas.
Parks is now investigating to find out if their complaints protocol was properly followed.

Janina Fogels with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre said Ontario’s Human Rights Code requires facilities like pools and gyms make sure their spaces are harassment-free.

“Sexual harassment involves any behaviour that could be seen as unwelcome or unwanted,” Fogels explained. “That could include inappropriate staring, or invading someone’s personal space.”

She said that while many facilities have policies in place to deal with harassment, they aren’t always followed.

“Make sure users know about the policy. It’s not enough to have it on your website, but maybe distribute it in the lockers of the users, or pass it around so people know how they can use the facility in a way that makes them feel safe,” Fogels said.

Zier-Vogel hopes this incident can spark a wider conversation about what sexual harassment can look like.

“How many times have you heard friends talk about feeling uncomfortable on the TTC, or walking home, or removing themselves from situations that don’t feel safe? It happens all the time, and so often it’s dismissed,” she said.