Kissing Babies

It’s federal election time again in Canada. So when the parties call you or knock on your door, you should probably ask then what they think about public breastfeeding.

Because if you don’t ask, they won’t know it’s important. And it is.

And they won’t say anything about it. And they should.

What should happen every time a woman is in the news for being kicked out of a store for breastfeeding in public, is a loud vocal reminder from politicians that they’ve already made a law that prevents discriminating against breastfeeding: a federal law, a provincial law, and yes you can even have a municipal law that protects breastfeeding, though these are rare.

But what actually happens when it comes to politicians…. is very little.

When I was kicked out of a store for breastfeeding I wrote to a number of politicians. I asked them for public support. I asked them to make the law more clear. And I invited them to the nurse-in.

None reminded journalists or the public that a law exists that protects women’s rights.

This is the most effective thing they could have done. It costs nothing. It takes very little time. But it reminds the public that breastfeeding in public is not just a privilege, but a right. It reminds people that there is a law, that there are penalties, that preventing a woman from breastfeeding in public is breaking the law. And it makes the news, which politicians love. Though usually the trifecta of news, politicians and breasts is a whole other kind of story.

Only one politician offered to change the law. Carole Poirier, provincial MNA for the Parti Québecois organized an official petition to make the law more clear. This is a good thing. It raises awareness and the petition received almost 5,000 signatures.

The petition closes on April 25, so if you haven’t signed please do.

But why a petition? If Carole Poirier, or the PQ think this is important, why not just present a private Member’s bill to the National Assembly? They are the official opposition. They can do that. They are encouraged to do that. It’s their job. And how unpopular would the provincial Liberals look, if they squashed a pro-baby bill? And how much of a media relations coup would it be to present their own law to clarify the law? Either way, breastfeeding mothers win.

Instead we have a petition, designed to position the PQ on the side of breastfeeding mothers, without any obligation on their part to do more, and packaged into a slow, and ineffective process that can easily be forgotton by politicians when the media brohaha subsides.

It’s nice, it’s appreciated, and I signed  the petition, but it isn’t justice.

(Sign it anyway, it’s important!)

And what about attending the nurse-in?

Every politician loves a baby to kiss, but public breastfeeding is a whole other story.

Of all the politicians that I wrote to personally, only two responded. None attended the nurse-in.

Alain Dufort, the borough director where the incident took place wrote to me saying that the municipality supports the rights of women (breastfeeding wasn’t mentioned specifically) and detailed a number of pro-family initiatives that the city is putting into place. But no municipal bylaw.

Jack Layton wrote to say he would be unable to attend the nurse-in as his schedule didn’t allow it.

No one else bothered to reply.

There is a Canadian law that protects a woman’s right to breastfeed, and depending on the province, can lead to thousands of dollars of fines. Depending on the province.

This is because human rights violations, which are filed in response to violations of the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are evaluated by provincial human rights commissions. In Quebec, they are also filed in response to the Quebec Charter of Rights.

But wouldn’t it be better, if there were some federal penalty, some clarity in the federal law, so that women didn’t have to fight for their rights 11 times, in 11 jurisdictions? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a publicly funded media campaign to raise public awareness for the law? Like this ad, by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Ask for this. While the politicians are listening.

Find your local candidates. Go to their rallies and ask them, loudly, and when the journalists are listening. Bring your baby. Breastfeed in public at their rallies.

My husband was joking about what would happen if you breastfed your baby at a political rally.

He said… You’d never get into the Conservative rally, because they pre-screen attendees. The Liberals would ignore you. The Bloc Québecois would blame anglophone culture for oppressing your rights. The NDP would invite you up on stage. And the Greens would get up onstage and breastfeed with you.

Think he’s right on the money? Or making crazy exaggerations?

Why not test the theory? Prove it right or wrong.

Just don’t let the politicians off the hook.

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