Disclaimer: I’m going to write about Three Mile Beach.
The situation that has been developing at the public beach just a hop, skip and a 10-minute drive from downtown Penticton has led to an arrest, and the slightest mention of the issue is guaranteed to stir up a frenzy, hence the disclaimer.
I’ve been accused of lazy journalism and enflaming the issue. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but I’m here to lay out the facts as best as I can on the issue which has property owners and naturists up in arms, and police and the city throwing up their hands. Before I get into it, a friendly reminder that all feedback is welcome.
Firstly there is the issue of legality.
Under section 174 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada Every one who, without lawful excuse is nude in a public place, or is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. Nude is defined in the section as a person who offending against public decency or order.
With that bit of legalese out of the way, Three Mile Beach is a public beach, owned by the City of Penticton, with plenty of signage indicating so. The way I understand it, some naturists used to access a more secluded piece of the beach via privately-owned land which is now guarded by a sign and security camera, and during my short trip down to the beach for some research, not being a lazy journalist, I did in fact see some folks in their birthday suits on the public portion of the beach. My trip to the beach on this day didn’t make me want to reach for my phone and call 911, and those who were clothed and taking a swim didn’t seem to mind either.
However, neither side involved with the feud is getting what they want from police, aside from the one arrest, and for a pretty good reason. With two murders this year and a crime rate that didn’t take a break in the shoulder season, certain calls take priority.
City councillors have taken heat as well for leaving things “status quo,” a fancy way of saying “we’re not going to do anything.” The council was put in a tough spot, with two vocally opposed sides and not a lot of wiggle room in between. The city can’t supersede the aforementioned Criminal Code section, which essentially means that it is a criminal offence to be nude in a public place, as it always was. It could be argued that for the same reason council couldn’t endorse Three Mile as a nude beach.
The buck has been passed from council to the police and now to the Crown. I wouldn’t be surprised if they dropped the charge like the hot potato it is, but somebody with authority needs to set a precedent, or else what’s the point of having these institutions if not for exact situations like this.
Next, there has been little sympathy for the property owners in the online comments section, with many asking why they would move there if they knew nudist’s frequent the beach? I’ve also seen it repeated many times that Three Mile has always been a nudist beach.
The closest to concrete evidence I can get locally is a newspaper article from the Penticton Museum and Archives that outlines a nudist club in the Okanagan in 1965.
The article about the 30-member club at the time states “Sunbathers are not new here, but nude ones tanning collectively in an officially-organized club are quite a recent addition to the Okanagan scene.”
Not the “100-year history” I’ve been told about, not concretely anyway, but naturists have been around the area for awhile which begs the question, does it matter?
Let’s say a hypothetical group of people found a cove on a hypothetical (I can’t stress that word enough) public space and they used it for public alcohol consumption — and I’m not equating naturism with public alcohol consumption, only making the comparison that they are both Criminal Code offences.
Let’s say they had been causing a ruckus (hypothetically) at Skaha Lake Park for hundreds of years in the name of the God of alcohol. Would the city be so hesitant to take a stance? If a special interest group had been doing it for years, does that matter? Why does one special interest group get priority or special treatment on a public beach we all pay taxes for.
On the note of taxes, I reach my last point, why it matters. Some have expressed their utter disdain with the situation and its constant presence in the media. We’re just “creating an issue” on a slow news day as us vultures are going to do. The already taxed police have told me they are getting multiple calls a week from Three Mile Beach, property owners say they are getting assaulted and bullied, and naturists are saying the same.
A dispute over public land, which neither party owns, wasn’t resolved by the city, wasn’t resolved by police and has trickled down to the court system, who may not resolve it either. Has this one feud poked its way through every credible authoritative institution? Almost, and that’s pretty interesting to me.
It should be noted I refrained from making many nudity-based puns during the writing of this article, I don’t want a medal or anything, but I’m patting myself on the back.
Dale Boyd is a reporter for the Penticton Western News.