Is it a crime to be nude in public?

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Is it a crime to be nude in public?

In Canada, public nudity can be a criminal offence. Specifically, it is a crime under section 174(1) of Canada’s Criminal Code to be nude in a public place or while “exposed to public view while on private property.”

Charging and prosecuting someone for public nudity requires the consent of the Attorney General and is rare. However, public nudity can overlap with other crimes which are regularly prosecuted and can carry serious consequences.

What is a public place?

The Criminal Code defines a “public place” as any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, “express or implied.” This definition is not always easy to apply. For example, a private road next to a highway (but not visible from the highway) that is used by the public without objection is a public place.

In 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision R v Clark, the accused was masturbating in his living room while clearly visible, from the naval up, to neighbours through his unobstructed living room window. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the alleged public indecent act offence was not made out because the word “access” in the definition of public place means physical access, not visual access.

Because criminal nudity can be made out by being nude not only in a public place, but also “while exposed to public view on private property,” the facts in R v Clark may well support a public nudity charge.

What is “Nudity?”

According to the Criminal Code, a person is nude when they are “so clad as to offend against public decency or public order.” This means that you can be “nude” without being fully naked; being nude means being dressed in a way that causes harm or potential harm to the public. This depends on societal values, which are always changing.  Because this crime is charged so rarely, modern examples of criminal nudity are few and far between. Breastfeeding is not criminal public nudity.

Crimes like Public Nudity

Although public nudity is rarely charged and prosecuted in Canada today, there are other crimes which may arise from being publicly nude. For example, it is a crime to expose your genital organs to a person under the age of 16 for a sexual purpose. It is also a crime to willfully commit an indecent act in a public place in front of someone or in any place with intent to offend someone.