The City of Edmonton’s amended policy for topless swimmers at city pools is raising eyebrows this week.
All patrons are allowed to swim and lounge around at City of Edmonton pools without a top on, regardless of their gender identity.
The policy, under the city’s swimwear guidelines for pools, has been in place since June 2022 but it’s not a widely advertised change.
Priya Bhasin-Singh, director of Edmonton’s aquatics and community leisure centres, said the policy aligns with gender identity and expression protections found in the Alberta Human Rights Act.
“We believe our swimming guidelines must not discriminate on the basis of gender and not exclude anyone visiting a city facility,” Bhasin-Singh said in a statement to CBC News.
The city started reviewing its policy on swimwear in 2019 to make sure it was in line with the act.
Previous guidelines for aquatic settings required women to wear tops while men were not required to, said Christopher Webster, a city communications advisor.
Coun. Erin Rutherford said she was asked by a constituent whether women were allowed to be at city pools without a top.
That was the springboard for a response from the city, she said.
“Legal reviewed it and because there is case law coming out of Ontario, felt that we could not stop people from doing that,” Rutherford said.
“It has to be something that we don’t advertise or I guess before today didn’t advertise but also didn’t discourage if it was happening.”
Chelsea Scott, an associate lawyer with Taylor Janis LLP in Edmonton, said the policy seems to be a proactive move based on legal precedents in Ontario and British Columbia.
“I would say that it is the trend,” Scott said in an interview Wednesday.
“There is case law and it’s the law in Canada that women — because ultimately this is what we’re talking about, women with breasts not being forced to cover those in public spaces.”
Scott said municipalities govern a lot of public spaces and many are being proactive in preventing potential situations of discrimination.
Scott wasn’t familiar with other municipalities in Alberta that have the same policy.
A spokesperson for the Alberta Justice said there is no provincial legislation that prohibits people from swimming topless and the issue isn’t addressed in regulations for public pools.
The policy was news to a few patrons going into the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre Wednesday.
“It’s kind of weird, for women to be topless,” said Jamie Earle, a Commonwealth gym regular who wasn’t aware of the policy.
Earle said while it seems unusual now, it might be something that takes time to get used to.
“I’m sure eventually it’ll catch on,” he said .”There’s topless beaches and stuff and people don’t really care about that.”
Yasmin Soarez said she was surprised to hear about the policy.
“I don’t think it should be allowed at all,” she said. “Not everyone has the same values and beliefs.”
She said she’s fine with the policy but others might feel uncomfortable.
Malorie Untereiner, who was going into the recreation centre with her three-year-old daughter, said she considers it an equal rights issue.
“Men bare their nipples all the time, I mean, women can too, I guess.”
Rutherford said she’s never seen anyone go topless at a city pool.
“While I personally wouldn’t be going topless in a pool, I respect everybody’s right to choose.”
Bhasin-Singh said the city has had no negative feedback about the policy.
“We realize that some people will be uncomfortable with this approach,” Bhasin-Singh said. “However, this is a human rights issue and we have an obligation to treat all individuals equally when using city facilities.”
The topless policy isn’t valid in other parts of recreation centres or city facilities — people in those spaces will still be required to wear tops, Webster said in an email.