Boobs or Bombs
- Human Rights in Terrorist Times
Despite their protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, nursing mothers continue to be discriminated against for simply trying to feed their babies.
Perhaps the most notable example is the strange case of Deborah Wolfe. Ms. Wolfe, a Canadian citizen, was returning home to Vancouver from Houston, via Continental Airlines, when a male passenger took exception to her nursing and changing her four month-old baby. We first heard about Deborah Wolfe's story when Montreal Gazette newspaper columnist Lisa Fitterman contacted the INFACT office for information about a Ms. Wolfe's right to breastfeed. According Fitterman's column (Montreal Gazette, April 21, 2003), Ms. Wolfe reasonably refused a request to move to the back of the plane while nursing. She was also asked to change her baby in the airplane washroom, but she again declined. When she was offered an airline blanket as a cover-up, she once again declined because it hadn't been sealed.
At this point she was unaware that her lack of cooperation had led to a "Level 1" complaint being filed against her.
According to Fitterman's article, "When an announcement then came over the public address system stating that all mothers should change diapers in the plane's bathrooms, she (Ms. Wolfe) decided to ignore it because she found the change table too high, right above the toilet and with nary a restraint to stop an infant from falling. She says she explained all this to the flight attendant who came over for a second time, by then the complaint, of which she was still unaware, was upgraded to Level 2."
Ultimately, the offended passenger approached Ms. Wolfe directly and she responded by asking him if he had a problem with her nursing her son. The end result was that she was "…threatened with detainment, RCMP involvement and legal charges for terrorist action against a U.S. citizen in international airspace while on an American flight during a time of war."
Again, according to Fitterman, "In the end, Wolfe says things were resolved when she signed a document promising that she would neither break Continental's rules about such things, nor speak to American passengers." Continental's official position is that women are allowed to breastfeed at their seats unless another passenger complains. In this case, mothers are required change diapers in the bathroom and nurse at the back of the plane.
What makes Deborah Wolfe's story so incredible is that it is not unique. In April, the Quebec Human Rights Commission awarded a woman $1,000 after a security guard kicked her out of a Montreal municipal courtroom for nursing her infant. The same week that we received Lisa Fitterman's phone call at the INFACT office, Blair Tinianov called from Barrie to ascertain whether or not his wife's right to breastfeed was protected. She had been asked to refrain from nursing their fourmonth old infant in the change room at Barrie's YMCA because she was making the other women in the change room (who where in various stages of undress themselves) uncomfortable.
The good news is that Blair Tinianov's complaints did not go unheard. He reports that the Barrie YMCA has since posted signs proclaiming that it is "breastfeeding friendly".
Phone, write or email Continental Airlines and let them know thatbreastfeeding is not a terrorist act!
Continental Airlines Customer Care Executive Office
P.O. Box 4607
Phone: 1-800-WECARE-2 (1-800-932-2732)
Spring 2003 Newsletters Contents