Three people were arrested in Gatineau Park this summer in a sweep dubbed Operation Nude after they stripped down in an area of the park long known as a spot for nudists.
MRC des Collines police have been warning park users since September 2011 that they would arrest any naturists in Meech Lake, an area that, according to Stéphane Deschênes, a spokesperson for the Federation of Canadian Naturists, has “a long history of nude use going back a century.”
Because of the warning, the federation warned its members to avoid the area this past summer.
Police followed through, leading to the arrest of a man and woman in July for public nudity, while another man was arrested for committing an “indecent act.”
An Aug 16 press release from MRC des Collines states that a 68-year-old Ottawa man was arrested for public nudity near the Carbide ruins on July 19. An Ottawa woman in her 40s was arrested while hiking with her husband near trail 36 on July 20, also for public nudity. The woman’s husband was not arrested. The woman informed police she had witnessed a man masturbating. The man left the area in a canoe and police tracked him to Meech Lake Rd. The 54-year-old La Pêche man was arrested for committing an indecent act.
A view of picturesque Gatineau Park. Naturists have flocked to Meech Lake for close to a century, says Canadian Federation of Naturists spokesperson Stéphane Deschênes.
MRC des Collines police are investigating whether the man is the perpetrator known as “the flasher” who they have been seeking for months. None of the three have yet appeared in court.
Six MRC des Collines police officers conducted the sweep, alongside RCMP and National Capital Commission officers.
As Xtra previously reported
, undercover MRC des Collines police officers arrested a group of five men between the ages of 38 and 70 on Sept 21, 2011, for public nudity.
While one of the men was released with no charges, two of the accused were charged with public nudity and appeared at the Hull courthouse in July. The presiding judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence against the men and dropped all charges.
Section 174 of the Criminal Code states that anyone who is nude in a public space without lawful excuse is guilty of a punishable offence. For an individual to be charged under the Criminal Code, the attorney general must consent before a prosecuting attorney can proceed with charges. In the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, the director of public prosecutions must consent.
Bob Meldrum was one of the men arrested in 2011. He and another defendant were not charged after their arrest but were instead diverted to a program for the non-judicial treatment of certain criminal offences.
“My wife figures I should be sent to school, like how they reeducate johns not to chase prostitutes, but they don’t have the right program on how to put my bathing suit on,” Meldrum says with a laugh.
Public nudity as a criminal offence is a law that’s been on the books since 1932. The law was originally created to deter the radical Sons of Freedom group, an offshoot of the Doukhobor sect, from marching nude. The Sons of Freedom were based in British Columbia and marched naked to protest the government's forcing members to enroll their children in school. In the years following, more than 300 Doukhobors were arrested for public nudity and were typically sentenced to three years in prison.
Nick Mulé, an associate professor of social work at York University and the chair of Queer Ontario, questions the police’s actions and says that a dialogue between law enforcement and naturists needs to take place.
“The questions need to be why these laws are on the books and why are they still relevant today? This is an ongoing issue. People have diverse needs, issues and lifestyles,” Mulé says. “We need to make room for as many of those as possible.”
A member of the Ottawa Naturists Society who identified himself as Howie says the nudity law was conceived to take down a fanatical group, and he questions why it is still enforced.
“It’s a shameful chapter in Canadian history,” he says. “The law had been brought in for this specific political purpose. Now they’re using this law against everyone. Clearly, what they are doing is a campaign of intimidation.”
Constable Martin Fournel with the MRC des Collines police declined to comment on Operation Nude.