Pissing off a mermaid (or merman) has got to be one of the saddest things you can do, along with abandoning a basket of puppies or cancelling Christmas at an orphanage.
Mermaids are wonderfully ethereal creatures who should be free to splash around and hang out on sexy rocks whenever they want, even if IRL they're just people with active imaginations wearing spandex tails at public swimming pools.
In a controversial move that outraged the Canadian mermaid community and made everyone else realize that a Canadian mermaid community exists, the city of Edmonton and the city of Surrey in B.C. placed an official ban on wearing mermaid tails in their swimming pools. A spokesperson from the city of Edmonton stated the reason for the ban was that wearing mermaid tails "promotes breath-holding, which can lead to blackouts."
Is there merit to the city's argument, or is that a bit like saying "wearing running shoes promotes sprinting out into traffic?" Aspiring pro mermaid Krista Visinski certainly doesn't agree, and has organized a 600 person petition to try to revoke the ban. Others from the mermaid community fear that the bans in Edmonton and Surrey are going to cause a ripple effect, spreading into other Canadian cities.
To make sense of this bizarre turn of events, I reached out to the founder of Canada's first and only Mermaid Academy and official Mermaid Ambassador of Canada, Marielle Chartier-Henault. We caught up at a local pool in Montreal to talk tails, bans, and the future of mermaid-hood and mermanity.
VICE: Hi Marielle, so what are your thoughts on this mermaid ban?
MARIELLE CHARTIER-HENAULT: Well, for me personally, this is pretty good news because the mermaid ban is only for public swimming pools. Since I run a private academy I'm not too worried about my mermaid school being threatened. If anything, people might need to come to my school to be mermaids now. But as for the ban itself, I think a complete ban might be a bit extreme. I think the best way would be that you can wear the tail if you have your certificate by passing a swim test, like with scuba diving. You don't go scuba diving in a pool. The thing is, without proper training and supervision, there is a little bit of a risk with the tails—just like snowboarding where your feet are tied together—but [that's why] you have an instructor to help.
One of the arguments for the ban from the city of Edmonton was that wearing the tails promotes holding your breath underwater for extended periods of time, which could lead to blackouts and drowning. What's your response to that?
I think it's totally off track. Any kind of swimming you need to put your head underwater, and there's nothing forcing you to hold your breath. It's not like free diving, where you hold your breath sometimes as long as you can. We'd never promote that, and I've never heard of a single blackout, so I dunno where they got that from. I've never seen that in my class. I mean, you've tried it, you have your head underwater for a couple seconds, what did you think?
I mean it got pretty real but I never felt unsafe. I felt like I was slowing the class down a little bit but, no, never close to blackouts or drowning. So aside from my embarrassment...with all this publicity from the ban, this has been the most real mermaids have ever been in a way. They're actually affecting public policy. How do you feel about that, as one of them?
I think it's a good thing because people didn't know about it before, and now they're talking about it on TV. I'm really happy about that and hopefully we can arrive at some kind of a solution! When I'm in the water and I see the people smiling, that's the mermaid. That's the mermaid magic. To make people happy, that's what I enjoy doing and that's what keeps me going in this. You might have an idea that seems crazy, but if you go forward with it, people will want to join you.
Some merfolk are worried about a ripple effect to other cities. Are you concerned about that?
You know, I don't really know exactly what to expect. It's difficult to say at this point because we don't know much influence the mermaid community would have over the potential bans, but I'm not too worried. I will continue to run classes in private swim time. I've heard of a few professional mermaids coming out of the scene who wanted to start their mermaid business like that woman from Edmonton, but she was unable to with the ban and was so angry. For me, whatever happens, I will just go with it. A lot of mermaids are individual performers and they do birthday parties and stuff, which they do during public swim.
Do you feel solidarity with the mermaid community?
I feel yes, there is a solidarity and I try to keep in contact with those people because it's a relatively small community in Canada and it's important to help each other. And for me its just about raising awareness, like covering all the safety issues. But at the same time, I don't know [any other instructors'] qualifications and I don't want to back someone who is maybe unsafe. Even with my own school, I set my own standards like with lifeguards and synchronized swimming instructors, but there is no regulation or any kind of standard that can say 'this is safe.' Just like building a bridge, you have to be sure. Like, I can't make sure that this mermaid in Edmonton would be good. I don't know her, that's why maybe I would like to be the reference in training, you know if someone wants to give mermaid lessons in their own province they can do their training with me, and I could give them some kind of certification.
That would be pretty legendary. You'd be like queen of the mermaids.
[Laughs] Oh, yeah. Mermaid in chief. That's how I'll get my empire. But I think that's the way I'll go, like to regulate in Canada. I'm going to the go to the Philippines soon and when I do, I'll see how the mermaid system works over there. I also know they're training potential mermaids in Germany and in Singapore. Those places have certification courses because mermaids are everywhere.
So, if we are to take something from this it would be to be a mermaid all you want, you encourage it, but please do it under proper supervision.
And you have plans to expand to Toronto and Ottawa, could you tell me about that?
Yeah, everything is organized for Toronto, the school is starting July 5, and Ottawa in September.
Awesome. I wish you the very best of luck.
Follow Stephen Keefe on Twitter.