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Montreal Stands Alongside Breastfeeding Mothers

by Candice Pye


September 3, 2015 | News



Despite the fact that a woman’s right to breastfeed in public is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, breastfeeding women have recently been subject to increasing accounts of harassment. Though a woman has the right to breastfeed wherever she is legally allowed to be, many restaurant owners, store managers and other persons of authority in public locations strongly disapprove of breastfeeding in the public eye, especially within their own workplaces.

Noah Busschaert, long-time manager of Montreal’s Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill, sat down to answer a few questions about his restaurant’s policies on breastfeeding as well as give his personal opinion. “I often think of Jack Astor’s as its own microcosm in society when it comes to issues like this,” he began. “We’re pretty non-pretentious and open-minded.”

He went on to speak about a complaint he once received from an elderly couple regarding a woman breastfeeding at a nearby table. He explained that it was the only incident where this type of complaint had been expressed within the many years he has worked for the restaurant chain.

He divulged that the woman was not covered up, and that, though he understood why the couple might have been uncomfortable, there was no way to express that distaste to her without being rude. “I wasn’t about to tell an innocent mother to leave my restaurant,” Busschaert exclaimed. “It’s not appropriate to ask that of someone, especially because breastfeeding is the mother’s business and no one else’s. We need to start going to bat for the woman; the world is going in that direction anyways.”

There have been numerous reports and public statements made by breastfeeding mothers on social media, bringing up similar personal experiences with breastfeeding-based harassment. Being expelled from public locations and being asked to breastfeed in public restroom stalls are just a few of these instances. These reports have led to several movements such as the trending hashtag “#FreeTheNipple” and the “When Nurture Calls” campaign (a series of photos of mothers breastfeeding their children in public restroom stalls taken by Kris Haro and Johnathan Wenske). As a result, many social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have updated their obscenity guidelines to ensure that photos of breastfeeders are not flagged as inappropriate.

Busschaert commented, “People are reacting negatively to one of the most primal and important necessities in life—a mother feeding her child. Is that really something we can call obscene?” He then added, “I wouldn’t ask an adult customer to eat in the bathroom of my restaurant, so why would I ask a child to?”

There are many people who do not support breastfeeding in public places and who argue that, if a woman does choose to do so, she must cover up as they believe it is basic decency and they feel uncomfortable seeing a woman exposed and bare-chested in a public location. Often times, these situations will lead to confrontations. Busschaert expressed that he would understand why breastfeeding in public might cause a brief sense of awkwardness or discomfort, especially among a more conservative demographic, but that it should not be a source of anger, frustration or disgust.

“You see women wearing little-to-no clothing on magazine covers and on the sides of buses every day and that’s socially acceptable,” concluded Busschaert. “But when a mother is using her breasts for the one thing they’re actually intended to do, it’s a scandal? Do we not have better things to do than to sexualize a woman’s breasts in their most basic and innocent use?”

The legal rights, social media movements and general opinions on the subject all put the shaming of these women into the perspective from both sides. Confrontations involving these two opposing ideas can be seen by many mothers as none other than harassment of the sex discrimination variety as well as a violation of basic human rights. There are codes in place to protect and support women on this basis. As more people speak out, it is becoming less of a surprise for many other Montrealers to share the same views as Noah Busschaert and to start to come forward for these targeted mothers.

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