Page 1 of 8A REVIEW OF THE LAW OF INDECENCY AND NUDITY
On July 19, 1991, in Guelph, Ontario, a young woman took off her top and walked, topless, along the streets of the city. Eventually, she arrived at a residence where she sat on the porch for a period of time. She was seen by approximately 250 people. Some, young men, came to leer; others to object. Some removed their children, who were playing on their front lawns. Traffic was disrupted by cars and buses slowing down to look. Eventually, the police arrived, as a result of complaints, and the woman stated that she was hot and was more comfortable without her top on. She was charged with committing an indecent act in a public place, contrary to s.173(1) of the Criminal Code. She was convicted at trial. The conviction was upheld by the Summary Conviction Appeal Court. On further appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the conviction was overturned and an acquittal entered 1
The Crown in Ontario reviewed the case and decided not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. It was concluded that there was no likelihood that leave would be granted by the Supreme Court. The public reaction was strong and quite vocal. Hundreds of letters and telephone calls from throughout the province of Ontario came pouring in to the Attorney General of Ontario protesting the Ontario Court of Appeal decision and requesting that some steps be taken to prevent public toplessness by women. Throughout the summer of 1997, many Ontario municipal councils considered and debated the issue of toplessness by women occurring in their municipality and what, if any, action was to be taken about it. Many of them wrote to the Attorney General of Ontario asking for the provincial government to take some action. The Attorney General wrote to the federal Minister of Justice, as did many members of the public from Ontario, asking for changes to the criminal law.
The problem was placed on the table for discussion at the 1997 meeting of the Criminal Law Section of the Uniform Law Conference. After a lengthy discussion, it was decided that further work needed to be done before any specific recommendations could be made. The following resolution was passed:
That a working group of the Criminal Section of the Uniform Law Conference be established to examine the indecency and public nudity provisions of the Criminal Code as well as the legal and constitutional issues related to the feasibility of local (i.e. municipal) regulations and to report back at the next Conference.
This paper reviews the state of the law relating to indecency and nudity, and the question whether local regulations may be feasible to deal with problems of dress in public places.
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