Vancouver Sun shames woman for breastfeeding in public

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Baby breastfeeds in a photograph from Shutterstock

Does the Vancouver Sun have something against mothers? Or human rights? Maybe both?  It would be easy to conclude yes after a January 14th editorial by Shelley Fralic of the Vancouver Sun ridiculed a mother who was asked to leave a Vancouver store because she was breastfeeding her baby.

Here’s the situation: the mother goes shopping with her three young children in tow. After a while, the baby kicks up some sort of fuss, and, flustered, the mom looks for a private corner of the store. No one is around, so she tucks in and starts nursing.

Then, the owner comes up and asks her to stop because she is offending the customers. Apparently, they don't understand the etiquette of looking the other way if they find the sight of a legally protected activity disturbing.

Understandably, the woman is embarrassed and upset.

Then, the Vancouver Sun runs its harshly critical editorial of the mother for her decision to breastfeed in public. The editorial goes as far as to equate nursing the baby in public with “wear[ing] a bikini to a funeral, or say[ing] the F-word in front of Grandma, or wear[ing] a hat at the dinner table, or walk[ing] naked through a children's playground.”

Ouch.

Let’s get something straight here: parenting can be wonderful, but for most of us it is also fraught with vulnerability and judgment, regardless of whether we breastfeed. There are so many moments where, as a mother or father, you are just doing your best. You're attempting to keep the kid from tearing into the candy while getting through the check-out line at the grocery store, trying to not look like an abusive parent when your toddler decides to stage a sit-in while crossing a busy intersection and subduing a screaming baby while you hurriedly eat your lunch at the little café on the way home. And while we are doing all of this we are also thinking, “Did I feed my child enough today? Is my baby safe at daycare? Will that comment I just made to my tween cost me in therapy later?”

Congratulations, Vancouver Sun. You have managed to make the already hard job of parenting that much harder.

It wasn’t just the mother’s feelings that were violated: “breastfeeding is a human right in B.C,” said Robyn Durling,  Communications Officer for the B.C. Human Rights Coalition.

Vikki Bell, Registrar at the Human Rights Tribunal, confirmed that women who feel that they have been harassed or inappropriately denied reasonable accommodation to breastfeed their child in public (including stores) can file a complaint under the sex discrimination part of the Human Rights Code

The Human Rights Code is pretty impenetrable reading for most of us. Luckily, the Attorney General spells out how the Human Rights Code applies to the average person. Under the title Human Rights in British Columbia, Sexual Discrimination and Harassment, it says: “In B.C., it is illegal to discriminate against or harass a person because of their sex, [which] includes pregnancy, breastfeeding, and sexual harassment.” It goes on to talk about WHERE it is illegal: “It protects people from discrimination in public situations, which include schools, workplaces, universities, hospitals, medical clinics, stores, restaurants, provincial and local government offices, and transit services.”

There is no question that a store is a public space when it comes to Human Rights. It is explicitly stated. The courts won’t come into your home and tell your husband that he has to wash the dishes because you are nursing the baby, but the courts do get involved in commercial or public relationships. Durling says you can test the law by asking yourself if it would it be right to exclude all black people or all women at this place or in this situation.

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