Saturday, July 18, 2009
Nursing Mother Told "You can't be here" in Wal Mart
When Tanya Constable's 11-month-old daughter, Myra, started to cry yesterday morning while she was shopping, Constable did what any mother would do: she fed her.
The only problem? She was in a Langford Wal-Mart store, where her breastfeeding raised the ire of at least one employee.
"You can't be here," Constable, 27, says a female employee told her, suggesting she breastfeed in the washroom instead.
Constable, a child-care worker on maternity leave, asked to speak with a manager. "The manager said that if someone complains, the store's policy is to ask them to move," she said. According to Constable, there were no other customers in the baby section where she was nursing who could have complained.
So she decided to leave the store.
Kevin Groh, director of corporate affairs for Wal-Mart Canada, apologized on behalf of the store, saying that for the employee to suggest that Constable move to a washroom or changeroom was "wrong."
In fact, Groh said, Wal-Mart's policy for years has been "absolutely black and white." "Customers can breastfeed in whatever manner they see fit anywhere in the store."
Groh said yesterday's incident was a result of miscommunication. The employee who initially approached Constable did so not because she was breastfeeding, but because she was doing it on a rocking chair meant for display purposes only, he said.
Still, Groh admitted, Constable shouldn't have been asked to move to a washroom or changeroom. Groh said he's arranging for stores across Canada to remind their staff of the company's policy.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal does not have a policy regarding breastfeeding, although it does state that no person should be denied services based on their sex.
Last year, a Vancouver woman launched a complaint with the tribunal against H&M clothing store for asking her not to breastfeed. The complaint was later dismissed after the store apologized for the gaffe.
Rebekah Smith, a program coordinator for the Toronto-based Infant Feeding Action Coalition, says the group receives several calls a month from women across Canada who've been asked to relocate or be "discreet" about breastfeeding.
"Breastfeeding in public is not a crime," Smith said. "People need to start realizing that mothers have a legal right to nurse."
As for Constable, she said she was happy with the apology, but disappointed the incident had to happen in the first place.
"My baby has a right to eat," she said, adding Myra needs constant feeding because of a bladder infection that results in frequent urination.
"If people can walk by eating cheeseburgers from McDonald's in the store, then my baby can nurse," she said.