Nudity in Canada – What’s Legal, What’s Acceptable

Standard

Q: Where is it OK to be clothes-free in Canada?

A:

  • Nudity is illegal in places where other people would reasonably expect you to be clothed. (This includes all populated public spaces not explicitly marked as clothing-optional, as well as private spaces that are easily visible from the street.)
  • If you make a point of offending people or if there’s a deviant sexual purpose involved, you will be arrested.
  • Nudity is usually OK in Canada in places where nobody’s likely to be caught by surprise or offended by it.
  • If you are respectful, polite and don’t go out of your way to cause trouble, simply being nude – in a place where it makes sense to be nude, and where you won’t surprise or startle anyone – is unlikely to cause any problems.

Examples

Again, we’re not lawyers (or cops) and this is not legal advice. It’s just our best understanding of what is and is not OK in Canada in 2017.

  • Nude at an isolated remote beach or in the back-country: Generally OK.
  • Nude on a quiet public beach, you’re not causing trouble: Technically prohibited, but usually quite acceptable (more so if you’re part of a group, less so if you’re alone).
  • Nude on a quiet public beach, you’re being loud, profane or disruptive: Not OK – a public nudity charge will be added to indecency, noise violation, alcohol, etc. charges.
  • Nude on a busy public beach or one frequented by children: Not OK.
  • Nude at the World Naked Bike Ride or a Pride parade: Clearly OK in practice, despite being technically illegal.
  • Nude around the house or in the back yard: OK.
  • Nude in the living room at night, with the lights on and street-facing curtains open: Not OK – this is exhibitionism.
  • Nude on private property, someone would need to put in a bit of effort (binoculars or coming closer) to see you: OK.
  • Nude in the front yard, where lots of people can easily see you from the street: Not OK.

The bottom line? Use good judgment.

If you stand a good chance of catching someone by surprise, someone who has a reasonable expectation that they won’t see nudity in that situation, then keep your shorts on.

If you have good reason to think that no one will be offended, then – for all practical purposes, if not always on paper – nudity’s usually not a problem. Stick to areas that aren’t too busy and, if in doubt, simply keep a towel or a pair of shorts around to cover up if necessary.

Legal Theory

(Disclaimer: We’re not lawyers. This is the best consensus understanding of the law that we’ve been able to piece together from available sources. If you’re in a situation where you need a real legal opinion, ask a lawyer.)

The law governing nudity in Canada is in sections 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code. They read:

Indecent acts
173. (1) Everyone who wilfully does an indecent act in a public place in the presence of one or more persons, or in any place with intent to insult or offend any person,
(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years; or
(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months.
Exposure
(2) Every person who, in any place, for a sexual purpose, exposes his or her genital organs to a person who is under the age of 16 years
(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of 90 days; or
(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of 30 days.
Nudity
174. (1) Every one who, without lawful excuse,
(a) is nude in a public place, or
(b) is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
Nude
(2) For the purposes of this section, a person is nude who is so clad as to offend against public decency or order.
Consent of Attorney General
(3) No proceedings shall be commenced under this section without the consent of the Attorney General.

Let’s look at these in turn.

Section 173.(1) applies to:

  • indecent acts,
  • in public places if anyone’s around,
  • and in private places if the intent is to insult or offend.

Indecency is defined, in Canada, in an ambiguous and somewhat arbitrary fashion. The test is:

Indecency is not defined in the Criminal Code. It is to be measured on an objective, national, community standard of tolerance. The standard of tolerance is not defined by what Canadians think it is right for them to see, rather it is what they would not abide other Canadians viewing. [Towne Cinema Theatres Ltd. v. The Queen, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 494]

As long as what you’re doing is unlikely to be construed as “indecent” under this test, s.173.(1) doesn’t apply. In the few cases where police have attempted to use s.173.(1) to go after simple nudity when no real indecency was involved, Canadian judges have generally dismissed the charges.

Section 173.(2) only applies to sexual situations involving minors, and is therefore irrelevant to plain ordinary social nudity.

Section 174.(1) is self explanatory: Don’t be naked in any place where someone who expects not to see nudity is likely to see you.

Section 174.(2) mixes things up a lot – nude (legal definition) is not the same as nude (dictionary definition). There exist garments that expose body parts in a way that would “offend against public decency”, and there are also a lot of places where simple nudity would not offend against public decency. It’s not a clear line, and it depends very much on where and under what conditions the offence occurs.

This brings us to s.174(3). There is one person (and it’s usually an old white guy) who is the only person in Canada authorized to begin a prosecution on a nudity charge. Traditionally, the A-G likes to keep a low profile and avoid controversy. S.174 cases only get prosecuted when the Crown’s case is rock-solid.

All told, there are quite a few ways you can get nailed for nudity by Canadian police. But, in general, they’re only invoked when someone goes out of their way to show off, cause trouble, or offend people. A bit of common sense is usually all you need to determine whether you can go au naturel without trouble.

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