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Two of Meech Lake five in court

Men who were arrested in popular nudist area are currently in front of the Crown

Sign posted by the NCC near Trail 36. Credit: Source: MRC Des Collines Police

Two men from a group of five who were arrested in Gatineau Park last September and charged under Section 174 of the Criminal Code for public nudity are currently in court in an attempt to have criminal charges commuted.
 

As Xtra reported last year, the five men were apprehended by undercover officers from the MRC des Collines police near Gatineau Park’s Meech Lake. Naturists have converged at this picturesque location for decades and the lake is cited in guidebooks as a dream destination for those looking for a secluded nude beach. 
 
Over the last 30 years the NCC has consistently installed signage near Trail 36 indicating nudism or naturism is prohibited, but the warnings have been habitually vandalized or removed.
 
According to Martin Fournel, a spokesperson for MRC des Collines police, one of the men whose case is currently in the hands of the Crown was a plaintiff regarding naturism two weeks before his arrest, while the other individual has previous convictions under Article 174 of the Criminal Code.

Laws concerning public nudity have been heavily debated in Canadian courts in the past.

Although public nudity is of interest to authorities, Fournel says the MRC des Collines police force is more concerned with acts of indecent exposure, and they are actively searching for one perpetrator who remains at large.
 
“We are most concerned with people who are jumping naked in front of families or masturbating themselves in front of people,” Fournel says. “That’s another article in the Criminal Code. There’s one [perpetrator] who we got complaints about last year. We got a description; we can see it’s the same individual, but we didn’t arrest him yet. Those are the people whose behaviour is concerning us.”

Carleton University professor Patrizia Gentile told Xtra last year that this type of suppression by police is a common method of discrimination against gays and lesbians.
 
“The crackdown on parks such as Remic Rapids and Meech Lake is a regular feature of anti-queer regulations,” Gentile, who co-authored The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation,  said. “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.”

Stéphane Deschênes, spokesperson for the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN) and owner of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park, says true naturists are unlikely to be guilty of indecent exposure and are unjustly labelled as sexual deviants.

“They have the misconception that the people who cause problems are the naturists,” Deschênes says. “I have visited naturist beaches all over the world and they are always the cleanest and safest ones. Yet that doesn’t mean bad things can’t happen. You can’t find a public beach where they don’t have the same problems, and nobody is suggesting that it’s the people in bathing suits that are the problem.”

For naturists seeking a designated location to bare it all, there are several options in the Ottawa region. The Grand Barn in Vankleek Hill is one such alternative, promoting open-mindedness and offering a clothing-optional environment.
 
Loretta Erie, the Grand Barn’s events coordinator, says the naturist way of life isn’t about sex and is simply about choosing to shrug off the shackles of textiles.

“People don’t understand. They automatically put nudity with sex, and it’s not about that. It’s really hard for a lot of people because their mindset is if you are nude, it’s sex. It isn’t — it’s got nothing to do with that. It has to do with freedom of no clothes,” Erie explains. “Those of us who are nudists, we speak to each other eye to eye and face to face more than people who wear clothes. In regular society, when I was a 28-inch waist and a double-D chest, I never had a face. Everybody talked at my chest. I’m still a double-D chest, but when I’m nude at the Grand Barn, they are looking at my face, not my chest.”
 
Deschênes agrees with Erie’s statements regarding the separation of nudity and sex, saying the concept is just too difficult for most clothed individuals to grasp.
 
“Society is so oppressed, and we’re told that nudity is bad. We’re conditioned to have a phobia of nudity,” Deschênes says. “The only experience people have with nudity is in a sexual environment, so it’s hard to imagine anything else. It’s a very arbitrary social construct, but it’s deeply embedded in our psyche.”
 
Fournel strongly suggests that naturists contemplating a return to Meech Lake this summer choose different locales to strut their stuff.
 

“For 2012 we will do police surveillance again, and whoever is caught naked will be charged with a criminal offence. They need to go find other places. I know people have been going there for a long time, so it’s a need to change their habits,” he says. “Our message is there is zero tolerance.” 

Xtra is following this story.