People in Calgary will now be allowed to swim in city pools wearing saris, hijabs and other religious clothing under a new policy designed to encourage ethnic and religious minorities to participate. But for safety reasons, saris will be banned from the deep end.
Heather Bruce, the city’s superintendent for aquatics and fitness, said the policy clarifies what had been a grey area, typically handled on a case-by-case basis at pools across the region.
The only requirements are that the clothing be clean and that swimmers shower in the garments before entering the pool.
Ms. Bruce said saris are banned from the deep end because the long, flowing fabric could become entangled around a swimmer’s legs, or get caught in filtration equipment.
A controversy over swimwear came to a boil in Montreal earlier this summer when a recent convert to Islam wanted to wear her hijab in the pool. The young woman was working as a lifeguard at the YMCA and was told the hijab was a safety hazard, because a struggling swimmer could choke her during a rescue. She filed a complaint to the human-rights board and began wearing a Burqini, an Australian invention that marries elements of the burka and the bikini.
The incident was just the latest to involve sport and religious accommodation, and occurred at the same YMCA where a battle was fought in 2006 over whether Orthodox Jews who live in that Park Avenue neighbourhood were right to demand frosted glass be installed to obscure a view of young women exercising in an aerobics room.
There have been other cases across Canada in recent years involving young women wearing hijabs in soccer, judo and tae kwon do.
Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations in Montreal, said organizing bodies must always be careful not to use safety concerns as a catch-all to deny necessary religious or cultural accommodation.