British Columbia

Sign banning breastfeeding sparks social media backlash

The owner of the cafe in Telkwa, B.C. says he will have to adapt to the fact that women have the right to breastfeed in public, but he's still uncomfortable with the idea.

'Use a cloth or something to cover yourself,' said sign placed in northern B.C. cafe

An image of a person breastfeeding a baby.
A Telkwa, B.C. cafe owner who posted a no-breastfeeding sign in his business said he didn't know a woman's right to breastfeed in public is protected in B.C. (Reuters)

A sign posted inside a coffee shop in northern British Columbia, instructing women to cover themselves if breastfeeding inside the cafe has sparked criticism at the cafe owner.

"Breastfeeding … use a cloth or something to cover yourself or you will be refused service or asked to leave," the sign read.

The words, posted in the Telkwa Baeckerei-Kaffeehaus near Smithers, B.C. ignited a social media backlash.

"When we suggest to women that we should be covered we are suggesting to them that somehow breastfeeding is inherently a sexual act or that it is wrong," said breastfeeding advocate Jaclyn Logan.

"It's misogynistic."

Sign removed 

The cafe's owner, Matthias Lexow, said he has apologized to several people affected by the sign and has learned plenty about human rights law in B.C.

Lexow said he mounted the sign, which has since been removed, in a bid to appease customers who he said had complained.

He admitted he too is uncomfortable with seeing women's bare chests.

"It is not that I'm disrespectful to women, it's actually the opposite. I prefer to see my customers with their clothes on.

"It doesn't matter to me if it's a man or a woman," he told CBC reporter Wil Fundal.

Under B.C. human rights law, women have the right to breastfeed in public spaces and businesses.

​While the restaurant is not technically a public space, Robyn Durling, a spokesperson for the B.C. Human Rights Clinic, said in this instance, it might as well be.

Option to look away, says advocate

"Any place that's a service commonly available to the public must accommodate women, Durling said. "If they can, the appropriate accommodation is to actually make a space for them to breastfeed.

But Lexow said he must still get used to the fact that "a young mother can expose herself in any environment as she likes," in British Columbia.

Logan suggested anyone bothered by a baby on the breast could simply look away.

The backlash on social media began when Eva McNulty heard about the sign and posted her concerns online.

"I had to write something about it because it's just so outrageous," McNulty said, adding she was surprised by the traction her post received online.

Soon, hundreds of people had left negative comments and reviews, saying they wouldn't return to the bakery.

With files from Wil Fundal and Daybreak North