Two teenage girls going through the lifeguarding program at the Vernon Aquatic Centre were shocked to be changing beside a person they soon found out had a penis.
It was the last Saturday in January and the girls wasted no time in telling their families what they had just experienced.
“My niece had a 50-year-old man come into the change room, strip naked in front of her and her friend, she’s 14, and put on a woman’s bathing suit and go out.”
In an effort to protect the girls’ identity, the uncle would only share his first name. Kevin says after hearing what happened, he called the pool’s manager.
“He basically said that the kids have no rights and that the transgender person’s rights take precedence, this is something I think parents should know,” said Kevin admitting he was shocked by what he’d been told.
Bill C-16 received Royal Assent on June 19, 2017 amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
According to the City of Vernon, this means recreation services must comply with federal law which permits people to use the change room or washroom with which they identify.
City spokesperson Carolyn Baldridge explains staff have been trained on their legal obligations.
“It is against the law for Vernon Recreation staff to dictate what washroom/change room that a customer can use based on their appearance,” she says. “Staff cannot ask someone to leave for changing in the change room of their choice.”
Since 2017 when Bill C-16 came into law, Vernon’s Recreation Services has updated aquatic centre signage and changed “Family Change room” to the “Universal Change room.”
Three privacy, single-user change stalls were also added to the male change rooms at the pool.
Baldridge explains alternate dressing rooms have also been provided in city-run arenas to facilitate single-user changing or showering when required.
While staff have been informed of their legal obligations to allow patrons to use the change rooms/washrooms of the gender with which they identify, Baldridge states staff are also committed to the safety of all customers. “Any unsafe behaviours will be addressed by staff.”
Kevin questions how teenage girls being exposed to full frontal nudity of male genitalia doesn’t qualify for action.
“I was told by the pool manager that there was nothing he could do unless the person was ‘leering or making overt sexual gestures toward the girls’ but this guy was naked in front of teenage girls and that’s just not right,” says Kevin.
According to Vernon North Okanagan RCMP there are sections of the criminal code to address public nudity and indecent acts but without public reporting it’s impossible to determine if police action is warranted.
“We would encourage people, in this case the uncle or the 14-year old girl, to report to us directly so a proper and complete investigation can be conducted,” advises Const. Chris Terleski.
While the families of the girls consider their next steps, Baldridge says it’s important to remember that it is not unlawful to be undressed in the change room.
“Under Canadian law, users are free to change in the room that they best identify with,” she says.
Although universal change rooms are becoming more common, some organizations like the University of Alberta have developed a “no nudity in open areas” policy. Everyone using a change room on that campus must remain clothed until they are in a private stall.
Baldridge says no such policy exists in city facilities, but privacy stalls are available for anyone who wants one.
She adds inclusive recreation is an evolving discussion across Canada and Vernon’s Recreation Services will continue to take steps to ensure the inclusion of gender diverse Canadians in their programs and facilities.