"Topless meeting reduces issue to God versus Devil"

by Jeffrey Shallit

I attended the June 16 public forum sponsored by Erika Kubassek's Moral
Support Movement in Kitchener City Hall.

It was clear that the vast majority present objected to the Ontario
Court of Appeal's decision striking down restrictions on the display of
women's breasts.

Unfortunately, the arguments advanced in favor of continued
restrictions were not based on logic or reason.

Here are rebuttals to some of the comments made there.

- "Breasts are erogenous zones and should be covered in public." Lips
are erogenous zones, but no one (except perhaps Islamic
fundamentalists) demands that they be covered.

- "Tops are made for a reason."  Hats are made for a reason, too, but
nobody's suggesting it should be illegal to not wear a hat.

- "Seeing naked female breasts offends me.  What about my right not to
be offended?"  There is no "right not to be offended" in Canada, nor
should there be.   After all, everybody is offended by something.
While there exists no right not to be offended under the Charter, there
is a right to equal treatment.  Men and women must be treated equally;
hence the judge's ruling.

- "Why are they trying to force me to walk around without a top on?"
They aren't.  There's a difference between possessing a legal right and
choosing to exercise that right.  Canada's freedom of religion, for
example, doesn't force you to attend a church.

- "My children will be damaged by the sight of female breasts in
public." No one has yet been able to explain how the sight of a naked
female breast will be injurious to children's mental health.  Marianne,
the national symbol of France, is often publicly depicted with one
breast exposed, but French people don't seem significantly more
unbalanced as a result.

- "Open display of female breasts will encourage sexual attacks on
women and children."  There is simply no evidence in favor of this
remarkable claim, and much evidence against.  After all, in Denmark and
Sweden where topless sunbathing is commonplace, the rate of sexual
assault is lower than in Canada.

- "The majority of people are against the display of female breasts;
therefore it should be illegal."  This comment displays a fundamental
misunderstanding of our system of constitutional democracy.  In a
constitutional democracy, the majority rules, but with protection for
the rights of minorities.  If the majority voted that Erika Kubassek
should be imprisoned for her views, would such a vote be valid?  Not
under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the rights of
minorities against the whim of the majority.   Without a system of
judicial review, democracy is just mob rule.

With all this illogic and poor reasoning, how can one account for the
emotional and deeply-felt reaction against the court's decision?  I
think it is clear that for many, the underlying reason is adherence to
fundamentalist dogma, which holds that the body is shameful and display
of the breasts is a sin.  This was made clear when a local pastor
warned the gathering that "God would judge" those whose beliefs
differed from his.  His bigoted comment drew the largest round of
applause at the meeting.  Fundamentalism reduces every public issue to
black versus white, God versus the Devil.  This is evident in the very
name of the anti-topless group:  the "Moral Support Movement".  The
clear implication is that those who don't agree must be immoral.

Happily, Canada is not a theocracy, and this particular dogma of
fundamentalism is not binding on the rest of us.  Let's keep it that

[Jeffrey Shallit of Kitchener is a father of two children.]