Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Calgary won’t deny topless swimmers at city pools; swimwear guidelines under review

Edmonton changed its regulations in June 2022 to align with Alberta Human Rights legislation.

The City of Calgary will be reviewing the language in its swimwear guidelines in light of the City of Edmonton’s policy change allowing topless swimmers at city pools.

The City of Edmonton amended its swimwear guidelines in June 2022 but hadn’t advertised the changes. Stories about the change appeared in both the Edmonton Journal and CBC Edmonton this week.

Edmonton operates 15 indoor pools and four outdoor pools. The review of the language was apparently prompted by a citizen’s question about the rules. The information provided to LWC by the City of Edmonton indicates they started down this path in 2019.

This update to our swimming attire guidelines was implemented in June 2022, following a series of engagement sessions with focus groups in 2019 that included a diverse set of individuals from different age groups, cultural backgrounds, genders, gender identities and sexual orientations,” read their e-mailed response.

“After thoughtful consideration, the City determined it cannot deny anyone from accessing a City-owned and operated indoor or outdoor pool because they wish to swim while not wearing a top.”

Edmonton said this guideline does not extend to other non-aquatic areas of recreation. There’s been no public feedback about the change since took effect, the City of Edmonton said. They have also not tracked how many people have gone topless since the change.

There is legal precedent in both Ontario and BC regarding attire worn – or not. Court rulings in 1996 and 2012 reaffirmed gender indifference when it comes to being topless.

Current Calgary swimwear guidelines don’t address going topless

The City of Calgary said they’re aware of the conversation in Edmonton around public pool swimwear.

“The City of Calgary has not previously had individual requests for topless swimming at City-operated pools, we are reviewing the language in The City’s swimwear guidelines,” read a prepared statement from the City.

They said their current swimwear guidelines don’t specifically address swimming topless.

“…However, in alignment with Human Rights legislation and our commitment to inclusivity, The City of Calgary wouldn’t limit an individual’s choice to swim topless in City-operated pools.”

The City of Calgary operates 13 aquatic facilities.

Graham Sucha’s family frequents the Southland Leisure Centre. One of his children is gender fluid, and as they were figuring themselves out, swimwear was one of the areas of confusion.

“The first thing that kind of started that was them questioning the swimwear they wear and how they appear in public when they’re going swimming,” he said.

“If you were to remove a policy around having to wear a specific swim top, it would help those parents to allow their children to be comfortable in the environment and allowing them to be comfortable with who they are as they discover themselves.”

The City of Edmonton said they changed the guidelines in recognition of gender, gender identity and gender expression protections 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,” read their emailed response.

Breasts are no more or less safe in a bathing top, said Coun. Penner

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said she would support a change to the City of Calgary’s swimwear guidelines.

“This is an issue that we sexualize women’s bodies, that woman’s boobs are perceived as sexual objects, not physical objects,” Penner said.

She fully expects more protests around the overt sexualization of women’s bodies as this gains public awareness. Penner questioned why it’s OK to regulate choice around the clothing of other people. Those are the assumptions that need to be challenged, she said.

“It’s not about safety. Women’s boobs, they’re not any more or any less safe because they’re in a bathing suit top,” she said.

“That’s not what it’s about. It’s how we perceive this the safety, the sanctity of the human body.”

Sucha hopes people are open-minded about it in Calgary. He knows there will be people that lash out. He also doesn’t think we’ll see a rush of topless swimmers.  He was a student in Ontario when their topless policies were put in place.

“To be quite honest, people wear what they’re comfortable with wearing,” he said.

“I don’t think you’re going see a mass uptake in it. I never saw it when I was a student out there.”

The City of Calgary didn’t indicate any timeline for a potential adjustment to swimwear guideline language.