These pages are not legal documents. They are not intended to be legal documents.
The main purpose of these pages is to make the idea of going barefoot more accessible to people, especially people like me who have been forced to suffer needlessly in shoes, and who may not realize that there is another option, and also to make people more aware of the needless barriers to going barefoot, in the hopes of effecting change.
It's also a stress reliever for me, an attempt to be more proactive in dealing with these issues, an attempt to have some fun in the middle of all of it.
Some pages have had their links removed. The pages are still there, and will stay there as long as I am with my current web host.
consolidated from earlier pages February 2013, updated March 2013, February 2015
To start with I want to be clear that there is plenty of evidence that shoes harm feet, and none that it is actually dangerous to go barefoot anywhere the general public usually goes, indoors or outdoors, including stores, restaurants, libraries, museums, and transit. It is certainly safer than wearing high heels. So there really isn't any reason to justify "no bare feet" rules. But tradition. Sigh.
Most places don't have rules against bare feet, but museums, public libraries and public transit often do. At least in Canada and the USA.
Most barefooters who encounter "no bare feet" rules will simply slip on a pair of shoes (often flipflops) to comply, but some of us (myself included) become full time barefooters either because we can't find shoes that fit, and can't handle the torture of going back to shoes, even flipflops (not everyone can walk in them), or we have a medical condition (most likely caused by shoes in the first place), and experience pain and other problems even when shoes fit. And there are a few who refuse to wear shoes on principle (though typically they have had medical problems with shoes, too - almost everyone does at some point).
So what happens when a full time barefooter encounters a "no bare feet" rule?
I checked the VPL's website before abandoning shoes, because I really didn't think I could live without a library (and the VPL is pretty spectacular in a lot of ways). And I didn't see a rule. So out went the shoes!
I used the library system for two months without any problem. Then on Labour Day weekend, a security guard at the main branch spotted me and wouldn't let me in. I confirmed that there was a rule (just not on the website), and wrote management asking them to throw it out. When that didn't work, I went to the weekly Human Rights Clinic and was advised to get medical documentation before filing a human rights complaint.
Long story short: I filed, it was accepted (after a hiccup), I got a lawyer through the Human Rights Coalition (who was wonderful), I submitted my evidence (my doctor was wonderful), the library asked for two extensions, then caved (my words). I signed a waiver and they gave me a medical exemption. (They refused to throw out the rule.) Three weeks before I left Vancouver, after seven months without library service. Oh well. But even with seven months of this, it all seemed so easy. You just get a doctor's note.
The Montreal libraries that I've gone to have accepted my medical documentation, no problem. They've been really nice about it, too. Yay!
My only problem with the libraries in Montreal is that the Grande Bibliotheque, which has the central Montreal collection, has security on each floor, so it would be more of a hassle to go there, even with my documentation being accepted. So I've only been once, and stayed on the main floor that time. And because the Grande Bibliotheque is not part of the Montreal Public Library system, even though they hold the central library collection that used to be in the Montreal library system, I can't order books from there through the Montreal library catalogue.
On the other hand, university libraries never seem to care, and I've used McGill library here barefoot, as well as the UBC library systems in Vancouver. I can't remember whether I ever went to the Simon Fraser University library barefoot or not.
Update, February 2015: The Grande Bibliotheque gave me a card sometime in 2013 so I could use their library barefoot. They were really helpful, and I'm sorry I didn't give them the chance sooner. I went there a few times since then, and have used their online resources, but it's usually too far to get to without transit. They may have scaled back their security, since the only security I saw in 2013 was at the main entrance. So maybe I got worked up about nothing.
I never really had any problems with the police in Vancouver. I was stopped by police twice while wearing shoes pulling ivy (it would have been easier barefoot, seriously, even with the thorns in the area), because a local resident thought I looked suspicious. And once, while newly barefoot, some officers pulled up in a car and asked me if I was ok. I said yes, and that was it!
Montreal has been a different matter.
I moved to Montreal in early May, 2010. My first police stop was in July 2010, and I had ten stops total in my first 12 months in Montreal. They have been less common since then, but they still happen. They are most likely to happen on days I'm in a good mood, which makes them easier to cope with, but they can still be really scary.
What usually happens on one of these stops is that I am walking down the street (on the sidewalk, of course) or waiting at a bus stop and the police stop to question me. About half the time it is in response to a call, the rest of the time it's because they noticed me themselves. The general procedure is to ask for my ID, and press until they get it, then they run it through their system, to find out if I'm a runaway from a psych ward or something. They have since told me that they have a "duty of care" and if they think I am a possible runaway or otherwise on their missing persons list they have to check the list (though it is always obvious to them that I am in my right mind). These stops usually last 5 minutes, then I am free to go. A couple of times they have ignored my repeated "I'm fine" and called an ambulance, which can stretch the stop out to 15-30 minutes.
It is very rare for barefooters to be stopped, according to the barefooters I've asked, but more common for autistic people (I'm autistic too), so when they tell me it's because I'm barefoot, I used to try to tell them "not really". I've stopped bothering with that, though, because it never does any good. They tell me I don't look autistic (no one does, actually) and procede to assume I might not be competent to make my own decisions. All cripples are incompetent to make our own decisions, don't you know? Unlike, say, those calm rational people who go surfing in rapids in December. Or those who wear high heels. At least these days people are less likely to assume a disabled person is deaf and intellectually disabled along with whatever else we might be, or at least I hope so. (I'm not saying I never made this mistake myself.)
