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Topless crusader surprised to hear eight-year-old girl told to cover up at pool

Linda Meyer, who challenged topless laws and won a court case, sunbathes topless at a public park near her home in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Friday June 26, 2015.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
June 29, 2015 - 6:00 AM

Linda Meyer loves talking about her breasts — although, at 54, she thought she'd be done talking about them a long time ago.

Then she heard about an Ontario girl who was told to cover her bare top while swimming in a wading pool this month.

"That's a rule and it ain't a bloody law," she says from her home in Maple Ridge, B.C. "Where did this take place again?"

In Guelph, Ont., where nearly 25 years ago Gwen Jacob strolled through the streets to win the right to walk topless, eight-year-old Marlee McLean's attempt to frolick in the water topless, just like her three step-brothers, made headlines across Canada.

A 1996 appeal court ruling in Ontario granted women the right to bare their breasts in public after the 19-year-old Jacob, a Guelph university student, was charged with committing an indecent act when she walked home shirtless on a hot summer day five years earlier.

Meyer's own breasts became national news 15 years ago when she was charged for violating a bylaw when she went for a topless dip at a city-run pool and successfully challenged the law in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

In many cities across the country, women are free to stroll around parks and swim in pools without a top like men were always allowed to do.

It's not an issue in Toronto, where the policy falls in line with the precedent set by Jacob, according to Aydin Sarrafzadeh, the manager of aquatics for the city.

It's the same in Halifax. The only rules about clothing in pools are for safety reasons, said city spokeswoman, Tiffany Chase, citing jeans as a drowning hazard.

Ditto for Vancouver. City spokeswoman Justinne Ramirez said there are no bylaws or policies that specifically address toplessness.

In Montreal, however, the rules are different. City spokesman Jacques Lavallee said there is a bylaw stating people must be "properly dressed" in city parks, pools and beaches.

"It's a vague definition, and no one has challenged it, but women would have to wear a full swimsuit," he said. "But in the future that could be challenged in court because what is proper?"

Lavallee said the city is currently reviewing the bylaw.

The rules might also be changing in Guelph. The city has suspended its practice pending a review after Marlee McLean's story erupted in a firestorm.

A lifeguard told Marlee she was breaking the rules, which state that girls over the age of four have to wear a top. Her father, Cory McLean was livid and said the rules had "sexualized" his daughter made her feel ashamed about her body.

That does not sit well with Meyer.

"I'm going to have to write the city of Guelph a letter," she says.

She says she writes a lot of letters. After she won her case, she says she tested the waters of 26 pools across British Columbia. Police kicked her out of one in Prince George, B.C., after a topless steam. So she sent a letter to the town's mayor at the time.

"I said, 'I'll bloody destroy you and bankrupt you'," Meyer says, getting worked up anew over the phone.

The mayor and the pool's manager, she says, sent her free passes to come back to swim.

"I said thanks, but no thanks."

She thought this issue had been resolved, at least in Canada.

While Jacob has slipped into a life away from the media spotlight — when contacted by The Canadian Press she said she was busy — Meyer has been trying to get her bare breasts on the front of newspapers "for a long, long time."

"If I'm in the hot tub, I'm not picking up any men. The sky isn't falling. We're all not going to be vaporized because my nipple is exposed," she says.

Meyer says her fight is about nipples — which men have too, she notes.

"This is all about the men," Meyer says. "If they can't control themselves because they see a nipple, why is that my fault? Go take a cold shower or think about your income taxes."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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