1st Annual Activity
July 23rd, 2022
Lake Louise, Alberta
Our first annual event was a success with a fantastic group of 17 people in attendance. The weather was sunny and warm. We played an EPIC game of frisbee on the best playing field in the national park system. We even swam in the lake a bit.
Our location was in a visible location but nobody had to walk through our group to get to their destination. We were 150 meters off the trail at the closest point, with a trek through shin deep water that was required to get to our location.
The sand looks dry until you sit on it for a bit and water soaks into your towel. Next year we'll be bringing tarps to put our towels on.
Despite being given notice months ahead of time, the Lake Louise RCMP contacted GNB! by phone just 2 days before the planned activity to explain the criminal charges that would be considered, likely in an attempt to invoke fear, apparently hoping for an activity cancellation. Proposed charges included Indecent Acts (s. 173 of the Criminal Code). Unbeknownst to the RCMP, we are quite knowledgeable on the law, and an Indecent Act must have a sexual component such as masturbation. We were advised that our activity may impact local businesses (horse tours), so we emailed the local stables so they could make their own choice on the matter. We were notified that some people may be offended, seemingly with the implication that one's offense is what determines the criminal nature of the activity rather than the law.
It is notable that even at this time, the RCMP had NOT declared the activity to be illegal, they were simply informing us of the factors that they would be considering if they chose to pursue criminal charges. It is our interpretation and understanding that none of the proposed charges apply to skinny dipping for self fulfilment purposes, so we advised the RCMP of our intentions to proceed with the activity. We reiterated that we would be more than happy to get dressed if asked because we wish to demonstrate that we are reasonable people and not a problem.
One hour and fifteen minutes after peeling down 2 RCMP officers and a park warden supervisor arrived, instantly declared the activity to be illegal, and asked us to get dressed, which we did. The RCMP implemented several different intimidation tactics throughout this interaction.
There were no charges laid, and the police advised us that if we got dressed and stayed dressed the matter would be considered "resolved".
It is notable that the RCMP threatened to charge women for public nudity for being topless. This issue is generally considered a settled issue as result of District of Maple Ridge v. Meyer, 2000 BCSC 902 (CanLII) and R. v. Jacob, 1996 CanLII 1119 (ON CA). Additionally, the City of Edmonton has an official policy stating "All patrons are permitted to go topless in City operated pools if they so wish". The City of Edmonton's policy is located HERE and is under the "Swim Apparel" submenu located near the bottom of the page.
After the activity we submitted a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) request for Parks Canada email communications. We got quite a few juicy tidbits of information back from our request. Despite initiating this conversation in 2018, it appears that Parks Canada didn't even bother seeking legal advice until about 3 months before our planned activity when it finally became clear to them we intended to proceed. Parks Canada discussed using park regulations to ban us from the area (they couldn't) and tried to declare this activity an "illegal special event" even though we didn't meet any of the criteria of a special event.
Parks Canada tried to take the position that skinny dipping is so disruptive that it violates park regulation 32(1)(b) in regards to conduct that unreasonably disturbs other users of the park. Parks Canada went looking for complaints on foot and got exactly ONE complaint.
The following excerpt is from an email sent to park management on July 23rd 2022 by the park warden that shut us down:
We spoke with Parks Canada VE staff at the upper parking lot at the start and end of our hike and they had not received any feedback from visitors regarding the group or their activity. As expected, being a weekend with good weather there was a significant amount of visitors in the area. During our hike we only encountered one group of hikers who brought the nudists to our attention. They stated that they were enjoying their time at the back of the lake and were shocked when a group of people arrived, stripped down, and were hanging around naked. While they were definitely bothered by the incident they said that they would not be willing to testify if charges were laid.
Ultimately everything went quite well. It ended with a verbal warning and direction to put clothes on there is no further follow up expected.
SIDE NOTE: Despite the park warden's claims, we do NOT identify as "nudists". Skinny dipping is simply a thing we do, it is not how we identify ourselves.
GNB! organizers spent years communicating with various authorities. Our goal was to get everyone on the same page as to what the law allows. We aimed to educate authorities, give them time to do their own research, and hoped they would come to the same conclusions as other jurisdictions that we have had success with. Parks Canada's position on skinny dipping is not inline with at least 4 other organizations. For example, Alberta Parks made a complete reversal on their position after hearing from their own legal department.
NOTE: This section refers extensively to an email from the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) on 16 April 2019 to the organizers of GNB!. This correspondence constitutes the "official position of the ACPS in cases of this sort" per an email from the Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the ACPS to the Lake Louise RCMP on 14 July 2022.
The first organization that GNB! organizers contacted was the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service to inquire about the legalities of skinny dipping. We received an email response on 16 April 2019 from the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) that stated:
Any decision in this regard must be made on a principled basis, in consideration of the specific facts surrounding the commission of the alleged criminal offence as determined by the law enforcement agency.
Nobody can tell us what that principled basis consists of, or what specific facts that they would consider relevant. Nobody will provide guidelines for us to follow. The most complete answer we have been able to get is essentially what amounts to "do it and we'll let you know if its illegal or not".
