Yesterday I was asked to stop breastfeeding my baby. And I’m pissed.
I was shopping at Orchestra, a kids’ clothing store at the Complexe Les Ailes shopping centre in downtown Montreal. They have a small semi-secluded seating area for kids with movies playing. My older kids were sitting in their stroller watching the movie when my youngest got hungry. So I fed her. She’s 5 months old and she eats breastmilk. From my actual breast. Shocking, I know!
I wasn’t even the only mother breastfeeding. I was being discrete, as if it matters, which it doesn’t (but that’s for another blog post). And I hadn’t finished shopping.
And that’s when the store clerk showed up and asked us both to stop.
Actually, she asked the other mother first.
“Why? I’m buying things…”
“Vous ne pouvez pas. [You can’t]”
Then she looked at me.
“Vous ne pouvez pas allaiter dans le magasin. [You can’t breastfeed in the store]”
Well. That’s not true. And I said as much. The Québec charter of rights and freedoms protects women against discrimination on the basis of sex. And preventing someone from breastfeeding in public constitiutes discrimination on the basis of sex. It’s even been tested in case law.
When it was tested in court, both the individual who asked a breastfeeding mother to stop and the business where that person was employed were required to jointly pay damages of $1000. It’s not a lot. But mentioning it was enough to get the sales clerk to pay attention and she hurried off for reinforcements.
The Canadian charter of rights and freedoms also prevents discrimination based on sex. However, no legal case has specifically evaluated the charter’s application to public breastfeeding. In BC and in Ontario [Added January 12: as well as Nova Scotia] there are laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in all public places.
I knew the law. I knew my rights. But I was still upset. And not the angry, self-important, righteous kind of upset. The teary, scared, “they’re going to kick me out of the store”, “I’m here with my kids” type of upset. It was clear I was about to be thrown out, and I was pretty sure that if I was going to be forced to justify feeding my baby, I was going to cry. And I felt truly alone.
I don’t just think women have the right to feed their kids (breastfed or not) how and when and where they want to – and dad’s too. I think they should be invited to do so, really welcomed. Being a parent is hard work, and really it’s just one of those civilized things that nice people do for one another.
So I got up and stopped feeding my hungry baby. And then I went to the front desk. And I paid for the clothes I had planned to buy. That is the only part I regret. I think I was in shock. I think it hadn’t all sunk in.
The manager was up at the front talking to two clerks, including the one who had asked me to leave. And of course they didn’t realize I was the one who had brought up those nasty legal impediments to their request. So I had the pleasure of listening to them badmouth me, hear how I was ridiculous and how I should go to the mall breastfeeding room, and I was able to confirm that the store manager was fully aware of what was going on. I just made it out the door before the tears.
Now I should mention that Complexe Les Ailes does have a fabulous breastfeeding room, which I use often and truly appreciate. It is spacious and inviting and clean. And there are even tables and chairs for older siblings. But just because I like it does not mean I should be confined to it just because my baby is hungry (another blog post to come on that, but read this in the meantime).
So, what next? Well, there’s this blog now. Feel free to add some comments, if you support me. And I’ll be contacting the store, the store’s head office and the mall where the store is located. All I really want is an apology and an enforced, store policy that respects Canadian law and ensures that no other mothers will get the same shoddy treatment. Feel free to send your own letter, as well. [Added January 8: I’ll be filing a human rights violation complaint.] I’ve just been invited to a nurse-in on January 19. There is a Canadian petition to sign and a Québec petition to sign too. And after that, well, we’ll see.
À mes lecteurs francophones… Il est difficile face à un tel événement, émue et fâchée, de choisir les mots pour bien s’exprimer, encore plus dans une deuxième langue. Mes excuses de ne vous offrir qu’une version en anglais. Toutefois vous êtes bienvenues de laisser vos commentaires dans les deux langues.
For your letter writing pleasure:
(There is also a longer list here.)
Orchestra – Montréal
Vêtements Orchestra Canada Inc.
1010 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, suite 2402
Montréal QC H3A 2R7
Orchestra-Kazibao – Head Office
400 avenue Marcel Dassault
34170 Castelnau Le Lez
Complexe Les Ailes
650, de Maisonneuve Boulevard West,
Montreal QC H3A 3T2
Although Orchestra is a French company with only 4 locations in Canada, the Canadian company Panda also distributes their clothes, so feel free to contact them too.
259. Labelle Blvd. #201
Rosemère (Québec) J7A 2H3
Tel.: (450) 818-9741