Incident spurs awareness rally

A Vernon group is holding a feed-in Saturday to raise education, awareness about women’s right to breastfeed their babies wherever they like

A Vernon mother-led group is holding a feed-in Saturday to raise education and awareness about women’s right to breastfeed their babies wherever they like.

The Vernon Breastfeeding Club is hosting a feed-in Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Village Green Centre Food Court.

“It’s open to everybody,” said Amanda Kopiak, club facilitator. “We want women in general to stand together, whether they’re currently breastfeeding, have breastfed in the past, bottle feeding. I want dads to be there, grandparents, whoever supports the woman’s right.”

The B.C. Human Rights Code says a woman can feed her baby in any public place, and it is considered discrimination to ask the woman to cover up.

It was an incident Wednesday at the Village Green Centre, along with recent publicity on the topic out of West Kelowna, that prompted the Vernon Breastfeeding Club to host the feed-in.

According to club officials, a woman breastfeeding her four-month-old son inside the mall was told by a young security guard, ‘there’s a time and place to be breastfeeding and this wasn’t it, and what she was doing was inappropriate.’

“We don’t want to call out the individual,” said Kopiak. “We’d rather bring awareness and the importance of educating people, making people feel comfortable and being allowed to feed their babies in any way possible anywhere.”

Kopiak was hoping to speak to mall administration and security about the situation on Thursday.

“We hope it doesn’t happen again in the future,” she said. “It’s a huge thing for moms. They feel like they can’t leave their house. They feel like they’re not allowed to do anything.

“We keep telling them what we can and can’t do, and that has a huge part in how long a mom breastfeeds their baby.”

Concord Security Corporation handles mall security. In a statement, Concord said it deeply regrets and apologizes for the comments made by one of its guards.

“Under absolutely no circumstance do we condone or agree with his misguided statements that she should not be breastfeeding her child in public,” said Ian Papa, Concord’s regional manager, B.C. Interior.

The guard has been temporarily relieved of his duties until such time he has received additional sensitivity training and has undergone an evaluation on public relations conduct.

“Concord prides itself on our employees’ positive track record of making good decisions during the thousands of customer interactions our employees encounter each year,” said Papa. “Clearly this interaction was unacceptable and we will take steps to ensure it is not repeated.”

The mall said in a statement that the incident was not appropriate.

“Village Green Centre encourages all members of its community to enjoy its facilities and strives to welcome the entire community within an open-minded and respectful environment.

“The conduct and decisions of our contracted employees, as with those of our community members, should always reflect tolerance, open-mindedness and a civil  acknowledgement of differences.”

In West Kelowna recently, council was asked by a group of UBCO nursing students to support a program identifying district facilities as breastfeeding-friendly facilities.

Such identification would be done by placing stickers provided by the students at no cost to the city in buildings, identifying them as places where breastfeeding is encouraged.

A handful of West Kelowna councillors thought the idea was not a good one, fearing it could make mothers who do not or can not breastfeed feel like they were failing their babies.

The students said that wasn’t the intention. Council did nothing.

After a lot of negative reaction, council said the issue could come back at a later time.