B.C. woman 'banned' from Okanagan provincial park after topless photoshoot - InfoNews

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B.C. woman 'banned' from Okanagan provincial park after topless photoshoot

One of the photos taken of Gaia Wijesinghe on the beach of Kentucky Alleyne Lake, June 29.
Image Credit: Roy McCann
July 11, 2020 - 7:00 AM

A B.C. woman says she intends to file a human rights complaint after being kicked out of a Provincial Park and campground after an amateur photography shoot, during part of which she was topless.

Vancouver resident Gaia Wijesinghe did a photoshoot on the beach at Kentucky Alleyne, on Highway 97C between West Kelowna and Merritt, when she and her partner arrived to camp on June 29. 

Wijesinghe said she, her partner and two photographers asked other beach users if they were OK with the shoot and got no complaints. However, after the shoot finished, Wijesinghe said they were approached by a park operator, who said she received a complaint about the photoshoot.

"She was saying a lot of stuff about toplessness and nudity and children being there," Wijesinghe said.

She said the park operator said although it is legal in B.C. for women to be topless, the rules were different for provincial parks.

"She kept saying, 'you’re just despicable people', 'I hope karma comes and gets you,'" she said. "And at this point I’m shaking, this lady is yelling at us."

Wijesinghe said the park operator then took photos of her, her partner and the license plate of her partner's vehicle. 

"She said we're banned for life. 'I’ll make sure to tell the other people in charge as well,'" Wijesinghe said.

Only they couldn't leave right away. They had to wait for a tow truck because they locked their keys in the vehicle. They were later approached by a different park operator.

"He starts lecturing us in the same way," she said. "I took out my phone and was like, OK, if you're kicking us out, I need you to be able to say on camera why."

As they packed up their belongings at their campsite, Wijesinghe said tensions were high and the male park operator watched them from a distance. 

"I was honestly really scared," she said.

She said they were told RCMP were coming and they debated waiting to explain the situation to them. However, as a woman of colour, Wijesinghe said she felt more comfortable just leaving.

We couldn't reach the park operator but a spokesperson for B.C. Parks in Victoria said they were aware of the situation, although they have a different version. In a statement, B.C. Parks said they were told to leave the park because they didn't have a permit for their activities.

"The park operator observed activity that presented as a commercial photo shoot (privacy screens and professional camera equipment set up)," B.C. Parks said in an email. "Park Use Permits are a requirement for this type of activity within the boundaries of all Parks and Protected Areas in BC. When approached by the park operator, it was determined that neither parties involved had procured or could produce a valid Park Use Permit authorizing them to conduct this activity."

Both photographers said that wasn't true at all. They weren't approached by a park operator until Wijesinghe was topless and they're just hobby photographers.

"This note is mostly a fabrication prepared after the incident to justify discrimination against a legal topless event. The quality of cameras is not a guarantee of a commercial shoot," hobbyist photographer Roy McCann said. "The operator saw us shooting before Gaia was topless and did not mention anything about a commercial shoot or professional equipment or permits."

The video also makes it clear they were being removed because Wijesinghe was topless, which is not illegal. 

Wijesinghe said it was made very clear to her by the female Park Operator that she would never be allowed to return to Kentucky Alleyne.

She said she is now preparing to file a complaint about the incident with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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