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Is it always illegal to be naked in public in Vancouver? What to know about nudity rules

"Like many things, context is key here," said a Vancouver criminal lawyer.
The VPD said laws regarding nudity and indecency are defined in the Criminal Code, not in city bylaws. However, the Park Board has swimming facility rules.

Vancouverites can spend a day at Wreck Beach in the nude, but they could face more than raised eyebrows for doing it at other beaches in the city.

According to the Canadian Criminal Code section 174, no one can be nude, without lawful excuse, in a public space or on private property while exposed to public view; it doesn't matter if the property is their own or not.

Anyone nude in public view is "guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."

But people have appeared nude - or at least partially nude - in the city without issue. 

Every summer, thousands of cyclists will congregate near Sunset Beach for a one-day massive naked bike ride event. The first nude protest on wheels took place in Vancouver in 2002 in the middle of winter and has been an annual instalment since, according to the World Naked Bike Ride. 

Vancouver Criminal Lawyer Kyla Lee said nude bike rides or other nude demonstrations are technically illegal. But since they are "protests" that usually involve some form of civil disobedience, police generally "look the other way (so to speak)."

"It's not harming anyone and arguably not indecent in and of itself," she told V.I.A. 

"If the nude bike riders started doing sexual acts or made a point of deliberately exposing their genitals to passersby (like shaking their penises at people or going spreadeagle or something) that would certainly take it from permissible or excusable and into impermissible and illegal."

What is the definition of nude?

Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Sgt. Steve Addison said laws regarding nudity and indecency are defined in the Criminal Code, as well as case law – not in city bylaws.

Canada's Criminal Code defines the term "nude" (as it relates to a criminal offence) as "a person is nude who is so clad as to offend against public decency or order." 

But this definition is somewhat vague and does not preclude all forms of nakedness from occurring in public view. 

Lee points out that "technically you can be topless as a woman wherever you want."

While Indecency criminal laws prohibit nudity in public places, an Ontario woman challenged that rule in the 1990s in Ontario and won. After that, B.C. followed suit and stopped enforcing nudity laws against topless women.

Other places don't allow youth or have other stipulations that make nudity legal. 

"You can be completely nude on nude beaches (ie, Wreck Beach) because people under 16 aren't supposed to be there. Similarly, you can be nude if you have a 'lawful excuse.' I suppose if there were a permitted nudist event where there were walls or something to keep non-nudist folks from viewing it that would be a lawful excuse," Lee explains. 

Vancouver Park Board doesn't allow full nudity at pools - but the rules aren't clear

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation has a swimwear policy for public aquatic facilities, but the City of Vancouver does not have specific bylaws concerning nudity.

The aquatic facility policies are also rather vague and leave significant room for interpretation by Park Board Staff. 

In the District of Maple Ridge v. Meyer, the judge noted that "indecency is not defined in the Criminal Code. It is to be measured on an objective, national, community standard of tolerance."

Vancouver's swimming facilities require visitors to wear appropriate swimwear that other Canadians find acceptable "in a family public swimming environment that includes maintaining full and appropriate coverage of genitals."

But staff must also acknowledge the city's diversity, including different views on decency, in a "fair and consistent manner" while maintaining a safe and comfortable environment.

"Like many things, context is key here," Lee noted.