Justice Jon-Jo A. Douglas found the law prohibiting nudity in a public place doesn't infringe on freedom of expression or the right to practise naturism. But he criticized aspects of the legislation that restrict nakedness on private property as having little to do with the preservation of order and decency.
While nudism could be considered a protected form of expression under certain circumstances, "requiring people to wear some modicum of clothing when in public is a reasonable limit," he told the court in delivering his judgment.
At the same time, "it is difficult to conceive how public order and decency is preserved" by preventing people from going unclothed on private property even when they are visible to others, he said.
The court ruling comes after a constitutional challenge by Brian Coldin, who was charged in incidents involving public nudity in the Bracebridge area north of Toronto.
Coldin was found guilty of partial nudity that offended public order for incidents at a park and two fast-food drive-thrus.
He was found not guilty in another incident that started on his own property, a clothing-optional resort he operates in the Bracebridge area.
Coldin was sentenced to two years probation and $3,000 in fines.
At Coldin's trial, A&W and Tim Hortons workers testified he was nude when he came to the drive-thru windows, and one worker said he pretended to reach for a wallet as if wearing pants.
Outside court Thursday, Coldin said he said he wasn't nude during that incident, but was wearing a towel.
He also defended his propensity for appearing naked in public as a form of protest, comparing it to the World Naked Bike Ride, an international demonstration with offshoots in Toronto and other Canadian cities.
"It's my right to protest," he said.
In his ruling, however, Douglas found Coldin's actions expressed "not much more than his desire to be publicly nude."
"Attending at the pickup of Tim Hortons, of A&W, without one's pants expresses little meaning about naturism to others, and it is certainly not perceived as having important meaning," he said.
One of Coldin's lawyers, Nader Hasan, told reporters he is disappointed by the decision and his client will consider an appeal.
"What we've argued all along and continue to believe is that criminal law is supposed to protect one from harm, not enforce standards of morality," he said outside court.
One of the defence's main arguments in the constitutional challenge was that the law was overly broad and should be struck down.
In Canada, it is illegal to be nude in a public place, or while on private property but exposed to public view.
Nudists who followed the case said they were encouraged the decision recognized the legitimacy of their lifestyle.
Thursday's ruling "really asserts the rights of naturists" by considering the practice as protected expression comparable to some forms of religious behaviour, said Stephane Deschenes, spokesman for the Federation of Canadian Naturists.
Deschenes, who runs the Bare Oaks naturist park just north of Toronto, added he welcomes the court's questioning of the rules regarding nakedness on private property.
While Douglas expressed concerns about that section of the legislation, he declined to rule on that aspect of the law because it didn't apply to Coldin's case.