B.C. women receive threatening letters after sunbathing topless in their backyard

East Van women claim harassment for topless sunbathing in their backyard
East Van women claim harassment for topless sunbathing in their backyard

Two East Vancouver women say they have become the target of harassment after sunbathing topless in their backyard.

Deuphine Apedaile and Cassy Conley say they’ve been passing their pandemic isolation by gardening and getting outside.

When the weather improved in April, they also began sunbathing — sometimes topless. The yard is fenced, and the duo says their landlord has no problem with their activities.

But then anonymous, expletive-filled letter arrived at their home.

READ MORE: 2 Ontario, Quebec water parks change rule, allow women to go topless

“When I opened it it was the most vulgar, aggressive thing I’d ever read in my life,” Conley told Global News.

“It said basically, ‘Hi naked neighbours,’ and then described the woman’s body in incredibly vulgar language, saying we were doing things we weren’t doing, and if we didn’t stop sunbathing topless, basically, but in different words, they would make us famous for it.”

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Not long afterward, a second letter arrived. This one had photos of Apedaile and listed their address.

Conely says the anonymous neighbour threatened to post the photo and the women’s address, and that their son had already circulated photos of them on social media.

“The fact that a fellow human is even capable of putting in the effort and obsession to violate someone that way shocks me,” said Conley.

Topless female protester arrested outside Bill Cosby trial
Topless female protester arrested outside Bill Cosby trial

The pair contacted police after both letters, and said officers were initially dismissive — recommending they cover up.

Conley says police have since taken the case more seriously, and assigned a sexual assault investigator.

Vancouver police confirmed the investigation.

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, nudity is illegal, though the law does not spell out specifically what qualifies as nudity.

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Instead, “nude” is defined as “so clad as to offend against public decency or order.”

READ MORE: Toplessness and public nudity in Canada — is it legal?

However, two Canadian court decisions have affirmed the right of women to go topless in public.

In 1996, the Ontario Court of Appeal paved the way for women to bare their chests in public, overturning a lower court ruling that found Gwen Jacob had committed an indecent act when she walked down a Guelph, Ont., street topless in 1991.

In 2000, the B.C. Supreme Court sided with Linda Meyer, who challenged a bylaw against toplessness at a public pool in Maple Ridge.

Kingston group celebrates the human body by holding topless march
Kingston group celebrates the human body by holding topless march

Regardless about the legality of toplessness, Vancouver lawyer Ashley Syer says there’s no ambiguity around harassment.

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“What a person does not have a right to do is harass their neighbours for behaviour they’re offended by.”

“It appears that what this neighbour has done has gone far beyond any sort of neighbourly conversation and has moved into the realm of harassment.”

Apedaile told Global News she sees nothing inherently indecent about female toplessness.

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“I was raised to believe that the body shouldn’t necessarily be a sexualized thing … especially toplessness,” she said.

“It seems a bit absurd to me that it could offend anybody, especially when a lot of the people who are offended their reasoning is their children — and children are the only people who are not going to sexualize bodies, unless their parents teach them to.”

Both women say if the neighbour had simply approached them and told them their activities were causing discomfort they would have been happy to negotiate a solution.

For now, they say they feel like they are constantly being watched in their own home.

— With files from Kerri Breen

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