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Officials face heat as Ontario gets in a tizzy over topless cases

June 10, 1997

TORONTO (AP) _ Most of the year, it’s simply too cold in Ontario for the Gwen Jacob court ruling to have much impact. But with advent of hot weather, this supposedly straight-laced province is in a tizzy over toplessness.

Back in 1991, Jacob was convicted and fined for public indecency for taking a topless stroll one hot July day down a street in Guelph, Ontario.

In December, an Ontario appeals court overturned her conviction, ruling that women have the right to go topless in public.

During the winter, the issue wasn’t an issue _ too cold to go topless outside. But since mild temperatures returned last month, scarcely a day has passed without some new news report on toplessness.

Initially, most of the controversy was sparked by local officials as they wrestled with whether to allow bare-breasted women at public swimming pools and beaches.

Last week, several prostitutes in Ottawa created a new kind of stir, flashing their breasts at passing motorists and pedestrians,

``It kind of blocked traffic for a while,″ said Doris Chouinor, manager of a waffle restaurant overlooking the scene.

In Toronto, strippers took advantage of the season’s hottest day yet Monday to display their breasts on a downtown street corner, amusing some passers-by and angering others.

Toronto police had indicated previously that they would consider filing charges if bare breasts were being displayed for sexual purposes.

Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, was known for decades as ``Toronto the Good″ _ a taunting title bestowed because of a perception that prudishness pervaded the metropolis. The nickname has lingered despite major changes on the morality front in the past 30 years, ranging from the growth of a large gay community to the proliferation of strip joints.

While Guelph and several other municipalities have sought to maintain some sort of restrictions on toplessness, Toronto has taken a laissez-faire approach.

Under a policy adopted last month, staff at public pools, parks and beaches will leave topless women alone unless there is a complaint. In those cases, the woman will be informed of the complaint, but no further action will be taken, and it would be up to the complainant to call police.

``In my faraway youth, there were debates that bikinis were going to produce the end of Western civilization,″ said Ray Biggart, the acting parks commissioner. ``It hasn’t happened yet.″

Not all officials are as blase as Biggart. Mayor Mel Lastman of North York, a suburb of 500,000 people just north of Toronto, worried that public toplessness could provoke male misbehavior.

``It’s just enticing the crazies to do something nuts,″ he said.

In at least one town, Cambridge, a group has been formed to campaign actively against toplessness.

``The silent majority has to be given a voice,″ declared Erika Kubassek at a meeting in March that established the Moral Support Movement.

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