Lactivist cries over spilt milk

A short while ago Cinira Longuinho, breastfeeding her child on the steps of a swimming pool, was asked to do so elsewhere by the owner.  Longuinho is now declaring that her human rights have been violated.  Here’s the Toronto Star’s report on this story.

My wife and I just had a rather in-depth discussion about this matter, and there are many reader comments arguing both sides of the story.

Do women have the right to breastfeed in public?  In my opinion, absolutely!  On one hand it’s legal for women to do so in Ontario (perhaps not in other provinces) and that’s where this altercation took place.  On the other hand, I have no moral objection to this action because that’s what human bodies are built to do.

As it happens, Longuinho was not ejected from the property but was asked to breastfeed in another room, away from the pool area, for public health concerns (the property owner mentions the possibility of breast milk entering the pool, and the likelihood that a fed infant is liable to urinate, defecate, or vomit).  As such, it seems to me that the pool owner has no problem whatsoever with breastfeeding, but was trying to accommodate the majority of her guests at the expense of inconveniencing one (or two, as my wife points out to me as she reads over my shoulder).

The key concept here is public.  Here’s the third paragraph from The Star’s story:

But the owner of the private pool said her priority is keeping the pool clean for everyone.

Here’s as far as I needed to read before formulating my opinion:

But the owner of the private pool

Done.  The breastfeeding woman has equal rights as other patrons inside this private property – pretty much none.  The owner of the property, as long as she breaks no laws in doing so, is free to impose whatever rules she wishes and is free to eject whomever she chooses regardless of whether she has any reason.  ROAR – Right Of Admission Refusal.

Or so I believe.  I might be mistaken.

Longuinho makes mention of a case in 1999 where a woman from Caledon, Ontario, was proclaimed the winner where she was ejected from a public pool for breastfeeding on the premises.  As this was a public space the breastfeeding woman was partial owner of that facility and thus was beholden to the law and no further restrictions.

I’d have thought this would be the most important distinction if not for this proclamation by Longuinho regarding the resolution of that case:

They said it was a human rights issue, that I have a right to breastfeed anywhere anytime, in a public space or private space, and so mediated in my favour

This statement troubles me.  I like to think that if I own property I should have absolute control over whom is permitted on my property, and should be permitted to eject anyone with or without justification.  If I’ve invited someone into my house and they refuse to leave, I should hope that the police would assist me in shooing that person onto public property.

I really don’t feel that there’s any more to this discussion, and I share Longuinho’s desire if not her means:

I’m doing all this because I really think it’s important for women to go in public and breastfeed without being scared.

I couldn’t agree more with this.  As Canadian taxpayers we are co-owners of publicly funded spaces.  I simply believe that the human right to regulate our own property is greater than that of women to breastfeed wherever they wish.  This isn’t a breastfeeding issue in any way.

It is a Canadian woman’s right to breastfeed in public, but it is her privilege to be a guest on private property.

Thanks to my wife for provoking this conversation and for supplying the title to this post.

By brian

About Brian Damage:

Who is Brian really?
I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

Who is Brian at work?
My ridiculous job title is "Marketing Specialist" since I wear so many hats at work. I'm a technical writer, a specialist in enterprise search technologies, an electronic forms designer, a newsletter author, system administrator... but I'm in the Marketing department so for the time being I'm stuck with this inauspicious title.

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9 replies on “Lactivist cries over spilt milk”

So here’s a question for you:
Let’s say you own a bar, you have the right to eject anyone right?
What if you reject everyone who is breastfeeding, is this alright?
What if you reject everyone who is ugly, is this alright?
What if you reject everyone who is male, is this alright?
What if you reject everyone who is gay, is this alright?
What if you reject everyone who is black, is this alright?
What if you reject everyone who is Jewish, is this alright?

Where is your line?

Similar arguments came up in my conversation with the Mrs. I say, if it’s your private property than whatever you say goes as long as it’s legal. The general public has no right to be on your property – it’s a privilege granted by the property owner that can be taken away at any time.

So to answer your various questions, they are all alright by me. I don’t know the legality of those scenarios or how the refusal of entry should be conveyed to keep it legal, but I’d hope private property owners are free to make that call themselves.

Under your version, malls could deny entry to the blacks. Since the mall is private property. On that note, so could railways and airplanes.

Interesting. Here’s the problem, if your establishment is open to the public, then it’s not entirely private. And denying entry to a group of individuals is simply called discrimination.

Oh, and on an aside. Trying to claim that breastfeeding is for public health concerns is completely bogus and was a way to try to weasel out of it.

Here’s a rule, always re-read your comments before submitting.