One thing the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service notably did not say is that skinny dipping is illegal. Instead, the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service suggested a flow chart for implementation by the RCMP, saying:
You may also wish to contact the RCMP regarding the flow chart made by the College of Policing for the UK, to determine if they would be interested in creating a similar decision aid.
The Flow chart being referenced can be read HERE, and it identifies specific passive behaviours in public such as sunbathing, walking, cycling, and swimming. It goes on to say that in most cases just being naked in public will be a lawful activity. Their referral to the flow chart suggests that the official position of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service is that there are instances of public nudity that are lawful and that those instances can include nudity for the purpose of recreation.
One week before the planned activity on 15 July 2022, the Lake Louise RCMP contacted GNB! via email and was unable to declare this to be an illegal activity. They simply referred us back to the previous email with the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service from 16 April 2019.
The email from the Lake Louise RCMP reads as follows in its entirety:
In regards to the upcoming Get Naked Banff Event planned for July 23rd, 2022. Lake Louise RCMP have been in conversation with the Deputy Chief Prosecutor regarding this event. I would like to direct your attention back to the previous letter copied below as this is the final word from the ACPS on the matter and applies to the upcoming event your planning to host in Banff National Park.
The following is another snippet from the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) in which the Lake Louise RCMP referred us to:
As ultimately the decision to pursue a criminal investigation lays solely within the discretion of local law enforcement, you must work with the appropriate policing agency in the location you are considering for your outdoor activities to determine what if any further steps your group can take to avoid potential criminal charges.
It appears to us that the RCMP ignored the advice about working with law enforcement as provided by the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.
The comical part of the RCMP referring us to that correspondence is that the Assistant Deputy Minister advised us to work with local police, which we were, except the local police were referring us back to the Assistant Deputy Minister... who was referring us back to the local police.
One thing that the Lake Louise RCMP notably did not say is that skinny dipping is illegal. The RCMP also did not provide any guidance at all for us to follow per the instructions of the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS).
In a communication from Parks Canada on 18 May 2022, even Parks Canada couldn't officially state that skinny dipping is illegal, saying only:
While Parks Canada understands that some individuals and groups enjoy the practice of naturism, public nudity is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Illegal activities are not allowed in national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas. Local police services and/or park wardens will respond to public complaints concerning illegal activities.
The above statement by Parks Canada is crafty and ingenious. Lets break down their statement line by line:
Fact: People do practice naturism
Fact: Public nudity (s. 174 of the Criminal Code) is a criminal offense, though more accurately, public nudity WITHOUT A LAWFUL EXCUSE is an offense.
Fact: Illegal activities are not allowed in national parks, or anywhere else for that matter.
Fact: The police do indeed respond to reports of illegal activities.
We really can appreciate the craftiness and perfection of their statement while completely not answering the topic at hand.
We spoke with the Crown Prosecution Service, Parks Canada, and the RCMP regarding this activity. Parks Canada communicated via telephone that this activity was illegal, however they flat refused to state as much in an email with a formal rejection of this activity. Had Parks Canada stated clearly that skinny dipping is an illegal activity, we would have been able to take Parks Canada to court on a judicial review. It is clear to us that Parks Canada is getting legal advice on the matter and is intentionally using vague language in order to remove the option for a judicial review. It's as if they know full well that their position is not supported by law.
It is our firm belief that our activity was perfectly legal, just undesirable for Parks Canada. We also believe that the RCMP is unfamiliar with what constitutes a violation of s. 174 of the Criminal Code for public nudity without a lawful excuse.
On 16 August 2022 we filed a robust complaint with supporting documentation with the RCMP and Parks Canada for interrupting our activity. On 18 August 2022 we filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) regarding the lack of RCMP policies to properly guide officers in the field and for inconsistent application of the law.
In a phone call with the RCMP complaint investigator, the constable conceded that we are more familiar with the law than them, that it is possible that our activity was fully legal, and that officers responding in the field would have no way to know that.
Canadians deserve better than this.
We are using all of these issues to advocate for a national RCMP policy for skinny dipping, similar to existing policies that have been implemented in other jurisdictions. We believe Canadians should be able to enjoy our amazing national parks how they choose without fear of legal repercussion.
Our complaint with the CRCC is still ongoing, despite their goal to rectify all complaints within 90 days (its now been over 6 months as of 1 March 2023). Due to the complex nature of our complaint it is taking considerably longer than normal to be resolved. It is our understanding that the RCMP is currently seeking guidance from the Department of Justice on the matter, which is a fantastic development. Depending on what that legal advice says, the RCMP could use that to develop a new policy for police response to skinny dipping.
We continue to engage the relevant authorities through every channel available to us, which includes taking this to court if that's the last option we have.
Like FAQ 1.0, But More Boring
The point of FAQ 2.0 is to let everyone know (park authorities included) that should this activity be interrupted again by park authorities, our goal will be to get this matter in front of a judge so that we can finally get a definitive answer to this topic. Parks Canada and the RCMP may unwittingly help us in our goal of legitimizing nude recreation for self fulfilment purposes.
