A Fergus family is accusing the City of Guelph of sexism after an incident at a wading pool in a city park.

Last weekend, the family made an impromptu stop at Exhibition Park.

Seeing the open wading pool, eight-year-old Marlee took off her shirt and ran for the pool.

Moments later, she was told that she had to put her top back on – in accordance with pool rules, which state that girls aged four or older have to wear shirts at the pool.

“I think it’s completely sexist, and the city’s sexualizing little girls,” parent Anika Warmington said in an interview.

“If they want children to wear clothing from the neck down, then all children should have to wear it.”

According to Kristene Scott, the city’s general manager of parks and recreation, the rule was put in place “to provide a safe and enjoyable recreational experience” for everyone using the pool.

“Females over the age of four years old must wear appropriate bathing attire, and that would include a bathing top,” she said.

Marlee’s parents say the policy isn’t only unfair, but unnecessary.

“She was pretty embarrassed,” Cory McLean said.

“She’s eight years old, and she’s been sexualized by a stranger – and, at the same time, shamed into hiding this mysterious sexuality that she’s too young to even understand.”

The wading pool was closed Monday, but parents elsewhere in the park had mixed opinions about the clothing policy.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s necessary at that young an age,” said Sharon O’Sullivan.

Ricki Lee Bristow voiced concerns about the park being a public location where children or anyone else can be photographed.

“You don’t know what those pictures are going to be used for. It’s not something you can monitor and police,” she said.

Marlee’s parents say they want to see the rules around clothing at the wading pool changed to something that applies equally to both genders.

City officials say it’s unlikely the rules will be modified.