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Runners compete in the Bare Buns Run at Wreck Beach in Vancouver in August, 2008.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A landowner in British Columbia's Okanagan is suing a group of nudists who've been using his waterfront property as a clothing-optional beach.

The dispute, which centres on an area of Penticton's Three Mile Beach on Okanagan Lake, has raised legal questions about where nudists – or naturists, as they prefer to be called – can swim in the buff in view of residents and other beaches. There are currently 12 other nude beaches in British Columbia, according to the Federation of Canadian Naturists website. Only one, Vancouver's famous Wreck Beach, is official.

According to court documents, Hermitage Vineyards, a company owned by Cary Pinkowski, claims that six Penticton residents have trespassed onto his property located on the east shore of Okanagan Lake for "nude sunbathing and other activities." Neither Mr. Pinkowski nor his counsel could be reached for comment.

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After being refused access to the private property, the naturists say they moved to the adjacent public beach. Both sides pleaded their case to city council last month, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said.

The naturists recommended signage for the public beach and that more of the beach be designated clothing-optional – space that is now designated as the dog beach.

After a report from staff last month, council did not act on the recommendations because they felt the matter was out of their jurisdiction.

Mr. Jakubeit said public nudity is a federal matter.

"Criminal Code 174 speaks to that," he said, referring to laws banning nudity in a public place.

He said usually it's just a matter of asking someone who's nude to cover up, and the person does, but that police get actively involved in the case of lewd acts, and that "the neighbourhood has made some allegations that those do exist."

Kevin Proteau, one of the defendants named in the suit, said he had not been served yet, but he said he felt "bullied, wronged, harassed" by the city's decision.

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He said it was especially disappointing that council voted against putting up a sign that could warn people that they were about to enter an area where clothing was optional.

"If you don't want to drop, you don't have to drop," he said.

Wreck Beach in Vancouver has a sign. Mitch Sokalski, director of Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, said Wreck Beach was officially designated clothing-optional in 1991, after the parks authority worked with the community, the Wreck Beach Preservation Society and others to come up with a management plan.

"It's really important to work with the community surrounding the park, but also with the people who use the park."

Judy Williams of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society is one of those stakeholders. She said naturists had been sunbathing there for 100 years. The clothing-optional beach has been around so long because people who live in that area "fight like hell against development."

Ms. Williams recounted stories of facing off with bulldozers and developers over the years who have made attempts at developing the beach. Other opponents include "a hell-fire and brimstone evangelical preacher" who walked along Wreck Beach in 1976.

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She said she is aware of the situation at Three Mile Beach and flew up there to support the naturists at council.

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