Toplessness in City Pools

Toplessness in City Pools

Yesterday was quite a media whirlwind for me.

As many of you know, an 8-year-old girl was recently asked by a city lifeguard to wear a top when she stripped to her waist to play in a city wading pool since that is the official city policy:

“All patrons must wear swimming attire suitable for a public family environment.... For the protection of all participants and staff, females ages four and older must wear a bathing top in City of Guelph enclosed or fenced pools.”

The incident received national attention with supporters on all sides giving their (often heated) opinions on social media. Mayor Cam Guthrie posted a blog about it as well, outlining his communications steps as well as his personal opinion on the matter. On Wednesday, Guelph administration took quick and decisive action to immediately suspend and review the swimming attire policy for all of Guelph.

“In response to community feedback, the City of Guelph will review the section of the swimming attire policy related to swimming tops. During the review, the City will not enforce this section of the policy.”

Shortly after the news broke about the pool incident I did several hours of research to better understand the current laws regarding toplessness for both genders. I quickly came to the conclusion that the city’s pool policy is seemingly at odds with 1996 established case law from the Gwen Jacobs topless appeal and consequently did not reflect good city policy. The two most striking quotes from the Court of Appeal’s decision are as follows:

“Not all conduct which is beyond the community standard of tolerance is indecent. A sexual context is required for the standard to be applied. If the context of the conduct is ignored and regard is had only to community standards, there is a danger of a majority deciding what values are important and coercing minorities to conform to those values on the basis of avoiding perceived harm to society from non-conformity.”


“There was no evidence of harm that was more than grossly speculative. There was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in what the accused did.... No one who was offended was forced to continue looking at her.”

The Ontario courts have made it clear that just because some people find the idea of topless females does not mean that it is inherently wrong, indecent, or offensive to society. Your definition of appropriate attire for women and girls is not necessarily the right definition.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was interviewed by the Guelph Mercury, the Eric Drozd Show on 570News, CTV News in Kitchener, and CBC Radio One in Kitchener. In the media, I only speak for myself and not the entire city.

I welcome the city administration reviewing the pool attire policy. I believe they will come to the same logical and rational conclusion that I have: Guelph’s policy must be changed to ensure the issue of toplessness is equally applied to males and females to align with established Ontario case law and reasonable community standards.

Either allow both genders to swim topless or forbid them both. This issue of breast gender equality was resolved 20 years ago and it’s time to align city policy with reality.