sharia law in action
TORONTO – When a single dad signed his nine-year-old daughter up for female-only swim lessons, he didn’t realize he — as a man — was going to be banned from watching her practice.
Chris (who didn’t want his last name published) was shocked when he had the blinds to the viewing area of the Dennis R. Timbrell Recreation Centre pool in Flemingdon Park shut on him and then was told by staffers it was for “religious reasons.”
“I spoke to a staff member and she told me that it’s because of Muslim women, that we’re not allowed to look at them or whatever,” Chris, 38, told the Toronto Sun Friday. “I don’t think religion has a role to play in a public pool.”
Chris said he enrolled his daughter online through the city’s website and registered her for the Ultra Swim 1: Female class – a nine-week course offered for free at the community centre.
Nowhere on the form did it mention that males could not watch the lessons.
So, when he showed up with his child at the pool on March 28 and again on Thursday night, he was confused when told he wasn’t allowed to watch.
“She doesn’t have a lot of friends and I wanted her to swim with girls,” Chris explained. “I don’t know what parent wouldn’t want to watch their child participate. There were other fathers there who weren’t too happy.”
Local Councillor John Parker hadn’t heard of the particular case until the Sun contacted him Friday, but said the dad’s point is a “legitimate one” and raises a “fair issue.”
“If we have a young child and there is a desire for the parent to provide supervision I would hope that we would not be so inflexible,” he said.
The Ward 26-Don Valley West councillor said there are only so many hours available in the pool.
“So we have to decide and we have to determine just what are the options that are available to us and how many hours are there in the day to allow the different options that communities want,” Parker said. “So far the pressure has been to provide hours for women only, this gives rise to the legitimate question: ought we to find time for mixed groups precisely to accommodate the concern that this parent has raised.”
Female-only swim programs began 20 years ago on the basis of “accommodating cultural and religious practices and requirements,” confirmed city aquatics manager Anne Jackson.
“Without a female-only program, there would be women that wouldn’t be able to participate in swimming,” Jackson said. “This is the way it needs to be in order to accommodate the programs. We’re not opening the door to one cultural group only — this is all females we’re accommodating.”
Late last month, Dennis R. Timbrell began a male-only swim course where only men could watch from the sidelines — no moms. The program bred from the same religious/cultural reasons, Jackson said.
If any parents wish to watch their child who is enrolled in a female or male-only swim class, they would have to move them to a mixed boys/girls class that runs three days a week.
The weekly gender-specific swim classes are open to anyone from two to 18, but Jackson said the city won’t consider separating existing classes into younger age groups (that would allow parents of the opposite sex to be present) because it wouldn’t “accommodate the needs of the majority of people who want to participate in a girls-only program.”
She agreed, however, the registration forms should be clearer in stating that only parents of the same gender of the child will be admitted.
“I think that’s a fair criticism,” Jackson said.
There are currently nine pools across Toronto that run the female-only swim program. All pools follow the same policy of not allowing people of the other sex to watch practices, Jackson said.