Nudists, including gay nudists, have been excluded from consultations for a new plan for Gatineau Park's use over the next decade.
The National Capital Commission's (NCC) 2005 Master Plan for Gatineau Park excludes use by nudists, who call themselves 'naturists.' And naturists worry that the exclusion could leave them open to being forced out of a park they have used for decades.
Both Gay Ottawa Under the Sun (GoNuts) and the Ottawa Naturists say they were not consulted during the time that the public was involved in helping make the plan.
Gatineau Park, the only national park not managed by Parks Canada, is heavily used by people enjoying its picturesque lake views and tradition of recreational activities. Roads and buildings proliferate in the new park, which long ago accommodated a multitude of human uses. The new plan, approved in May 2005, aims to make Gatineau an even more user-friendly park.
Nudism, however, is not part of the new plan's "compatible recreation," though mountain biking is. Yet, for over 70 years, people have unofficially claimed a secluded spot of Meech Lake as a nudist area, an activity popular among the locals.
Nudism is excluded from the plan - and nudists were excluded from consultations - because it's an illegal activity, according to Lucie Caron, NCC media relations advisor. "The criminal code applies to everyone," Caron adds.
Section 174 of the Criminal Code say nudism is illegal in a public place or exposed to public view while on private property. But the park is not private property - it is federal land and access is free to all.
Stéphane Deschênes, president of the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN), says naturism is legal because of court decisions.
"Who are the complainants?" asks Deschênes. Section 174 (3) of the Criminal Code say the Attorney General of Canada needs to agree that there has been a violation in order to file criminal charges. So far, no violation has ever reached the Attorney General's desk, he adds.
According to Deschênes, there are lots of examples of government bodies working with naturists to create a space for people to get naked.
"It's a shame that it [Meech Lake] is not a nude-optional beach. Nude beaches have long been successful" in Toronto and Vancouver, says Deschênes. And Miami's nude beach, the biggest in North America, generates huge revenues to its local community.
Wreck Beach, a regional park below University of British Columbia, offers two clothing-optional beach areas, one for gay nudists and one primarily for straights. Over 100,000 visit the park annually- and the official plan recognizes and protects the beach as a naturist area.
For four years, NCC held three public consultations, targeting interest groups, setting up workshops and sending questionnaires to the public.
Though many community groups were approached by NCC to contribute to making the plan, local gay and straight naturist groups didn't get the same respect. GoNuts and Ottawa Naturists were not consulted even though they represent members who are regular park users.
"As is typical, too many make the assumption that nudity and nudism equals sex or orgiastic behaviour," says Scott Tomlinson, spokesperson for GoNuts, in an e-mail interview. "It doesn't. As well, the park is public space and as such, the NCC would like to maintain that public space equals family space and anything that alters it, affects it, or causes a special effort on their part for something that would be deemed illegal, is to be ignored."
Caron says that there have been complaints about nudism in the park. And these complaints were forwarded to the public security of the Municipalité Régionale de Comté des Collines-de-L'Outaouais (MRC des Collines), the local police overseeing the park.
Despite the contention by naturists that their activity is legal, NCC will continue to forward complaints to the MRC des Collines, says Caron.
Now that the plan specifically excludes naturist activity, will the NCC try to eliminate that activity from the park? For now, says Caron, park staff will continue as they have in recent times -forwarding complaints of "inappropriate behaviours" or "threatening" behaviours to the police.
Repeated calls to the MRC des Collines were not returned by press time.
Another local group, Ottawa Naturists, charge that the NCC is harassing nude sunbathers. President John Smith says the NCC clamps down on nudists in Meech Lake in spring, but their zeal dies down as the summer draws to an end.
The police use intimidation tactics to make their point, says Deschênes. Police tell people to put on their clothes, while taking care to not claim that they are breaking the law, he says. Too often, people assume they have to follow the instructions. The gay beach is a 20-minute walk in from the road, providing privacy from accidental viewers.
-With files from Shai Mor