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

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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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Nudity, sexuality or both?

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There are many popular misconceptions about nudity and sexuality, and these misconceptions often scare people away from activities and places they’d actually enjoy. Perhaps it’s time to outline where our group fits into this complex spectrum.

Sexy, Naked or Both?

If you’re new to this, the first key point to understand is that nudity and sexuality are not the same thing. They’re not completely unrelated concepts, but one does not necessarily imply the other.

If you doubt this, you can find proof by visiting any traditional naturist park. Nobody’s wearing anything, and there’s no more sexuality on display than at a church picnic. Indeed, you’re far more likely to encounter sexual behaviour at a classy restaurant or at your office Christmas party than at a traditional family-friendly nude venue like Sunward or Bare Oaks.

Fears of being hit on, of becoming aroused (and therefore embarrassed), and of being cornered in sexual situations are, in the naturist world, largely unfounded. Everyone worries about it until they work up the nerve to actually try stripping off, at which point they invariably discover that it’s not actually a problem.

Still, there’s an often-repeated claim that social nudity is completely non-sexual, and this isn’t exactly true either. Sexuality is an important part of the human condition; to deny its existence is unnatural. It’s part of our biological hard-wiring, and we should be honest about accepting that fact. After hanging out for a few minutes in clothing-optional circles, most people seem to realize that appreciating sexuality and acting on it are two different things, and that it’s really quite easy to maintain a respectful distinction between them. It’s a marked difference from the rather less civilized, less sophisticated attitudes that are commonly on display at bars and nightclubs in our area.

Sexuality, like most aspects of human life, does not lend itself to clearly defined categories. It covers a broad, multi-dimensional spectrum of activities, beliefs and ideas. No two people can even agree on an exact line delineating what is or is not sexual.

You can be sexy without being naked; you can be naked without being sexy; you can be both or, at times, neither. All without changing who or what you are. It’s your attitude and your actions, not your attire, that set the tone.

At KFFBS events

Where, then, does the Kingston-Frontenac Free Body Society fit in?

We’re not about sex, hookups or the “swinger” scene. Are you interested in that sort of thing? As long as your own beliefs work for you, great! You’re quite welcome to join us. Just don’t expect to find that degree of sexuality on display at our events.

Some of the issues we touch on – gender equality, the elimination of “rape culture”, body positivity – overlap with what sex-positivity groups work on, and we’re friends with the leaders of many such groups. And some of our membership will inevitably overlap with groups that have a more sexual focus. This doesn’t mean that we’re promoting sex, only that we’re accepting of people who have different opinions and beliefs about sex. We don’t really care whether you’re a nun or a porn star – if you genuinely appreciate the values on which the group is based, you’ll find that you are among friends here.

We accept sexuality, without dwelling on it. We appreciate it, but we also know to regulate and control our impulses as appropriate. And, as it turns out, this is surprisingly easy to do. Just try to be respectful and mindful of what others are thinking and feeling, and the rest follows naturally.

So, despite what you might fear at first, sexuality simply doesn’t cause any problems here. It’s just one component of the great beautiful tapestry of human life.

By Matt of KFFBS