Mother files human rights complaint after being told not to breastfeed in public

A city official in Vaughan, Ont., has apologized to a mother who was asked to move to a private area to breastfeed her child while attending a drop-in program at a Thornhill community centre.

City of Vaughan apologizes, says no city by-laws or policies exist restricting breastfeeding in public

Sarah Lambersky was breastfeeding at a Thornhill community centre when a staff member approached her asking if she could move to a washroom. (CBC)

A city official in Vaughan, Ont., has apologized to a mother who was asked to move to a private area to breastfeed her child by staff at a local community centre.

On April 12, Sarah Lambersky was breastfeeding her 16-month-old daughter at Rosemount Community Centre in Thornhill, which is part of Vaughan. She was taking part in a drop-in program for parents and toddlers when a staff member approached her asking if she could breastfeed in the washroom because someone in the class felt uncomfortable, she said.

"Not my problem," the mother said on CBC Radio's Here and Now. "I'm going to continue to sit here to breastfeed my daughter."

Lambersky said a second staff member then approached her and asked her to move, saying it went against the program's policy. 

City staff will be trained

"There's nothing wrong, there's nothing illegal, there's nothing sexual about it," Lambersky said. "If you're uncomfortable, people typically avert their eyes."

The mother decided to take action. She emailed Vaughan city officials about the incident and filed a human rights complaint to the province of Ontario, which protects the right to breastfeed in public.  

If this can reach one person and raise awareness so they're comfortable to breastfeed  ... then I'm very happy that this occurred.- Sarah Lambersky , breastfeeding mother

A city official responded to the incident via email with the following statement: 

"I would like to apologize for the frustrations that you experienced. There are no City of Vaughan by-laws or policies that would restrict you from breastfeeding in public spaces."

It continued: "Staff will be provided additional training to avoid any future reoccurrences."

'I breastfeed on demand'

Lambersky, who lives in Texas, said she didn't expect to receive an apology but wants to see the program's policy reviewed and revised. 

"I am very passionate about breastfeeding," she said, noting how other mothers have approached her in the past and applauded her for being brave enough to feed her child in public without covering up. 

The mother noted this is the first time she has been told to stop breastfeeding. 

"I breastfeed on demand," she said, adding that when you're a mother, "you get to breastfeed in a lot of interesting places."

The mother says she has never been asked to stop breastfeeding before and wants other women to know they have the legal right to do so in public. (CBC)

As for the formal human rights complaint, Lambersky said the province issued a receipt to indicate they have received her statement.

Originally from Toronto, the mother said she wants other women to know their rights, too.

"If this can reach one person and raise awareness so they're comfortable to breastfeed covered or uncovered, or know that they're in a situation where they're asked to move or cover, that they can say 'no,' that they have the right to say 'no,' then I'm very happy that this occurred."

With files from Shannon Martin


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