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Woman files OHRC complaint after being asked to breastfeed in the washroom

Last Updated Apr 20, 2016 at 4:47 pm EDT

Sarah Lambersky and her daughter, Estée. PHOTO: Sarah Lambersky

It was a typical Tuesday morning for Sarah Lambersky and her 16-month-old daughter Estée Goodman last week. They’d arrived at Rosemount Community Centre in Thornhill for a kids and caregivers program at around 9:30 a.m., and half an hour later, Estée began asking for milk.

Lambersky’s philosophy has always been to breastfeed on demand, so she sat down on the floor and began to nurse. She was then approached by a centre staff member.

“[The staff member] said ‘would you mind moving to the bathroom to breastfeed because there is someone in the class that’s uncomfortable with breastfeeding.’”

Lambersky was dumbfounded. In the past 16 months she had breastfed her daughter in restaurants, business flights – even inside a bar – and she’d never been approached by someone telling her to move or cover up.

“I said ‘no, I’m not moving … and if someone has an issue they can speak with me directly.’”

Lambersky said she was then approached by a second staff member who began to cite policy after she refused to move to the bathroom. Lambersky asked if the policy came from the City of Vaughan, the Community Centre, or the class itself. The staff member said it was a policy of the classroom.

“I said ‘okay, thank-you,’ and when my daughter was finished, I said ‘we’re going to go play elsewhere.’ So we collected our things, and we left.”

Lambersky went home and – in the following hour and half that Estée napped – she sent emails to the area’s MP, the City of Vaughan, and the Community Centre. She also filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and reached out to local media.

(To view video on mobile, click here)

“I am happy to be vocal, I was raised to stand up,” Lambersky said. “But I know there are women who are uncomfortable, and in that situation perhaps they would have moved to the washroom or left.”

Having received an apology from the city of Vaughan, Lambersky goes on to say all she wanted was for the community centre to review and revise its policy. And that’s the approach the city is taking.

A statement issued by the city of Vaughan recognizes their staff made a mistake, and says they’re “taking this opportunity to provide additional coaching to staff about policies.”

“The City of Vaughan fully supports a mother’s right to breastfeed in public spaces, in accordance with Ontario law,” the statement reads. “Women are allowed to breastfeed at Rosemount Community Centre and all community centres in the city of Vaughan.”

As for why breastfeeding makes some people uncomfortable in the first place, Lambersky says it’s still like having an elephant in the room.

“The fact that breastfeeding still today is either concealed, done in privacy – you don’t have the visual picture of women in society as a normalized image.”

According to Ontario’s Human Rights Code, it’s against the law to discriminate or harass someone because of sex, including pregnancy or breastfeeding. As a result, the OHRC says if a mother is breastfeeding in a public space, no one should make them stop, ask them to move, or tell them to cover up.