In an earlier article which can be read here, I addressed the “right to breastfeed in public” discussion prompted in Whitehorse. Briefly, a woman was asked not breastfeed in a public pool because pool staff, operating under directions from Yukon’s Environmental Health Branch, considered breastmilk a contaminant and were thus required to ask the woman and her child to leave the pool.
On February 11th, Whitehorse City Council accepted the proposal and implemented a policy that “support[s] breastfeeding individuals and the right to breastfeed undisturbed in public places within the City, and specifically in City premises.” The general meaning of a “public place,” in the language of the Criminal Code and as clarified in R v Clark [2005 SCC 2], is “any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, express or implied.” Whitehorse’s policy does not seem to paint with such broad strokes, as “[t]his policy establishes expectations for City employees in responding to individuals breastfeeding in City premises.” “Public place” is therefore construed to mean places owned by the City and operated by employees of the City. Under this definition, a shopping mall – where the public has access by invitation – escapes the policy’s purview. It would seem that storefronts of business owners – which can be considered “public places” under Clark and the Code – are likely to be exempt as well.
Does this affect the status of breastfeeding in public as a “right?” Certainly not. This merely means that the government cannot prevent you from doing what your right permits, and that is precisely how the new Whitehorse policy is construed. City employees will inform women with infants of their right to breastfeed in public, and allow that to happen on City owned and operated premises. City employees will also offer women a private place to breastfeed if they wish to be accommodated that way. Private (i.e. not City owned and operated) businesses and spaces, on my understanding, can continue to allow or disallow breastfeeding as they did before this policy came about. Neither too broad nor too narrow, Whitehorse seems to have solved their issue that arose in a swimming pool years ago.
This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.