Why an Ontario woman is fighting for her right to swim topless

The lawyer of a woman who has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario says her client was being discriminated against when she was told that she could not swim without a top.

Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on sex and gender

'It's very simple. At all of those facilities a man could show up without a top, and he would be allowed to swim that way,' said the woman's lawyer. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A woman who has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario wants to "normalize" the act of swimming topless, says her lawyer.

Marie-Pier Dupont says her client, who does not wish to be named, was prompted to file a complaint when she was searching for a hotel for the occasion of her husband's birthday.

She asked several hotels if she would be allowed to swim without a top, as is her preference.

According to Dupont, the complainant was told by several hotels that she would not be allowed to swim topless, but was not given any reason or explanation.

"Some people have suggested that it's kind of dishonest of her to do a complaint without actually having been a client. The real reasoning behind that is simply because she doesn't want to be put in a situation where she would be publicly humiliated."

Dupont says her client did not want to be put in a position where she would have to argue with an establishment over her choice to swim without a top. 

So she decided to file a complaint instead.

According to Dupont, the legal basis for the complaint stems from Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which says that every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, regardless of sex or gender.

"It's very simple. At all of those facilities a man could show up without a top, and he would be allowed to swim that way," said Dupont. "But they discriminate against women because of some type of different conception of the woman's breast versus man's breast."

Marie-Pier Dupont is a lawyer representing an Ontario woman who has filed a human rights complaint after being told by several hotels that she would not be permitted to swim topless in their pools. At least three hotels have already changed their policies. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

Some Ontario hotels have updated their policies

The complaint lists several Ontario hotels, as well as the Calypso Theme Waterpark east of Ottawa.

Dupont says that since the complaint was filed, at least three of those hotels have made changes to their policies, and now permit women to swim without a top.

Groupe Calypso Valcartier, which owns the Calypso Theme Waterpark, said Wednesday that it would maintain the rules against women being topless at the park.

The Calypso water park in Ottawa says it will not be changing its policy against female toplessness at the park. (CBC)

"We are an amusement park for kids and family, and so we want to stay with that mission," CEO Louis Massicotte told Radio-Canada on Wednesday. "What we think is that places for families and kids should not be included in where [toplessness] is permitted.

Dupont says her client takes issue with that.

"There is no difference between female breasts and men's breasts. So if Calypso allows men to go around without a top, then women shouldn't be treated any differently."

Dupont understands that it's a controversial topic in our society, but says it's quite straightforward as far as the law is concerned.

"Some cases you would have 10 lawyers tell you 10 different things. In this case, I think, every lawyer would tell you essentially the same thing. Which is that the human rights code prohibits that type of discrimination."

'Adults are simply imposing their misperceptions'

Paul Rapoport, co-ordinator of the Topfree Equal Rights Association, also takes issue with Calypso's argument.

"The 'What about the children!' line has often been exposed for what it is: ludicrous. Adults are simply imposing their misperceptions, ignorance, irrational fears and intolerance on children instead of taking responsibility and changing themselves," Rapoport told CBC News in an email statement.

Twenty-six years ago, Gwen Jacob, a then 19-year-old university student, was charged with committing an indecent act after she walked home with her top off in Guelph, Ont.

The charges were eventually dismissed, clearing the way for all women in Ontario to be given the right to expose their breasts in public.