TEXT OF TOWN HALL MEETING, October 13, 2017, Coquitlam City, BC, Canada
About 22 minutes worth of discussion on regularly scheduled 'women only swims' at the downtown Coquitlam public pool
Bolded text is my emphasis, and red is super emphasis, also mine. After listening through this at least three times carefully, I am confident that these words are +-98% accurate. I have corrected my mispronouncing of City Staff Recreation Director Mr. Allueva's name (in the video I mispronounce it as 'Allanueva'). Otherwise it is word for word according to my abilities.
The time is written here as Hour:Minutes:Seconds
(counter on video file reads 37:06)
Mayor: [other preliminaries] I open the floor and ask that anyone wishing to address Council members proceed to the microphone at the podium. It doesn't look like a microphone [CJ approaches], it looks like a brown bar, but it's actually a..
Mayor: ...quite a receptive microphone. Yes, Sir!
C: Hello, uhm, firstly I want to say what a great city to live in, the library and pool are, are fantastic. Uhm, I'd like with permission of Council I'd like to give a three to four minute presentation on my research regarding the 'women only swim', women, yes women only swim...
Mayor: And, your name and add..
C: My name is Chris [deleted here]. I live at [deleted here] in Coquitlam.
Uh, as everyone is probably aware the downtown uh, swimming pool has something called 'women only swim' on public holidays, from I think it's 8 to 10 a.m. Because I have only five minutes I'll get to the meat of the point – uh, according to my casual poll conducted by asking 67 attendees of public swims, the reaction to these male-prohibited, males prohibited entry events pretty much is split three ways—for, against and indifferent. However, when full details are explained, that is: all windows are covered, zero males are present and all males over five years-of-age in the lobby are told to leave, that ratio changes to about half each way, that is supporting and opposed.
Uh, the only group overwhelmingly for the women only events according to my research are recently arrived Muslim men from Western Asia, uh, for example Afghanistan. Middle Eastern women generally support it according to my pollings but are less absolute in regarding how good it must be for them. At the opposite end of the opinion spectrum are ethnic Russians, men and women. Some got livid when they heard about it. However, women 16 to 23 years-of-age tended to be for women only swims. Even many of them said, 'so when's the men only swim?' This was a question I got from many respondents.
Almost everyone, except about 3/4 of Muslims and plus some Hindus and Sikhs, thought that the windows blocked out and zero males anywhere was extreme. Ethnic Chinese and Koreans, both Buddhists and Christians, were generally indifferent, with a slight leaning towards 'well, that's kind of silly', expressions such as that. The Persian community, uh one or two members of which first requested this event in 2011 according to my Freedom of Information documents, were also mixed in their responses. Several middle-aged men, Persian men, got upset hearing the news, saying things like 'this is why I left Iran, all this religious b.s.' He used stronger language but I am editing that.
The strongest negative reaction I got was from a Jewish Russian man, who stormed out of the sauna because I wouldn't tell him my opinion (I was trying to be neutral). The only belligerent response I got was in the hot tub from a group of apparently Persian men in their twenties, who not only supported the event but insisted I tell them my opinion, which I would not.
What struck me as remarkable was that about 80% of respondents over 35 years-of-age immediately interpreted the event as a Muslim swim. I never mentioned 'Muslim', or 'Islamic' or 'Islam'. I just described the event's rules. They volunteered their opinion whether Muslim values should be accommodated or not, in the property tax-funded facility. So respondents saw it as a religious issue. The wording of my questions did not.
By the way, people who had immigrated recently from Europe were resigned. Uhm, the conclusion I brought from talking to, uh, I, from talking to so many people was that biggest factors in support or not or indifference, were: 1) where a person grew up—I said to age twelve, I asked them; 2) how long had they lived in Canada—did they arrive three months ago or, or lived here twenty years ; 3) and religion (although I did make it clear that by religion I didn't mean if they were religious). The City of Coquitlam did its own poll, but only the attend... my understanding was that it was only of attendees of the women only swim, not the general swimming population.
In conclusion, this is, for me anyway, a political not a religious issue, because it concerns public space and public money.
end 0:41:16 [total duration thus far -- approximately four minutes]
Mayor: Thank you. Appreciate it. Are there any other, uh... there has gotta be someone else. Who's next?
[several other speakers]
Second presentation on this topic begins
[about two hours later]
[C approaches podium]
C: Hello again. Uhm, first I would like to thank Mayor Stewart. I am a secular person so I am going to have to address you as Mayor Stewart, thank you.
Mayor: Oh, please, I, I don't like the other one either. I prefer 'Your Highness' or 'Your Majesty'.
C: Right, okay.
Mayor: (laughs, illegible words spoken by him)
C: And I am asking that Counsellor Dennis Marsden and Mr. Allueva pay special attention because I am gonna ask for your response to this. Uhm..
