Speaker issues update of dress code at B.C. legislature; sleeveless clothing OK

Bhinder Sajan, right to left, Shannon Waters, Liza Yuzda, Justine Hunter, Jen Holmwood, Katie DeRosa, Tanya Fletcher and Kylie Stanton pose for a photo at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on March 28, 2019. The Speaker of B.C.'s legislature says a preliminary review of the building's dress code now permits women to wear sleeveless dresses and sleeveless shirts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner

VICTORIA - Women who work in British Columbia's legislature are now allowed to wear sleeveless dresses, shirts and blouses, after a preliminary review prompted alterations to the building's decades-old dress code.

Speaker Darryl Plecas said Monday that a full review of the dress code is underway, but until the report is complete, business attire for women can include clothing that shows their arms.

"I am committed to supporting gender sensitivity and awareness at the legislative assembly, a workplace setting that has been dominated by one gender for far too long," Plecas said in a statement.

"Due to this historical imbalance, I am more than open to accommodating concerns brought forward by many women, as articulated over the past few days."

Plecas ordered the review last week after several female reporters and an NDP staff member wore short sleeves in response to legislature staff telling some women to cover their arms.

The protest saw Finance Minister Carole James criticize the legislature's dress code for women as she called for it to be updated.

James said Monday she welcomed the Speaker's prompt response to the issue.

"I'm glad we're modernizing the process and that adults can be adults," she said. "I certainly believe this is a professional environment and people know that who work here and they don't need to be policed."

Plecas said in the statement all members of the legislature's staff, including politicians, party and government officials, and the media, are encouraged to continue to wear professional attire but he recognizes women's business wear includes a range of options.

He directed Acting Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd to conduct a full review of the legislature's dress code, which has not been updated since 1980. Plecas said Ryan-Lloyd provided three preliminary recommendations, which he accepted.

One of the preliminary recommendations for women was that "professional business attire includes a range of contemporary conventional options, which may include sleeveless dresses, sleeveless shirts and blouses," he said.

Plecas added that the preliminary review also stated that the sergeant-at-arms and legislature staff will no longer be responsible for enforcing the dress code and individuals are capable of choosing appropriate professional attire.

Reporter Shannon Waters said the preliminary update is positive.

"It's seems like a good start," said Waters, who works for the online publication BC Today. "I like that the Speaker acknowledges this place has historically been dominated by one gender."

Waters said last week she and her female colleagues decided to challenge the dress code after hearing about a senior NDP staff official who was told her short-sleeved shirt was not appropriate for the legislature.

Green member of the legislature Sonia Furstenau said an official recently told one of her staff members to wear a slip under her dress. She praised Plecas's preliminary moves on the dress code.

"I'm quite pleased," Furstenau said. "I think he was very thoughtful."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said policing dress guidelines will not be left to individuals.


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