Going topless not a crime

A Kelowna woman has some questions for the RCMP after being told to cover up at the beach or face a fine, despite there being no law on the books to back this threat up.

Susan Rowbottom was tanning topless at a Kelowna beach, south of the William R. Bennett Bridge, last week with a friend.

An RCMP officer approached the pair and told them they needed to put their tops on.

“He said it was a ‘city ordinance,’ was his words,” said Rowbottom. “He said he could issue a ticket and obviously if we didn’t comply we could get in trouble for not obeying.”

The women complied, not wanting to cause trouble. Rowbottom said she is a student and a single mom, so she doesn’t want to break any laws.

She left the beach, curious as to what laws they had been breaking. It turns out, none.

She first called the RCMP office, and a woman there told her it was definitely against the law to go topless in public.

“She said ‘It’s not Germany, obviously there’s laws against it,’” Rowbottom said. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find them, and instructed her to call the bylaw office.

Rowbottom did just that, and said Stephen Fleming, the city clerk, told her the RCMP was wrong, and it is fully legal all across Canada.

When Rowbottom called the RCMP back and told them this, she was first put on hold, and then eventually told that it was, in fact, perfectly legal.

“The problem I have is why are the police enforcing a law that doesn’t exist?” Rowbottom said. 

Joe Duncan, media relations officer for the Kelowna RCMP, confirmed there is no law on the books for simply being topless.

“City of Kelowna doesn’t have any sort of bylaw, so arrests for public nudity are rare,” Duncan said. “They usually occur where there’s subjects doing something sexual in circumstance.”

Duncan said in most cases, police may ask women to put their shirts back on if there are families around, but it is more of a courtesy than a legal issue.

Rowbottom said she doesn’t see topless women as being a threat to children.

“I want my kids to grow up and not sexualize a woman’s body so much and actually focus on who they are,” she said. “If you stand in front of a man topless for so long, eventually your boobs aren’t that important.”

This doesn't appear to just be an issue in Kelowna. Three women in Ontario are filing a formal complaint with the Waterloo Regional Police after an officer told them they needed to put their shirts on, while they were riding their bikes topless on Friday. 

One of the women, Alysha Brilla, said when they began filming the interaction, the officer backed down, and said he was only checking if they had proper bells and lights on the bikes.

- With files from the Canadian Press

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