The head of a South Surrey-based organization dedicated to preserving a stretch of Crescent Beach shoreline for clothing-optional use is calling for signage to be installed on-site that officially acknowledges its existence.
Don Pitcairn, president of Surrey’s United Naturists, said recent incidents point to a continued lack of awareness around where ‘Crescent Rock Beach’ is located, and that it is OK to be nude there.
He said he is drafting a letter to the heads of the Surrey and White Rock RCMP, as well as the Surrey Police Service, explaining concerns and asking that officers not respond to complaints of simple public nudity.
As well, he plans to meet with Surrey-White Rock Liberal MLA Trevor Halford next week, “to discuss… who has jurisdiction of this secluded shoreline and where proper outdoor signage can be installed to alert both residents and visitors to its clothing-optional nature and legal nude use.”
“If we had signage down there, then it probably wouldn’t be a problem,” Pitcairn said Wednesday (Sept. 8), referring to conflicts that arise from time to time.
Pitcairn reached out to PAN following an incident Aug. 28, in which police responding to a complaint of public nudity asked a pair of sunbathers to cover up.
The response, he said, was in stark contrast to the reaction of officers who stopped to chat while conducting a routine patrol of the shoreline four weeks prior. They told Pitcairn such activity was “legal, no problem,” he said.
Pitcairn said police acknowledged 11 years ago that there was – as described in an informal complaint resolution signed by a staff sergeant at that time – “a lack of understanding (of) the case law surrounding nude sunbathing at a secluded portion of the beach.”
“It’s funny that so many years later, it’s becoming a sticking point again,” Pitcairn said.
Surrey RCMP Sgt. Elenore Sturko confirmed the Aug. 28 complaint, and said that officers typically handle such matters as a disturbance, as long as they don’t encounter indecent or inappropriate behaviour.
“There’s more to it than just sitting on a beach towel,” she said.
The area is not a hot-spot for trouble, she noted, describing the naturists and nudists who frequent it as “very discreet” and emphasizing that police “want to be sensitive, knowing it has historically been a place where people have swam and sunbathed and enjoyed the nature of the area clothing-optional.”
Sturko agreed that signage would likely help reduce conflicts and complaints.
“It would definitely make it easier and possibly avoid some complaints from the public, because the public themselves would be able to have an understanding of what they’re encountering,” she said.
“And if they’re not comfortable with the clothing-optional, there’s so much more of the park that they can go to.”
Exactly who has jurisdiction over the area and any requests for such signage, however, is unclear.
City of Surrey officials said that the stretch of shoreline in question – found just south of Christopherson Steps (24 Avenue), out of sight of Crescent Beach and stretching approximately 6.5 kilometres – is not city land, and as such, “doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction.”
“There are no signs in place currently and the City has no plans to install signage at this location,” notes a Sept. 2 statement from the city’s parks department.
Officials with B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy referred Peace Arch News to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, noting the area in question is likely Crown land.
At the federal level, Environment and Climate Change Canada officials also pointed to FLNROD.
While FLNROD officials initially said Crescent Beach is the City of Surrey’s responsibility, in a follow-up response on Wednesday (Sept. 8), the forests ministry said while beach use “appears mostly on unencumbered Crown land” – aside from a section leased by the city – they “aren’t involved with this issue.”
“We do not believe we have jurisdictional authority to manage what people wear (or do not wear),” an emailed statement continues. “We believe this would best be managed under municipal bylaws and so long as it is within the municipal boundaries, local bylaws would apply.”
Pitcairn noted that Metro Vancouver has signage installed at all entrances to Vancouver’s Wreck Beach, advising it is clothing-optional and imploring visitors to ‘please respect people’s privacy’, and he’s determined to see similar acknowledgment for Crescent Rock Beach, ideally in time for the 2022 season. Unofficial signage installed over the years has either been removed or painted over, he noted.
“What Wreck is to Vancouver, that’s what this is for Surrey,” he said.
“People will walk a long way to be offended,” he added. “If there was signage, people would turn around.”