R. v. Jacob, 1996 CanLII 1119 (ON C.A.) is not, for those in the legal profession, one of those obviously seminal cases that leaps to mind. For the rest of us, this case, held in front of the Ontario Court of Appeal, was on behalf of a Canadian activist called Gwen Jacob. The prosecution was an unusual one, in that she was arrested for walking down a street in the town of Guelph topless. An indecent exposure charge, put simply. So, how did it end up before the Ontario Court of Appeal?
Curiously, legislation then in existence specifically forbade women from going topless, without referring in any way to men, i.e. the law specifically discriminated on the grounds of gender. And so, she appealed. If men were at liberty to walk the streets without a shirt on, why couldn't women? Unexpectedly, the Court of Appeal was convinced by her argument, bringing about a change in provincial law. Accordingly, should a woman wish to walk the streets topless, she is perfectly at liberty to do so.
I admit that, whilst I had heard the story before, I had assumed that it fell into the category of 'urban myth', so when the story was given another airing in a Canadian newspaper whilst I was there, I was intrigued to find that it was actually factual.
For the record, whilst the weather in Canada was mostly fine, with temperatures in the mid-twenties Celsius, I didn't notice a single woman walking topless anywhere...