Mayor: Sorry, this is uh Chris [deleted here].
C: [deleted here] from Pipeline, that's correct
Mayor: For the public record.
C: I am going to try to keep this within the five minutes. It's the excerpts from three documents. I'd also like to thank Mary Morrison-Clark who was very co-operative. I met her for a interview discussing this issue. She was very helpful and I put in a Freedom of Information request [holding documents, showing them to Council] about the Women's Only Swim history, which took a little longer than expected but I did get it. Uh, if anyone wants to follow along they can read the original documents, if you want Mr. Allueva or Dennis Marsden, Counselman Marsden. But, I am reading from my book because the paper is a little bulky, it's a little cumbersome.
Here's the three excerpts from the 201 pages. The Freedom of Information request that was honoured by the City of Coquitlam, uh, is a three... It's 201 pages. And it's uh, plus a 3-page cover letter. There's a few bits blocked out, but mostly that's uh, consultations with the city's lawyer, and for privacy reasons.
OK, here's the three examples I'd like to read to you. The very first page, that's page one of two hundred and one pages, reads [flips through notebook] “In July”, such and such a person, and I am not sure if this is one or two, and it's undated unfortunately. Uh, such and such a person “came to talk to the Mayor Richard Stewart and Mary Morrison-Clark regarding the opportunity for a women's only swim time for Muslim women. Due to religious dogma, Muslim women are not allowed to swim with men.” Excuse me, that page 107, let me go back.
Page one, this is from Carol James, I believe. 'X' and 'Y' I'll call them, these individuals... “met you at a recent Persian event and would like to discuss with you how one of the Coquitlam pools might accommodate a regular swim time for Muslim women, parentheses, i.e. a women only swim time”, unquote. These are not my quotes. These are the quotes from the document.
Second document is undated, page 107. “In July”, such and such a person “came to talk to the Mayor Richard Stewart and Mary Morrison-Clark regarding the opportunity for a women's only swim time, for Muslim women. Due to religious dogma Muslim women are not allowed to swim with men. In 2014, 4.3% of the Coquitlam population identifies as Muslim. Staff researched eleven municipalities in the Lower Mainland and found that four”, Burnaby etc, provide quote “women's only”, unquote, swim opportunities to accommodate the high Muslim population. Again, this is not my quote. This is [makes quotation marks in air] 'women only', quote, according to the document of the City. Cost attributed to women's only swim time for curtaining the facility CCAC (which I presume is City Center Aquatic Center or Coquitlam City Aquatic Center) $1940.
Last document is from page 114. Business plan template. Undated. “Project.” This is all quotes. “Plan and deliver a women's only swim for the Muslim community of Coquitlam”.
So, I would like to hear... Oh, my comment on that before I ask, uh, is that... Vancouver Jewish community built their own pool to accommodate their religion. I am vegetarian. This is something very important to me as my personal code of ethics. But, I do not expect the City of Coquitlam to prohibit flesh food at the swimming pool snackbar. Why? Public property, public money is not for sectarian causes—politics or religion. So, I invite Mr. Allueva to respond to that and uhm...
[Directed at Counselman Marsden] Thank you by the way for returning my telephone message, I just prefer to see you face to face.
C: ...and I was so busy. But uh, you... I understand from the documents that you were a slight skeptic. So, I would like to hear about why. And Mr. Allueva's response.
Mayor: Ah, uhm, you did refer to some meetings, uh uh, that in, were in my office. Or at least one meeting was in my office. I've had a couple of people over my term uhm that have asked specifically related to uh, Muslim uh women and the women's only swimming opportunities. We, we had presented the possibility that they could, uh rent a facility from a strata corporation that might have a facility that was rentable. Uhm, and that sort of thing. Uh, it was... and I also explained that when I as a lifeguard actually in the 80s, ah Ladies Keep Fit was the most popular (laughs) program at Chimo Pool, uh and it was, it was, curtains on the windows, and it was only, it was primarily, well it was because um there were, ah, there was the market if you will for a uh exercise program that was specific for women. And uh, and didn't have men.. at it. Uhm, ah, so, uh, I explained that, that there were precedents within Coquitlam. I don't know when that one, that one actually ended.
Ah, but that that was the gist of the verbal side of a, the.. you get the paper record. I'll give you a little bit of the gist of the actual conversation we had, uh uh, in my office. There were other uhm, ah comments from other people related to this and I understand that it's not just Muslim women that go to the, uh uh women's only swim. Ah, Mr. Allueuva... [gestures for Mr. Allueva to respond]
Mr. Allueva: Yes, ah thank Your Worship. Uhm, yes the City of Coquitlam does have a Women's Only swim time, and that was developed uhm, actually that was, that was developed as new time, so we didn't take away any time from public times that were already scheduled. Uhm, it was added to the program on earlier, it was an early time, and the speaker was correct—it's on holidays only. So, it's limited offering. But, uh the feeling was that there was enough demand by um women who wanted to participate in swimming that uh for whatever reason are unable to participate And we had excellent feedback. Yes, there is a Muslim population that is involved in that.
