Montreal mother told to leave Eaton Center for breastfeeding infant son

A Montreal mother says she was aghast and embarrassed to be told by a security guard at the Eaton Center in the downtown core to stop breastfeeding her infant son or leave the premises.

Isabelle Côté says she was at the Ste. Catherine St. mall last weekend when four-month-old Leopold got hungry, so she sat down on a bench to feed him.

“The security agent came to me and told me that I was not allowed to breastfeed at this specific place. I was not allowed to breastfeed in public,” she told CTV News. “I asked her why and then she said, ‘It’s because it’s a private act.’ It’s something that I should not be doing in public.”

The former lawyer and current psychiatric resident at McGill University says she asked to speak to a supervisor, who reiterated the message: please stop, go to the breastfeeding room or leave the premises.

“It’s still complicated, right? Like when baby’s hungry, he’s hungry here and right now and then if you stop in the middle of his meal, he’s going to be upset, he’s going to cry and that’s going to cause this whole crisis and I just didn’t want that,” Côté said.

She says it was intimidating having two people stare at her as she fed her baby, so as quickly as she could, she picked up her things and left.

“When we’re breastfeeding, you see maybe a nipple for two seconds. So, the time that the baby latches on and then after that, you’re pretty much covered,” she points out. “You’re never as exposed as those ads for bikinis or perfume… However, if you’re trying to feed your baby, this is something different.”

Côté points out this disconnect between what society will and will not accept needs to change.

“It’s considered to be discrimination based on sex and it should not happen,” she said, pointing out women have a constitutional right to feed their children. “It’s been decided long ago and I’ve been able to breastfeed in other places — in other countries — and that wasn’t a problem.”

His partner, Wayne Choi says he was stunned to hear what had happened.

“If I was eating a sandwich in the mall, I wouldn’t be told, ‘Oh, you should eat over in that sandwich eating room. Like, that doesn’t make any sense,'” he points out. “We’re feeding a child and he should be able to eat anywhere he wants to.”

The Eaton Center’s property manager, JLL, insists the incident was an “isolated case” and says it has spoken to its administrative and support staff to reiterate its policies on breastfeeding in common areas.

“Le Center Eaton de Montréal encourages breastfeeding in all its common areas, as prescribed by the Quebec and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Melyssa Houle, JLL Director. “We are making every effort to ensure that such a situation does not happen again.”

JLL notes the mall also offers private breastfeeding rooms “for those who prefer to breastfeed in a quieter place.”

Ivanhoé Cambridge, which owns the Eaton Centre, adds it is also sorry about the situation.

“As the owner of Center Eaton de Montréal, Ivanhoé Cambridge remains committed to respecting and encouraging breastfeeding in all the common areas of its retail properties,” said Julie Bourgon, head of retail, Canada at Ivanhoé Cambridge.

A group of Montreal mothers has since organized a breastfeeding sit-in at the mall, expected to take place at 2 pm on Sunday.

Eaton Center officials are aware of the event, according to Côté and Choi, and have offered their support to the mothers taking part.

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