Bob Meldrum has been biking from his Sandy Hill home and swimming nude in Meech Lake for more than 30 years.
That is until Sept 21, when Meldrum, 70, was arrested along with four other men and told he could no longer be nude in Gatineau Park.
Meldrum, who counted 12 plainclothes officers and six unmarked cars at the time of his arrest, doesn’t understand why police are targeting nudists.
“I didn’t know MRC des Collines had that many vehicles,” he says.
MRC des Collines police later released a statement saying nudity would no longer be allowed in the park because “it attracts other individuals who masturbate and intimidate users.”
Martin Fournel, a police spokesperson, told Xtra that police were concerned following a June report of a man masturbating in the park, as well as the murder of 18-year-old Valérie Leblanc. Leblanc’s body was found in the woods behind a Gatineau college on Aug 23, about 13 kilometres from Meech Lake.
Gary Kinsman doubts there is any connection between these crimes and nudists who have used the park for decades.
Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University, says police often use such complaints or crimes to clamp down on gay sex and nudity in publicly owned areas.
“The police use the broken window theory to construct associations,” he says. “If there are broken windows and graffiti, more crime will happen if it’s not cleaned up. They used a lone masturbator coupled with a murder to justify their actions. There’s no relationship with the murder and people being nudists.”
Carleton University professor Patrizia Gentile agrees. She says there’s a history of police using unrelated criminal cases to harass the gay community.
“The crackdown on parks such as Remic Rapids and Meech Lake is a regular feature of anti-queer regulations,” says Gentile, who co-authored The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation with Kinsman. “This does have a long history. It is a systemic practice precisely because it has a history. I would not see this as a one-off act.”
When Meldrum was arrested he asked the police about the other crimes.
“I asked them if this was because of the murdered girl: ‘Shouldn’t you be out there looking for [the suspect]?’ The policeman replied, ‘That’s Gatineau. It’s not our job,’” says Meldrum.
However, Martin Fournel, spokesperson for MRC des Collines, says police have received complaints and will continue charging nudists next year.
“In 2012, nudity in Gatineau Park will not be tolerated. Anyone caught in the nude in the park will be arrested and charged,” he says.
Meldrum wonders why police are waiting until 2012 if they received complaints this year.
Fournel says NCC officers asked police to remove naturists.
“As far as fines or charges go, we could try to prosecute,” says Fournel. “We work with the NCC and Crown. They said they would help. It’s an old problem. People can go elsewhere or risk criminal charges.”
Jean Wolff, a spokesperson for NCC, says he receives complaints every year about nudity.
“I’m not in a position to tell the police what to do. They received complaints and are following up on it. [Nudity] is a regular occurrence. A lot of people are intimidated by that,” he says.
Gerry, 72, an Ottawa man who didn’t want to give his last name, says gays and nudists have been using the park for years.
“When I was a young man, many gays, including myself, married women and went to the woods to explore themselves,” he says. “There is more tolerance for gays nowadays, but the culture is still the same.”
He thinks police crackdowns on nudity in Gatineau Park means gays will just find somewhere else to meet. “People say they don’t mind gays, but gay sex — ‘Oh my God, keep that away from me.”
With files from Noreen Fagan.