There's a variety of women in all ages and cultures, and ethnicities that um, that partake in this. We've tried to also to provide some fitness, which is part of that program. We're quite proud of program actually. The city does have a gender equity policy. And we're quite aware that our programming has to, has to try and reach as many people as possible. That's the business that we're in. Uhm, we have many other programs uh, Get Active, Get Connected, that reach people in the community that may not be able to afford uh fitness and recreation. And, and our department is well aware that um physical education, recreational programs engagement with others, and social and, and recreational benefits of everything that we do which is very very wide ranging, uh contributes to the health of our community. So, from our perspective it's a very successful program. Uh, we do get very very positive feedback on it. It is not about uh, uh catering to any single cultural group. It's about developing programs that reach our entire community and we do that for all our citizens. And this is just one example of that, and it uh was developed on that basis.
Mayor: Thank you... Counsellor Marsden
Counsellor Marsden: Thank you. And I thank Mr. [deleted here] for the, for the phone tag they we, we endured trying to have a discussion about this, and your your question to me is related to an email exchange uhm, that we received, all of Council received and it was regards to the first of these swims and ah, and my response was 'wow', as an initial skeptic I'm surprised by the turnout, and that it's, there was almost seventy women showed up for the very first session. And I was thrilled, blown away to see that, because I didn't really expect that we'd see that many people show up the very first time out on a stat holiday with, there wasn't a lot of notice here, there wasn't a lot of advance led time for this, so ah, I was skeptical with regards to the response, uhm, but I was very happy to see the response.
Uhm, specifically, there was one lady, and there was as survey done that Mr. Allueuva alluded to, and there was one lady that spoke to uhm her joy with it, because she felt like she c/would be able to get out, and swim as an [illegible] regular swim, uhm, in her words “the awakening was indescribable, to see women giddy to be there for cultural reasons, even before they got in the building, to be free from legitimate body image reasons.“ So, there was a number of things. And I think back to situations that I've experienced with family members, uhm, young teenage girls, sitting by the pool wearing black hoodies, because they don't feel comfortable. And so, to have an opportunity for them to get out and swim, and where they felt comfortable, I was, I was absolutely thrilled to see this lady's response because I really felt that given some of these... a lot of people might take this and say, this is a religious issue. This is because of a specific uh Shariah law, or as a Muslim issue. And it's NOT. And so I was really happy to see so early on that we received a response from a participant, that said 'you know what, I recognize it, and I was happy be there, and so you know what, when, when you said I was a skeptic at the outset, I was a skeptic to how quickly there would be the uptake, would there be the demand for it? And, and this set me on the path right off the top, this was a great decision, I think by recommendation by staff, and I, I think it uh moved us down a path, it enabled people to get out that typically wouldn't feel comfortable. And so, that was, that was the tone of my response. And ah, hopefully that clarifies your question.
Mayor: Thank you. Counsellor Zarillo.
Councilwoman Zarillo: I just want to take this opportunity to just uhm, leapfrog off what Counsellor Marsden said about body image. I had the opportunity this summer to go shopping with two twelve-year-old girls. And one of those children was crying, about her bathing suit choices. They didn't want a two-piece bathing suit and it was no one-piece bathing suits, and they did not want their tummy to show. And I ask any parent to have a look around the pool this summer, er, the next summer, and just see how many of those girls are wearing a T-shirt to the pool, like ten, eleven and twelve years-old. It's heart-breaking. So, uhm, I think this is uh, an important step forward for girls to understand that they have spaces they can go and exercise and unfortunately the participation rates [C approaches podium] in sports and rec for uh women decline as they age and I think girls, uh, I mean I think Mr. Allueva probably knows, but I think it's probably age 13 or 14 [C withdraws from podium] just totally drops off. So, thank you for the comments about body image and I can say that when you see a twelve-year-old crying about the look of her body, it's devastating.
Mayor: And I will add a, a number of times that I have seen as, working at a pool, uhm, you got to, you got to understand a little bit more some of the dynamics of uh swimming pools and swimming generally, and granted that was forty years ago, but it was uh, the same kinds of issues, perhaps even even worse, a lot of T-shirts, on boys as well. There's no question that body image and the way in which we, as a society um, revere fitness and uhm, worse than that, or rather more importantly than that, we decry those, or object to, very unrealistic standards uhm, particularly women's bodies. And I, will always support in any way that we can break down those barriers and try to find ways that more of our residents can get out and participate in, in active programs like uh swimming. If the barrier is um, body image, let's find a solution and I appreciate staff's uh solution, staff came up with back then.