I filed a complaint against the Societé de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) in December 2011. I'm pretty sure demanding ID is illegal except when they're giving you a ticket or arresting you, or when you're driving a car or buying alcohol, but they seem to disagree with that, or at least believe that the chance of finding someone on their missing person list outweighs my freedom to go about my business without being bothered. So I'm not sure how this will go, or whether mediation will work or not. Apparently I was supposed to ask for money rather than systemic change, or something.
At least the police in my area are getting used to me and don't demand ID like they used to, once they're sure it's me. But now that my winter coat is shorter and my feet are more noticeable, I may get stopped more often anyways.
Mediation at the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse didn't work out, and the case has gone to investigations. This is a work in progress, so I don't know how it will all work out.
Update, February 2015: Last fall I signed an agreement with the SPVM that dealt with all 30 police stops to date. I had a meeting with a researcher with the SPVM and we talked about the issues: autistic people getting profiled (there is research on this), the way I am infantilized in stops, etc. I don't know if it will make any difference or not. I'm guessing not, since SPVM culture is fairly entrenched, and they are trained to look for mentally ill people and intervene, so of course when they spot me they intervene. I had my first stop since the agreement the other day. In a grocery store. (I don't think the grocery store had anything to do with it - they have never said anything before, and I've been going there for years. That's just where I happened to be.) It was pretty weird having the police stop me while I was grocery shopping, though, since I was indoors. It was my first indoor stop.
I have clashed with public transit in two cities so far (not counting people in Vancouver who thought there was a rule when there wasn't, though I was never actually denied service).
I took Montreal transit (STM) for 16 months, not even knowing they had a rule when I moved here, before being kicked off in January 2012. That case is at the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, in investigations. We tried mediation but it didn't work out for me. The STM didn't like my documentation, but there's more to it than that, so even though I may be able to get documentation that makes them happy, it still doesn't make me happy. (I shouldn't need additional documentation when you consider that they have no real reason for the rule in the first place.)
The other case was Ottawa transit (OC Transpo). Ottawa is my home town, and I have been back for three visits since moving back east in 2010. The first time I snuck on transit (it was July); the other two visits I just walked around downtown and environs, being met by a friend downtown on one of those days. That case went to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, then the Canadian Human Rights Commission (it turns out it's federal jurisdiction), then the Canadian Transportation Agency (who handle transportation complaints). The CTA rejected my medical documentation. So many things went wrong with this case that it was like the universe was saying "go back, go back!" Maybe I have unresolved issues with my home town that are manifesting here. Who knows?
As I said above, Vancouver transit does not have a "no bare feet" rule. As it happens, neither does Calgary, but Toronto does. I don't know about other Canadian cities. In the US, Los Angeles does, but I don't think NYC does. Someone told me there was a rule, but I never found one, even after looking extensively, and other barefooters report they have had no problems going barefoot on NYC transit. Outside of Canada and the US (and maybe the Philippines?) I don't know of any public transit that require shoes, though sometimes airlines do. I know that London (UK) and Paris do not have rules. Yay! I must go there someday.
I've taken Greyhound a bunch of times and mostly not had any problems. In Canada, a few times someone said something about my feet but backed down when I said I had medical documentation. In the US, I got challenged more seriously in one bus station but they accepted my documentation. However, I needed to produce it and have them photocopy it, which isn't how the law is written in the US. In another station later on on my trip, I was thrown out of the station, and forced to wear somone else's old shoes to continue my journey. They saw my documentation but rejected it. I tried contacting Greyhound US but no reply. The US Justice Department has declined to take my case (because they don't take every case) but recommended some other agencies that might help me (no word yet). If I had money for a lawyer I could take care of this myself, too. Or maybe I just won't go back for a while.
Mostly, people don't care, but when they do it can get scary. Fortunately, I have no desire to go back to that part of the US any time in the near future, so I can wait for society to change.
I've been stopped a couple of times in a local grocery store and been told by employees that I had to wear shoes for hygiene reasons - it's the law! they said. They still let me shop there after checking out my doctor's note, though, so that was all right. Except I hate it when people quote non-existent laws at me, scaring me, making me think I might get kicked out. Actually, I just hate having to talk to people when I'm intent on the hunt (for food, or any other errands, for that matter). I find it hard to switch gears and talk to people when I'm intent on something.
So I emailed emailed the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, who are in charge of scientific research on public health in Quebec. They emailed me back saying that, with respect to bare feet in grocery stores, they "didn't do any study on the question". I had been hoping for a nice letter like the state department ones the SBL members in the US produce when they get confronted (so I could produce it when I got confronted), but all I got was that they "didn't do any study". Typical scientist answer, I suppose. (I am grateful they got back to me so quickly.)
The person who replied also gave me a link to a page of provincial laws that would likely lead me to the legislation these managers had been citing. And it did. They were in French only, which is why I was unable to find them by googling on my own.
The Loi sur les produits alimentaires covers people working in food preparation areas in the province of Quebec, including restaurants and the bakeries and delis and meat departments of grocery stores. It gives a long list of situations where people in food preparation need to follow the regulations. In summary: Wash your hands. If you're in food preparation or you clean relevant equipment etc, wear a hat or hair net, a beard net if you've got a beard, wear clean clothes that you only wear for food preparation, no nailpolish, no jewellery, and no eating on location. No mention of shoes. They would fall under the heading of clothing, I guess. The only place shoes are explicitly mentioned are for locations used to prepare dairy products (latieres, whatever they are).