MRC des Collines regional police have said they will no longer allow nudity in an area of Gatineau Park that has been frequented by naturists for decades.
Following the arrest of five men on Sept 21, police released a statement noting they had received several complaints about naturists near Trail 36 at Meech Lake.
“Obviously, this type of behaviour attracts other individuals who masturbate and intimidate users,” the release states. “Therefore in order to deal with this problem, the police, NCC [National Capital Commission] and the Prosecutor’s office joined forces in order to eliminate this practice, which makes the area unattractive.”
The five men arrested were between the ages of 38 and 70, hailing from Ottawa, Arnprior and Vancouver. The area near Meech Lake and O’Brien Beach parking lot is a well-known nudist spot for both gays and straights.
Martin Fournel, spokesperson for MRC des Collines police, says that for now police are not charging nudists, but they will next summer.
“In 2012, nudity in Gatineau Park will not be tolerated. Anyone caught in the nude in the park will be arrested and charged,” Fournel says, adding that one of the men was arrested because he was hiking on a trail wearing only a backpack and running shoes.
Fournel says that although the cases are unrelated, police became concerned following the murder of 18-year-old Valérie Leblanc, whose battered and burned body was found in the woods behind a Gatineau college on Aug 23.
“Gatineau Park is for everyone, including families, children. It’s a problem when 90 percent of the nudity complaints we get are about men. We have people walking around and masturbating in front of people. We take this serious because some women were harassed, and we’re not going to wait for something else to happen,” he says.
Stéphane Deschênes, a spokesperson for the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN), says naturism is not about masturbating.
“If every time a crime happens in a location and we shut it down, we wouldn’t have many places left,” he says. “I’m sure that there’s perverts on beaches where people wear bathing suits, as well. They’re targeting the wrong people.”
He says being nude in a public place is not considered an indecent act, according to Section 174 of Canada’s Criminal Code.
“A locker room is a public place, but it is accepted that you can be nude there,” says Deschênes, who is also the owner of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in East Gwillimbury, Ontario. “Meech Lake has a long tradition of nude use going back a century. Anyone who is going there is looking for a place where they can be safely nude; we’re not looking for public beaches. Is it fair that there are all these places and there are none available for us?”
Although NCC officers are not authorized to fine people for nudity, they have asked police to kick naturists out. Fournel says the police haven’t decided whether small fines or criminal charges will be doled out next year.
“As far as fines or charges go, we could try to prosecute under Section 174,” he says. “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.”
A regular user of Gatineau Park told Xtra that police questioned him last summer. Michael, who prefers not to give his full name, was sitting in his car with a friend when an Ottawa police car parked nearby and its headlights were shone in his front window.
Michael says he approached the police when they didn’t turn off their lights. “They asked me what we were doing,” he says. “I said we thought it was a nice night and that we parked there so we could eat.”
He said police then took down their names, told them theft, assault and prostitution were rampant in the area and asked them to leave for their own safety.
Xtra used an Ottawa police crime-mapping tool with the assistance of a police media spokesperson and found no incidents of prostitution, theft or assault in the area where Michael was questioned.
“They say there’s crime and there was nothing. I think they were using scare tactics to get gay men out of there,” says Michael.