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Topless in Canadian Tire


How I used a non-policy to begin educating the police and others.

By Julia Goforth, 2001 July 07.

This is a report of an incident on June 30, 2001 at about 11:00 in a small city north of Toronto, Ontario. The dry approach reflects the author's calm, cool control.

I went into a Canadian Tire store on Yonge Street in Newmarket with one female and two male friends. One of the men and I were topfree, while the other two chose to wear shirts.

After a half hour of browsing and purchasing, Mr. Allen Dodds, Retail Manager, approached me with Ms. Tanis Pottage, Manager, and another store employee. Mr. Dodds told me I was going to have to put my shirt on. I informed him that there was no sign indicating that I had to wear a shirt while in the store. He stated that Canadian Tire is private property and I had to put a shirt on or leave the store.

I asked if this was a store policy. He said it was. I requested to see the policy in writing. He said that it was not written anywhere.

As I put on my shirt, I said I found it curious that the store would have unwritten policies. I asked him to please put this one in writing for me, and that a hand-written copy would be acceptable. He then accused me of creating a disturbance with his customers. I pointed out that I was merely shopping and was not creating a disturbance of any kind. He said that other customers were bothered by my being without a shirt. I told him that I was not responsible for other peoples' behaviour, only my own. He excused himself and went outside to talk to the police.

When he returned, he informed me that the police said that he didn't have to give me anything in writing. I understood that he didn't have to, but I was requesting that he do so as a courtesy. He refused.

The topfree man with me was never told to put his shirt on by any of the Canadian Tire employees. Taking note of this, I asked Mr. Dodds, "Is this a gender issue?" He said, "Yes." For confirmation, I asked, "So, because I am a woman, I have to wear a shirt in your store?" He paused a moment, then said, "I don't want to get into this. I don't want to argue about it." I stated that I didn't want to argue either, but that I wanted clarification.

Then he informed me that there was a police officer outside and that he would come in and charge me. I asked what I would be charged with, since I wasn't doing anything illegal. He said he didn't know---whatever the officer wanted to charge me with. I replied that I would be charged if he pressed charges, so I would like to know what he was planning to have me charged with.

He threatened once again to bring in the police. I encouraged him to include the officer in our discussion. Stunned, he excused himself to speak with the officer.

Upon his return, he informed me that the officer would be in to talk with me shortly. Then Mr. Dodds left, not to be seen again during the rest of the incident.

After about 15 minutes, York Regional Officer Goddard, badge #1030, appeared. The officer, the other woman and the topfree man in my party, and I all joined Ms. Pottage in the office in the customer service area. Officer Goddard clarified, "The manager told you to put your shirt on." I said, "Yes." After a pause, he asked, "So what is the problem?" I said there was no problem, merely that I had put on my shirt when I was told to, but that I was asking for their store policy in writing regarding the wearing of shirts, since it was not posted.

I suggested that to require me to wear a shirt while allowing men to be without one was illegal.

Officer Goddard informed me that my being without a shirt was drawing attention from the other customers; that was the reason I was confronted. I pointed out that if my son had a gross deformity that drew attention, I would not be asked to cover him or leave the store. The officer agreed. I then pointed out that this was basically the same kind of thing. He said he understood, but that this was a "cultural thing." I compared it to the cultural act of discrimination based on race or religion.

He offered, "Well, it's going to take some time for society to change." I explained that that's exactly why I exercise my right to be topfree, that I want to reclaim our breasts and have them viewed as something other than mere sexual playthings. I am helping not just women but men as well, by changing how they view women in general.

Officer Goddard said that the store did not understand the laws about women being able to go without a shirt, and that because the law was so new, even the police were unsure how to handle this type of situation. [Ed. note: the law was only 4.5 years old at this point!] I recalled that I had once encountered an officer who was so unsure what to do that he begged me to put my shirt on long enough for him to get into his cruiser and leave. That sort of action weakened the police's position and effectiveness in the public eye.

I informed Officer Goddard that as Vice-President of the Topfree Equal Rights Association, I would like the opportunity to help the police deal with the public when they receive a call regarding a topfree woman. I asked whom he would recommend that I get in touch with to arrange an informative presentation. I didn't want to tell anyone how to do their job, just offer more viable options on ways to deal with the issue that keep everyone happy without violating anyone's rights. He suggested that I speak with the Chief at York Regional Headquarters.

As the discussion came to an end, Ms. Pottage stated that they would contact Canadian Tire's corporate office and institute a "shirts required" policy in all Canadian Tire stores.

I thanked Officer Goddard and Ms. Pottage for their professional attitudes, then asked the officer for directions to another store. He gave me the directions and then asked, "Am I going to be getting a call from that store in a little bit?"

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