There should be no “the” before blacks. Originally I had “the Irish” and “golf courses” not malls, since that was a well known form of discrimination, but private clubs fall under a different set of laws than malls.

You’re correct – the right of refusal is the right to discrimination. Sometimes discrimination is warranted in order to best accommodate the majority. For example, a man wearing shorts and a t-shirt might be refused entry to a fancy restaurant.

I say let capitalism sort itself out in this case. I uphold that the property/service owner has the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, but it’s also the right of the individual turned away to share her story with the world and seek restitution.

The comments on The Star’s website are telling – there are many opinions stated in support of and in contradiction to her argument that she should be permitted to breastfeed there. As such, I hope the pool owner is not said to be at fault, and the public themselves may judge whether that is the sort of business they want to support. I like to do that with the Better Business Bureau before making a major purchase.

What we have here is more than just one person’s right being violated, we have two rights. Firstly, that of the mother to breastfeed at her own easement, and secondly that of the child. The right to breastfeed and the right to be fed.

Now, in answer to the first comment, while it is your right to reject anyone, your grounds should in practice be justifiable. If you’re kicking out groups of people for a genetic trait or affiliation, it’s harmful to them as a person. This falls under Torts, a civil wrong. You may not be engaging directly in any form of defamation, but if another owner of a bar sees this, they could be led to believe that all people of group X are inherently bad and thus deny them business. You then run into an issue of someone else’s own prejudices impacting on another’s ability to live.

Now, if you kick out all drunken frat boys, that’s different. Your see, we’re now describing a bunch of people by their actions. Drunkenness is a state of being of which one is legally and morally responsible for. They are not absolved of legal responsibility; they owe a duty of care to those around them. Drunkenness is known to change a person’s behaviour because it lower inhibitions. They then act rowdy or otherwise are disturbing other patrons. This then results in a duty of care being burdened onto the owner. He owes a duty of care to all his other patrons, so he at his discretion can kick these people out.

Let’s now look at Brian’s example. He cites a man wearing shorts and a t-shirt into a fancy-pants joint, and the man is denied entry. He is denied entry based on what he can change and not that which is natural. He has the ability to wear proper clothes but chose not to. If he was denied service based on age, gender, ethnicity or any number of other things then he might have a case.

The pool owner may talk about “public health”, but if she talks about it like that, it then implies that this pool is public. If it’s public, then there should be no active form of discrimination. But then, the pool owner actually alleged that the pool was private. Public health shouldn’t have been her main statement.

If it is about public health, then the ministry in the article made it clear that there wasn’t a health violation involved and that the pool owner is trying to find an actual reason to kick someone out without a true reason. It’s a swallow cop out. If the water was so vile, then perhaps they should make the children cover their mouths and noses so they don’t ingest the water.

The owner also cited “bowel movement”, as if that’s any less sanitary than urinating in the pool. Both are equally as unsanitary, one just looks more gross. She may say that she charges parents if the child defecates in the pool.

I wonder… if the owner would feel the same way if she after she has her child, is subject to this kind of “suggestion” if she was at another pool that was “private”.

Thanks for being so concise, Bianca! Here’s my rebuttal.

“If you’re kicking out groups of people for a genetic trait or affiliation, it’s harmful to them as a person. ”
and later…
“Now, if you kick out all drunken frat boys, that’s different.”

Like Mycroft you’re drawing a line in the sand between action-based and being-based discrimination. I agree that the law treats these motivations for discrimination very differently. I have no problem with that.

“a man wearing shorts and a t-shirt into a fancy-pants joint… is denied entry based on what he can change and not that which is natural.”

So the real question we are debating is whether behaviour can be considered natural. Perhaps the outcome would be different based on whether the behaviour occurs on public or private property.

“The pool owner may talk about “public health”, but if she talks about it like that, it then implies that this pool is public. ”

I don’t think so. I attest that private property may contain both private and public citizens, but on public property there are no private citizens. I say this generically in application to this specific issue, not as a blanket statement to justify warrantless spying. I suspect that the interpretation of this very matter will be the deciding factor.

P.s., all this talk of bowel movements is starting to make me queasy.

Hey, easy there. I didn’t say anything about where I draw the line, I was asking you about yours.

So if I read your responses correctly without getting into all of the legal discussions, I’ll keep this to a moral one for now, you would not restrict discrimination of any type?

You’re right. I feel that the owner of private property should be free to dictate any rules, within the law of the land, to be applied to guests on that property. I feel that the public should not be allowed to dictate what I’m free to do on my property. I haven’t fully thought this through but I feel that when you rent property you should get nearly all the rights you would have if you owned that property.

Mycroft, what’s your moral stance on this issue?

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