Uhm, occasionally maybe you'd end up with a shift that included Ladies Keep Fit, uhm but you wouldn't be in, you wouldn't typically be on the, as a lifeguard you wouldn't typically be on the deck during that shift, just out of respect for the fact that, these were women who had chosen a program that uhm, and you could tell that these uhm, many of these women would NOT, wouldn't go to the beach, and wouldn't be on a cruise ship in the pool. This program was their way [C approaches podium] getting through uh the way in which society views or the way in which society treats differently the genders. So, uh if there was an issue with bald men with hair on their backs let's set that program up too. [He laughs]
C: May I respond to that? May I resp...
Mayor: Yeah, absolutely.
C: Uhm, but then why is the documentation show it presented as a 'Muslim women swim'? I have the documents.
Mayor: That was...
C: Just ...
Mayor: Well, no question, that the woman who came to me was a Muslim woman and she wanted to discuss having this. I am not going to say 'sorry, you're a Muslim woman and you're not allowed to meet...'
C: [interupting] I understand. But there's at least three documents where it is presented by the City as a Muslim only, excuse me a Muslim Women Swim. My concern is..
Mayor [interupting]: I will, I'll answer the question. It probably came out of the fact that we had a meeting that included a Muslim woman saying 'Is there a solution to this challenge, where we can't go swimming?' and ah, so a staff memo was generated .That's the best guess I can have. Then maybe I'll ask Mr. Allueva for that.
Mr. Allueva: Well, invariably the question of Women's Only does, does have a component that is cultural and so it's always a discussion around that component. Uhm, the real, the real win for this program is it cuts across cultural lines, it has really nothing to do with specifically about one culture. It's about uhm, you know, encouraging women's participation in recreation. But invariably the question of culture ends up coming up, and to my knowledge, and I've seen the numbers, there are some Muslim women that have partake in this, but there's many other people that partake in this, many other women, and uhm, but, but clearly there is discussion around culture in this matter. But that's not the driving force behind this program. It's about a program that women can participate in that deals with both cultural norms, personal body norms, personal body image and uh, all all from teenage and all the way up. And so, that's that's the, that's the basis for that.
C: I don't... I'm sure what you're saying is correct. I just think that there's another element to it, and my concern is, uh whether there's coercion. For example, a husband or a father or brother says to his little sister, his daughter, 'you know, I don't want you swimming with the boys.' Does the city of Coquitlam want to encourage that sort of attitude? That's the point. I'm not...
Mayor: Yeah. No, no, I appreciate the comment. Uhm. We have a cafeteria at the, at the pool, the CCAC. Uhm, if it were to decide that there were some of their customers that wanted halal, uhm...
C: [interupting] Which I expect next.
Mayor: [continuing] ... and they offered a, a halal choice, I would say, 'that's great, wonderful'
C: [interupting] Not exclusively, but as an option, why not?
Mayor: No. And there's nothing exclusive about this. This was taken a period of time when the pool was closed, and saying well, is there a group that wants to use... I mean if there was a group that wanted to use it from midnight til two, uhm, there the pool is closed then and I, we're not excluding anyone from a, a pool that's already open. That's a period of time on a stat holiday when the pool is already closed. So, uhm.. I, I get where you're coming from, and I, but I, I, and I don't have any objection to the idea that we'd actually uhm, develop a program that's specific to persons that observe a religious uh, uhm thing, for example. But I, I, in this case that wasn't my, all, my guiding principle.
C: Ah... I understand what you are saying... I've lived and worked in, ah, countries with large Muslim populations and Islamic governments. I have lived and worked there. So, my perspective is a little different .
Mayor: uh huh
C: I enjoy the freedoms we have in Canada, including Coquitlam. Uh, what I am worried about, besides the issue of secularism, is that uhm, a parent could say to their daughter (I think I remember repeating myself to you, but you know) 'You're a bad girl if you go to the public swim.' So, does the City of Coquitlam want to encourage this, that's my point. Uhm
Mayor: Yep, and I suspect that us offering a, a swimming opportunity doesn't make it so that the parent won't say that anymore. And it doesn't make it that the parent, it doesn't change the parent's behaviour. Ah, I.. It just allows them the option now to actually go swimming. If the parent is excluding their child from public swim, then I want the child swimming, I want the child in a pool. I want the child to learn how to swim.
C: But, would you do the same if they said they wouldn't send their child to a public school? 'Cause they don't want them intermixing with... ?
Mayor: OK, now we're into philosophical decisions, ah and there are independent schools in our community and we allow them.
C: Right.... Thank you
Mayor: Thank you... [next speaker follows]
[part two approximately 18 minutes. Thus total on this subject is over 22 minutes]