Two federal laws in Canada (Section 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code) apply across the country. Section 173 prohibits “indecent acts” done either: in a public place, or in any place, if done with the intent to “insult or offend”. It also forbids “exposure of genital organs” for a “sexual purpose” to someone under the age of 14. Section 174 prohibits being “so clad as to offend against public decency or order” while exposed to public view. Parliament leaves the exact definition of these terms up to courts to decide. Various Provincial courts have decided that nude swimming and sunbathing is not within the range of this law: “this offence is not aimed at conduct such as swimming nude at an isolated beach, even where the accused misjudges the loneliness of the beach” and “mere nude sunbathing is not of sufficient moral turpitude to support a charge for doing an indecent act.”
Toplessness is not an indecent act under Section 173. In 1991, Gwen Jacob was arrested for walking in a street in Guelph, Ontario while topless. She was acquitted in 1996 by the Ontario Court of Appeal on the basis that the act of being topless is not in itself a sexual act or indecent. The case has been referred to in subsequent cases for the proposition that the mere act of public nudity is not sexual or indecent or an offense. Since then, the court ruling has been tested and upheld several times.
A photograph of nudists may be considered an innocent picture, an erotic photo and pornography. Canadian law criminalizes child pornography which is defined as “a matter that shows a person who is or is depicted as being under the age of eighteen years and is engaged in or is depicted as engaged in explicit sexual activity, or (ii) the dominant characteristic of which is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of a sexual organ or the anal region of a person under the age of eighteen years..”