Diana Traverse, a resident of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, has complained about the dress of the two Hutterite women lifeguards at the city waterpark. She feels that the full-length skirts of the two women might hamper them if they have to rescue swimmers in the pool.
She spoke with the head lifeguard, then to the city authorities that run the park, but she was not satisfied with their responses. She made a formal complaint to the CEO of the Manitoba Life Saving Society, Carl Shier, who evidently is the provincial authority that certifies the fitness of lifeguards. He told the press that he is investigating the complaint, but he really does not believe that the clothing the Hutterite women wear poses any risks. He understands the nature of the complaint, but nothing about the dress of the women contravenes the standards of the Life Saving Society.
Dean Janzen, the aquatic program supervisor for Portage la Prairie, says the city has a standard policy of red shirts and jackets for the lifeguards they hire, so they will always be easily visible. Other than that, lifeguards can wear whatever clothing they wish in order to be comfortable, so long as they can quickly and easily plunge into the water and perform a rescue at a moments notice.
If lifeguards are wearing sweatpants, they will dive into the water without taking them off. Likewise, someone wearing a skirt would jump in without removing it. Janzen’s comments defended his department’s policies. “All of my staff go through extensive training, and they’ve all been able to complete their training in the dress code that they so choose,” he said. The two Hutterite women made their dresses themselves out of lightweight materials.
Mr. Shier commented that in Australia, Muslim women that have become lifeguards wear what he calls a burqini, a loosely fitting garment that covers their hair and preserves their modesty appropriately. He praises the cultural outreach of Portage la Prairie, a city less than an hour’s drive west of Winnipeg on the Trans Canada highway, but he has arranged for a trained aquatics supervisor to check into the complaint. He takes the issue of clothing appropriate for lifeguards seriously.
At the same time, he praises the outreaching effort of the city. “I commend Portage and the supervisor there for taking the steps to employ people and certainly meet their needs and beliefs while meeting the needs of the city,” he said.