Toronto
2 min

Back in the buff

Police hint nudists okay at Pride

ESCORTED AWAY. Plainclothes officers arrested seven nudists in last year's parade; the charges didn't stick. Credit: Joshua Meles

Totally Naked Toronto Men Enjoying Nudity (TNT MEN) plan on covering their asses – but only metaphorically – if any member is arrested in the Jun 29 Pride Parade.



Yes, there will be men in the buff and this time they’re not taking any guff.



“If there are arrests this year, we will seriously consider a formal complaint to the police services commission,” says the group’s lawyer Peter Simm, who is also a TNT MEN member.



“We could theoretically get a court order to stop police from making arrests, but frankly I don’t have enough spare time to deal with that right now. But if they’re stupid enough to arrest again, we would look at that and we’d also look at the possibility of a lawsuit.”



Last year, seven TNT MEN members were arrested by plainclothes cops at the end of the parade. Despite concerted efforts by Aidan Maher, then-superintendent of downtown’s 52 Division, to ensure the charges stuck, they didn’t. The Crown backed off and the charges were withdrawn.



Paul Gottschalk is the new superintendent of 52 Division. He says police will not arrest nudists this year. That is, probably not.



“I want to allay any fears people may have,” says Gottschalk, who has spoken to Pride organizers and shared judicial advice about nudity. If the public isn’t offended, he won’t lay charges.



“I’m not going to be looking to lay any charges,” he says. “Unless things change, I won’t.”



Richard Westgate, who was one of the “censored seven” last year, plans to march nude this time around. He’s not sure how many people will join him.



“Everyone makes up their own mind about how far they’re going to go in the parade,” says Westgate. “The only year we advised against it was that first year that Mel Lastman was mayor and was upset about the idea of being in the same city as somebody that’s naked. We stayed covered up that year. But every other year since 1996 there have been people who have been naked in the parade.”



Last year was the first time anyone was arrested in the parade, though the police have made efforts in the past to discourage nudity by pressuring members of the Pride Toronto committee. Pride does not have a policy on nudity, saying its primary concern is the safety of participants, not Criminal Code laws.



“Everything until last year has seemed to be calculated to frighten everyone off so that we would voluntarily censor ourselves. But last year they seemed bound and determined to do something,” says Westgate.



The arrests were triggered by two complaints to the police, including one from rightwing Christian group REAL Women – though it seems hard to believe one of its members would have been present to be offended.



“They’ve been waging a campaign very persistently to try and have arrests made at the Pride Parade. And I guess from their standpoint persistence finally paid off last year,” says Simm.



Simm’s research shows that to fall under the Criminal Code’s definition of nudity, a person has to be totally bare – including bare feet. TNT MEN members have been careful to wear footwear. Otherwise, nudists must be seen to offend public order by, for example, causing a riot.



“To offend against public decency depends on the particular circumstances,” says Simm. “‘Is there a sufficient apprehension of harm to onlookers or society in general that would exceed the tolerance of the hypothetical average Canadian?’ is the question. So it’s not a question of whether the hypothetical average Canadian would personally be offended by seeing it, or would rather not see it, it’s rather would they tolerate the risk of harm caused by it.”



The long history of nudity at Pride, says Simm, has taught spectators to expect it.



A cop can’t lay a nudity charge without the written authorization of the attorney general of the province, one of the few offences need that kind of authorization; treason is another.



* with files from Emily Sharpe