Topless women are having something of a moment this week in Canada, though not without conflict. Three sisters in Kitchener, Ontario were stopped by police while enjoying a topless bike ride to cool off during the ongoing heatwave. Likewise, a police officer told a Kelowna, BC woman sunning herself on a beach to put on a shirt.
Susan Rowbottom, the Kelowna woman, did as she was asked but later looked into the legality of female shirtlessness. She checked with both the RCMP and Kelowna city staff about her suspicion that women can legally be topless in public, which is true.
"Hopefully this comes to the RCMP's attention that they can't enforce laws that don't exist," Rowbottom told CBC.
Tameera, Nadia, and Alysha Mohamed faced a similar situation in Kitchener late last week. The three sisters went for a bike ride without tops on to stay cool, but were stopped by a police officer.
"He said, 'Ladies, you need to put on some shirts,'" Tameera told CBC. "We said, 'No we don't… it's our legal right in Ontario to be topless as women.'"
Tameera added that the officer "began backtracking" when Alysha pulled out her phone to record the interaction. Once Alysha's phone was out, the officer denied their toplessness was the reason he'd pulled them over, and let them go.
Staff Sergeant Michael Haffner told CBC that the Waterloo regional police are "doing an internal review on the situation. It is a current law that if a female chooses to go topless, that is their right."
The sisters are planning to file a complaint and are holding a rally "to support the desexualizing of women's bodies" on Saturday in Kitchener.
It's been legal for women to be topless in public since the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned Gwen Jacobs's conviction for committing an indecent act in 1996. She was convicted in 1991 as a student at the University of Guelph. In 2000, the BC Supreme Court upheld the Ontario ruling in a similar case involving Linda Meyer. Meyer was charged when she showed up topless at a city pool. The judge in the case wrote there was no reason to believe that "the parks could not operate in an orderly fashion if a female were to bare her breasts in a circumstance that did not offend criminal laws of nudity."
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