Candace Cobbing, Lisa Drew and Casey MacDonald, 570 NEWS
It was July of 1991 when a female University of Guelph student decided to walk home on a hot day without a shirt on, which spearheaded a movement that would ultimately result in the courts ruling that women in Ontario could go topless in public.
Now 24 years later — in the same month, for the same reasons — three Kitchener sisters did the same thing. The difference is, it is no longer illegal.
Tameera Mohamed and her sisters were riding their bikes topless this past Friday and were stopped twice by police.
The first time it was a woman officer, who did not acknowledge they were topless, but simply warned them to be careful while riding through a construction area near the downtown core.
Mohamed says the second time they were stopped was on Shanley Street, and that they were told to cover up, and that what they were doing was illegal.
The sisters cited their legal right to be topless, and Mohamed says the officer then changed his reason, citing complaints from families in the area, which she also doubted.
Her sister then pulled out a cell phone camera and once they hit ‘record,’ the officer claimed bicycle safety is why they were pulled over, even though she says there was another person in the police vehicle the entire time.
“It was really frustrating, even in the moment to realize that we have no way of proving what he just said,” says Mohamed.
“But we all are aware of it, and there is this other person in his car who is not saying anything, but clearly just heard this whole thing.”
On Sunday, Mohamed says she spoke with a Waterloo staff sergeant who told her he didn’t feel she had a reason to make a complaint but also that neither she nor other women in the area would be stopped for this in the future.
Mohamed plans on making a formal complaint and says she and her sisters hope to encourage all genders to wear as much or as little clothing as they feel comfortable in.
She says the underlying issue is the sexualization of women’s chests.
“It was really hot outside and it was definitely much more enjoyable to be topless,” says Mohamed, “but also, I think that you can’t do that kind of thing without proving a point and that it was political in itself the fact that we were taking off our shirts in public.”
Mike Haffner, staff sergeant of the Waterloo Regional Police, says with the hot weather, and the changes to legislation a number of years ago, it is within a woman’s rights to go topless if she chooses to.
What happens next will depend on whether the three women make a formal complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
“Once that complaint is registered,” Sgt. Haffner says, “they will make the determination whether or not the complaint is forwarded back to our organization or whether they will keep it themselves.”
Waterloo Regional Police are currently completing an internal review of the situation.
Bare With Us Rally:
A “Bare With Us” freedom rally in support of the sisters is being planned for Saturday over the noon hour at Waterloo Town Square.
The women say recent events have inspired the march, including an 8-year-old girl in Guelph being asked to cover up at a pool.
A Facebook posting says the event also hopes to show thanks to Gwen Jacob, as not all provinces in Canada have realized the right to go topless in public.
Speaking of the sisters on 570 News’ Facebook page, their mother, Kathryn Brillinger, commented:
“I am incredibly proud, have gone topless myself in Ontario and Europe, and breastfed all 4 girls in public with pride.”
“The men in my family immediately take their shirts off on the beach and when it is hot and they are biking or playing sports in the park. Apparently they feel it is more comfortable and enjoyable. No one questions this,” she added.
Event organizers say a group will meet outside Waterloo Public Library at 11 a.m. on Saturday for poster making.
At noon, there will be a speech at Waterloo Town Square, followed by a march at 12:15 p.m.