A Montreal woman has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission after security guards at the Montreal Eaton Center asked her to stop breastfeeding her four-month-old son Leopold while sat on a bench in the downtown shopping complex on Saturday.
“A security guard approached me and told me that I was not allowed to breastfeed on this particular bench,” Isabelle Côté told CBC in an interview on Tuesday.
“I was really surprised. I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘It’s an intimate act, so you can’t do that in public.'”
Côté said the security guard then asked her to go to a room the mall had designated for nursing mothers.
Côté said she didn’t want to do that. She was waiting for her sister who was in a store, and she was breastfeeding.
“If I stop, my baby will cry, and then I have to pack everything up. I have my bags everywhere,” she told the keeper.
The babysitter insists, but Côté refuses and asks the babysitter to call her supervisor. By the time the supervisor arrived, Leopold was difficult and Côté had stopped breastfeeding.
But Côté said the supervisor repeated what the security guard said: she couldn’t breastfeed there and she would have to go to the designated breastfeeding room.
“I was very intimidated – and also surprised that this was still happening in 2022,” Côté said.
Breastfeeding in public spaces is a right protected by the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and freedoms.
Despite this, cases like this crop up from time to time, in places like public swimming pools, hospitals and courthouses.
Raphaëlle Petitjean, Executive Director of the Breastfeeding Support Group Quebec Breastfeeding Movement, said she thought things had changed.
But Petitjean said there was a similar incident at the Fairview Pointe-Claire mall in Montreal’s West Island earlier this month, and she saw more mothers complaining on social media. to be uncomfortable while breastfeeding in public.
“I attribute that to the pandemic. People are going out with their babies more, and we’re not used to seeing breastfed babies,” Petitjean said.
But she said people had better get used to it.
“It’s completely normal. It’s nothing sexual, it’s nothing exhibitionistic. It’s just meeting the baby’s needs.”
Côté said she was stunned by the reaction of the security guard and her supervisor.
“You couldn’t see my boobs. You couldn’t see anything. You basically have my baby there,” she said.
“On the other hand, in the same mall, you have, for example, an advertisement of women in bikinis showing much more than that,” she said.
“There’s a mixed message being sent,” she said. I think it’s completely unacceptable that we’re still seeing this in 2022.”
The mall apologizes
CBC received two separate statements, including one from Julie Bourgon, head of shopping centers at Ivanhoé Cambridge, the company that owns the Eaton Centre.
“We are sorry for the situation that unfolded at the Montreal Eaton Center and the difficulties that the client may have encountered during her visit,” said Bourgon.
“Ivanhoé Cambridge remains committed to respecting and encouraging breastfeeding in all common areas of its commercial properties,” she said.
Eaton Center director Melyssa Houle called what happened an isolated incident.
Her statement echoed Bourgon’s, and she said all administrative and support staff at the center have been made aware of the policy encouraging public breastfeeding.
Petitjean said the fact that even the supervisor who was called was unaware of the rules demonstrates that is not enough.
“There is no point in having policies if they are not known,” she said.
Beyond apologies, Côté says, she wants to see mall management take the lead.
“I want them to normalize and encourage public breastfeeding.”
Côté said some mothers who reached out to her on Facebook after the incident are arranging for a “nurse” at the Eaton Center on Sunday, and she plans to attend with Leopold.