Brian Coldin, who, according to various media reports, owns a nudist resort in cottage country, was charged with public nudity after showing up in Bracebridge more than once wearing nothing but sandals. CITYNEWS

This time, the court hears the voice of the people

  • January 24, 2012

It is all too common (and often exasperating) when the ground beneath us shifts on morality issues and common decency. It is easy to shake our head and say, “This sort of stuff wouldn’t have happened in the Canada I grew up in.”

These shifts occur for many reasons, from the silent majority saying nothing about the latest “Politically Correct” silliness to politicians bowing to the pressure from small, but effective, special interest groups. Sadly, the courts are also to blame by too often protecting the rights of offenders ahead of the rights of victims and the community at large.

So, when a Canadian court comes out and makes a common-sense ruling, the judge should be lauded. Such a thing occurred earlier this month in Bracebridge.

A man named Brian Coldin, who, according to various media reports, owns a nudist resort in cottage country, was charged with public nudity after showing up in Bracebridge more than once wearing nothing but sandals.

The court heard instances where Coldin drove up to the drive-thru windows of Tim Hortons and A&W restaurants and startled and frightened clerks when they saw he was without a stitch of clothing. He joked to female attendants that he could not find his wallet while searching for non-existent pockets near his no-longer private parts.

He and his lawyers argued that being charged with public nudity violates his right to free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But this willy-nilly argument did not stand up in court. Justice Jon-Jo Douglas, clearly a broad-minded judge who quoted from long-ago deep thinkers John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke and modern pop divas Lady Gaga and Madonna in his decision, found Coldin guilty.

“A free and democratic society remains so only to the extent that the liberties exercised by each one of us are reasonably circumscribed by the responsibilities of each to one another…. Requiring people to wear some modicum of clothing when in public is a reasonable limit,” the judge said.

Of course, this didn’t sit well with Mr. Coldin’s lawyers.

“My client is passionate about the ideals of nature,” defence lawyer Nader Hasan argued. “He believes clothes are the shackles of the physical world.”

And then high-profile constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby, who was also part of the defence, went further: “Mr. Coldin is a naturist. As a naturist, he believes that being nude in nature fosters greater respect for self, for others and for the environment. He expresses his naturist beliefs by wearing as little clothing as is practical,” Mr. Ruby declared.

I have a great deal of respect for Ruby. When I was a journalism student in the mid-1980s, he gave me and my project partners a lot of time talking about the Charter for an assignment we were doing. His kindness has not been forgotten. Unequivocally, he knows Canada’s Constitution as well as anyone.

But, in this case, he is way off base.

How can one argue that being nude while driving around in a gas-burning, smoke-spewing vehicle while picking up fast-food burgers and donuts fosters respect for the environment or for others, especially the startled women serving him?

Kudos to Justice Douglas for seeing through this charade. He called Coldin an exhibitionist and attention-seeker filled with “missionary zeal” to challenge the Charter and change Canada’s public nudity and decency laws. But for what real reason?

It begs a further question: Why would Ruby, one of the foremost Charter experts in Canada, take on this case and travel 180 kilometres from his office if it were not for Coldin simply seeking attention?

I applaud Justice Douglas for stripping through the verbiage and laying out the bare facts that Coldin’s case has little to do with free expression and a lot to do with silliness. He fined the defendant $3,000, placed him on probation for two years and ordered him to stop running around nude in public.

Chalk this up as a small victory for the silent majority or, in legal terms, Vox populi — the voice of the people.

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