Will the police come arrest us all?
In all likeliness the police will follow a script that includes asking people to get dressed before pursuing charges.
A reference document we found in the Crown Council Policy Manual of British Columbia lists the conditions in which the Prosecution Service would consider laying charges in their policy on nudity. Nova Scotia has a similar document from the Public Prosecution Service regarding nudity. Per a FOIP request, Alberta does NOT have any sort of policy document regarding public nudity. We believe Alberta's position would be similar in nature to other jurisdictions given the responses from Crown Prosecution officials on the matter. We believe that if you avoid the bullet point list items in the BC policy for nudity then no charges or arrest are likely to happen.
At our activity in 2022 at Lake Louise we were simply asked to get dressed and no charges were recommended by the police.
Even if the police decide to pursue a criminal investigation, that doesn't mean that crown prosecutors would take up the case.
The Public Prosecution Service policy document from Nova Scotia says on page 3:
"Generally, citizens ought not to face the serious sanction of a criminal conviction unless the alleged conduct amounts to aggressive exhibitionism."
The Nova Scotia document also makes considerations for a lawful excuse on page 2, with the implication that simply being nude in public is not the lone threshold of a criminal offence. The document even provides an example of a lawful excuse for recreational purposes in which they would likely not consider charges:
"It should be noted that consideration of the evidential threshold includes an assessment of whether or not any defences plainly open to the accused can be overcome. Certain nude persons, e.g. models posing for bona fide artists, may have a lawful excuse for being nude."
It is our interpretation that the police are over-enforcing the law, policing based on personal biases, and refusing to consider new information that conflicts with those biases.
What would challenging the law look like?
First of all, we aren't challenging the law, but rather the interpretation of the law by park authorities and the RCMP. What we are trying to do is get this activity in front of a judge to definitively rule that this activity does not constitute criminal public nudity without a lawful excuse.
The ultimate choice to recommend charges lies with individual police officers (and their personal biases) per the Decision to Prosecute policy document from the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service. Once charges are recommended, the Crown Prosecution Service can choose to lay charges based on the evidence presented by the police.
We currently do not believe we would ever make it to court in the first place. We do not believe that the Crown Prosecution Service would support the position that the RCMP has taken. We believe no charges will ever be filed for skinny dipping that has no aggravating circumstances, such as a sexual component or using nudity to disrupt.
Should the Crown Prosecution Service refuse charges (or if we win in court), we will use this to advocate for a national policy with the RCMP for nude recreation for self fulfilment purposes. It appears straight-forward to us that either the RCMP accepts that the law does not support their interpretation of criminal public nudity or the RCMP never cared about the law in the first place.
Again, we believe we have a great case to bring to court, and we believe the Crown Prosecution Service would recognize that as well and decline charges.
Does GNB! believe people should be naked anywhere?
Of course not. There are reasonable restrictions on everything.
We believe that there ARE instances where public nudity is a nuisance, which is why we actually support s. 174 of the Criminal Code for public nudity. There are many people who do not understand proper behaviour in regards to nude recreation.
The Brian Coldin case is a great example of nudity designed to disrupt, where he attended drive-thru restaurants while not wearing clothes. The court ruled that Coldin was “flaunting” his nudity to shock people, and that he had some “missionary zeal” which seemed contrary to the naturist philosophy he was espousing to not embarrass or confront others.
Legitimate instances of skinny dipping are completely different than someone using nudity to cause a disturbance.
Our goal is to demonstrate what appropriate instances of nude recreation look like as well as speak out against those that use nude recreation as an excuse to cause disturbances. We believe the police should understand the difference as well, and we will continue to advocate for policy changes so that Canadians may choose the swim attire of their preference without fear of legal repercussion, especially while enjoying any of our amazing national parks.
What if the police show up (again)?
Our recommendation to everyone is to follow all instructions by law enforcement, which includes getting dressed if asked. You may wear clothes if you are not comfortable with the risks but still wish to be a part of this.
We plan on peacefully enjoying our day (again). Should the police declare this to be an illegal activity (again) and choose to escalate the situation (again), an organizer will take the lead and then get dressed. We are not asking anyone to get arrested with us. All we need is one court date for one person to present our case.
Park authorities are aware of our plan. In other words, park authorities get to choose if they wish to help us legitimize nude recreation by giving us our day in court, or help us legitimize nude recreation by leaving us alone because we aren't breaking any laws.
Why are we doing this with so much risk?
Because its unreasonable that there is any risk at all for skinny dipping. We consider this to be a normal day in the mountains. To us, the problem is when people become irrationally angry about human bodies or when the police threaten to arrest people for peacefully enjoying their day.
All we are asking for is for the RCMP and Parks Canada to develop policies regarding nude recreation so that the law may be applied equally across Canada, regardless of which officer responds. We consider this to be an extremely reasonable request. We have made it really clear that we intend to follow any reasonable policy that is created. We are unable to follow a policy that does not exist.
Somebody has to lead the way if we want change, and it might as well be us.