West-end golf club facing online backlash after breastfeeding mom says she was sent to basement
Rachael D'Amore, CTV Toronto
Published Sunday, October 16, 2016 5:56PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 16, 2016 6:37PM EDT
A Toronto mother claims she was escorted to the basement of a golf club after patrons complained about her breastfeeding at a charity event over the weekend.
Alexandra Shimo said she and her partner Lia Grimanis attended an event held at the Lambton Golf and Country Club in York on Saturday night along with their two-and-a-half month old baby, Jacob.
When she realized Jacob was hungry, Shimo said she walked over to a corner in the club’s hallway – located outside of the dining area – to nurse him.
As she sat in a chair near the service entrance, a male service manager approached her with a large tablecloth.
“I’d been happily feeding Jacob and a couple people came up and said how sweet he was and I thought that it was really quite idyllic,” she told CTV Toronto. “Then the restaurant manager came out and said a few people had complained because they ‘didn’t want to see this while they were eating,’ because we were in the sight of the restaurant.”
Shimo, who had been sitting on a chair in the corner of a hallway, was told she was still visible to patrons in a members-only dining area.
“I took Jacob off the breast and covered up and he led me downstairs to the basement,” she said. “The way it was handled, I was slightly embarrassed because he made me feel like it was a shameful thing by sort of covering me up and saying people didn’t want to see it.”
Eventually, Grimanis went looking for Shimo and found her and baby Jacob seated on a couch on the lower level of the club. That’s when Grimanis took a photo of Shimo breastfeeding and posted the photo and the incident to Facebook.
She said the whole thing quickly “exploded” online.
“We had messages from people in Denmark, from the UK, from the United States and all across Canada,” she said. “I think we’ve really tapped into that idea that we’re not going to go quietly into the basement anymore, this is our right to breastfeed.”
The post similarly prompted swift backlash from parents and patrons of the golf club on their Facebook page, Lambton Golf and C.C.
By Sunday afternoon, the page was teeming with comments from people condemning the club’s actions.
“What was done to a breastfeeding mother at this establishment is completely disgusting not to mention illegal,” Jackie Leventhal said in a comment posted to the Lambton Golf & C.C. page on Sunday.
“Any establishment that sends nursing mothers to the basement isn’t one I consider worth going to. I’m going to start golfing next week at another club that treats people with respect and dignity. I’ll be sure to never come here,” Cara Elizabeth said in a Facebook comment.
A manager at the golf club told a CTV Toronto reporter that the establishment is “well aware” of the situation but haven’t released an official response.
The club’s Facebook page has also been flooded with dozens of one-star reviews.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sex, including pregnancy and breastfeeding. A website belonging to the Ontario Human Rights Commission indicates that no one can “ask you to ‘cover up’ or require you move to a more “discreet” area while breastfeeding.
Some of the discussion online pertained to whether the code applies to the club, as it is a private space that was open to a public event.
Shimo said that at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter.
“There’s been a lot of discussion online about given that this is a private space that was open to a public event – what the law actually is,” she said. “Regardless, this is a country club that is known for its Mother’s Day brunch, so the fact they’re discriminating against mothers who are trying to feed their babies isn’t good for business and is unethical.”
The women claim they have been urged by supporters to file a complaint with the human rights tribunal against the club but Shimo said she’d rather an apology.
“What I’ve asked is that the golf club apologizes to me and give sensitivity training to their staff,” she said. “They haven’t responded to that, or what’s happening on social media. So, if they continue to ignore this event and this issue, then yes, I probably will file a complaint with the human rights tribunal.”
Shimo added that the notion breastfeeding needs to be covered up is outdated.
“This is 2016. We’re tired as women being made to feel ashamed of our bodies,” she said. “This is a natural and beautiful thing and it’s also a human right.”