Last year, Toronto’s Parks department refused to issue GoTopless, a U.S. organization made up of adherents of the Raelian faith, a permit to hold their event in Kew Park.
The department said the womens’ state of undress would violate Parks bylaw 608, which spells out “appropriate bathing attire.” This year, Toronto Parks has decided that, if asked, it will issue the permit.
Mark Lawson, manager of customer service for Toronto Parks, said the city did not want to face a court challenge from the group.
“I think the change is quite simple,” said Mark Lawson, manager of customer service at Toronto Parks.
“We had a quick discussion amongst the directors within the division and…it was felt that…the decision not to allow them to have a permit may be seen as discriminatory based on gender.”
This decision was news to Sylvie Chabot, the head of GoTopless Canada. “If it’s true, then I would be more than happy because that’s the purpose of our march — to fix the law and make women [feel] comfortable.”
Ms. Chabot thinks the more women exercise their right to be topless in public, the less of a problem it will be over time.
Continuing to deny GoTopless a park permit could have resulted in court action. According to Sheetal Rawal at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, under freedom of expression jurisprudence, toplessness as a political statement would fall into the realm of expression that is protected by section 2(b) of the Charter.
The question, she said, then turns to section 1 of the Charter and whether the government can show that limiting that expression is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society. Section 28 of the Charter [also] guarantees the rights in the Charter equally to female and male persons, which ought to form an interpretive context to this enquiry.
Mr. Lawson reiterates his point. “We just wanted to be fair,” he said, “we didn’t want to be flippant with it. We didn’t want to say ‘this is a definite no.’ We wanted to give some real thought to it, and ensure the decision we made was defensible.”
On August 26 GoTopless will march in Toronto. The date was chosen because August 26th is Women’s Equality Day.