Breastfeeding in Public is a Human Right

Brian, October 30, 2018

A woman in Calgary is planning to file a human rights complaint after her insurance adjuster insisted she leave a meeting because she was breastfeeding her son. The baby was mostly out of sight under the mother’s headscarf, but the insurance adjuster still told her that she was making him “very uncomfortable” and she shouldn’t be breastfeeding in a “professional environment.” His manager agreed and said she would have to rebook the meeting.

Since the reason she was meeting an insurance adjuster in the first place was that the entire contents of her storage locker had been stolen, this seems particularly insensitive. The insurance company eventually apologized.

Under Ontario human rights law, women have the right to breastfeed in public. Although the Human Rights Code does not explicitly mention breastfeeding, the case law establishes that the right to breastfeed is protected as part of the human rights ground of sex and pregnancy. As well, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policy on discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding, which is not binding law but is considered persuasive by the Tribunal and the courts, sets out these rights very clearly:

“… This also means that women have a right to breastfeed undisturbed, and cannot be prevented from breastfeeding a child in, for example, a public area or restaurant. They also cannot be asked to move to a more “discreet” area to breastfeed a child, or to “cover up.” Complaints from other people will not justify interfering with a woman’s right to breastfeed.”

The linked article criticizes human rights legislation across Canada for failing to mention breastfeeding and merely “assuming” that it’s covered under sex discrimination. Perhaps a more explicit reference could indeed help in providing clarity. Legally, however, there’s no need to change the legislation because mothers already have the right to breastfeed in public. Human rights case law on the subject is binding law, not a mere “assumption”. What’s needed is increased public awareness and education on the existing rights that breastfeeding parents have in Ontario.

To read the article, see below.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/go-public-calgary-breastfeeding-alberta-motor-association-1.4872909

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