It’s been 30 years since Gwen Jacob went topless in Guelph and launched a fight for women's rights
It's been exactly 30 years since a woman in Guelph took a walk that changed Canadian history.
The woman's name is Gwen Jacob – and the walk was done topless.
In 1991, Jacob, who was 19 at the time, was arrested and charged for committing an indecent act while walking topless on a scorching hot day in Guelph.
"They asked me if I would put my shirt back on and I said no, I was quite comfortable thank you," Jacob recalled. "And then a couple of men walked by with no shirts on and I pointed them out to the officers, but they weren't interested in that and then eventually I was arrested and taken to the police department."
It took five years of court battles to get the conviction overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
"I was taking a stand about something," she said. "I knew by the time I got charged I was in for quite a long uphill battle."
Jacob has spoken on several occasions, including at a rally in Waterloo in 2015, for the right of women to go topless and the pursuit of legal equality for women.
"Whereas we now have the legal freedom to be able to take our shirts off, we still don't have the social freedom," she said.
Monday marked exactly 30 years since the fateful walk.
"Brave thing as far as pursuing women's gender equality, it was a necessary step," said Dr. Kerri Froc with the National Association of Women and the Law. "I think society just needs to catch up with the law in some repsects."
Froc continued: "I think it's horrible that it takes one woman having to potentially be criminalized and going through the judicial process for us to come up with this."
Jacob says her ordeal was always about more than just the right for women to go topless.
"In the early 90s, we were talking about consent, we were talking about victim-blaming, we were talking about this whole idea that a woman is basically being held responsible for reactions that her mode of dress evokes in other people, and having that be the woman's fault and problem," she said. "Rather than this idea that man apparently can't control themselves and the victim-blaming that happens with sexual harassment and sexual assault."
Jacob said she is pleased with the progress she has seen over the last 30 years when it comes to equality issues, but that there's still much more work to be done.