June 15, 1999 06:18pm
Nudists allowed to strip but not dip at Toronto beach
by: Paul Simao
TORONTO, June 15 (Reuters) - Angry Canadian nudists accused police on Tuesday of showing too much cheek in a recent crackdown on nude bathing at Toronto's only clothes-optional beach.
More than 300 skinny-dippers were forced out of the water at Hanlan's Point on Toronto Island on Sunday after a group of police officers enforced an obscure 65-year-old bylaw banning nude swimming in the city's port and harbor.
Nudists, who celebrated victory last month when Toronto's city council voted overwhelmingly to open a clothes-optional beach on Lake Ontario, greeted the police sweep with disbelief.
``The absurdity of not having nude swimming at an official clothing-optional beach is apparent to everyone with the possible exception of a few police officers involved last weekend,'' said Peter Simm, a nudist and legal expert who fought to have the beach declared clothing optional.
Hanlan's Point, a strip of sand, bushes and poplar trees across Toronto Harbour from downtown, is one of two official clothes-optional beaches in Canada. The other, Vancouver's Wreck Beach, typically draws 5,000 people on a hot summer day.
The Toronto beach possesses a century-old reputation as a playground for thousands of hard-core skinny-dippers and heat-weary city residents.
From the mid 1890s, near the end of British Queen Victoria's reign, until 1930, the fig leaves fell with abandon at Hanlan's Point and two other legal clothing-optional beaches on the Ontario mainland.
Attitudes hardened in 1934 when a federal bylaw was enacted requiring swimmers in port or harbor waters to wear a ``proper bathing suit sufficient to prevent indecent exposure.''
It was aggressive interpretation of this bylaw that launched the police crackdown last weekend.
The regulation, created by the federal Toronto Harbour Commission, was originally designed to stop men from stripping off their shirts and parading topless on public beaches.
The bylaw was enforced only once, in 1935, when a group of 15 young bare-chested men were spotted on a city beach.
Although Canadian attitudes toward nudism are not as liberal as in many European nations, Toronto officials were clearly embarrassed by police enforcement of a bylaw that contradicted official city policy.
``I think (city) council's intention was that you would certainly be able to swim there as well as lay on the beach,'' said Mary Ellen Bench, director of municipal law for the city of Toronto.
City officials expect an exemption to the bylaw to be made soon so that nude bathing can continue at Hanlan's Point.