Judge acquits activist who bared breasts at Montreal Grand Prix: ‘It’s a victory for freedom of expression’ by Graeme Hamilton, March 21, 2017, National Post
“It’s a victory for freedom of expression,” Neda Topaloski said after she was acquitted, opening her jacket to show a T-shirt reading “Every woman is a riot.”
MONTREAL – A Femen activist who bared her breasts and draped herself over a race car during a 2015 Grand Prix street festival was acquitted Tuesday in Canada’s first criminal trial against a member of the topless protest group.
Neda Topaloski faced charges of disturbing the peace and mischief following the action, which was aimed at condemning the sex trade.
“It’s a victory for freedom of expression,” Topaloski said after the ruling, opening her jacket to reveal a T-shirt reading, “Every woman is a riot.”
At the 2015 Grand Prix event, it was the slogan “Slavery is not a choice,” written across her bare chest, that landed her in the back of a police cruiser. She had stormed a platform where people were taking part in a “pit stop challenge” to change a car’s tires. Topaloski got on the car, striking a pose inspired by advertising for luxury vehicles, and repeatedly yelled, “Montreal is not a brothel” until security guards dragged her away.
Municipal Court Judge Guylaine Lavigne ruled that Topaloski’s actions amid the Grand Prix “brouhaha” on downtown Crescent Street were a manifestation of free speech protected by the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and freedoms. The judge said she was in “total disagreement” with the prosecutor’s claim that Topaloski’s actions disturbed the normal use of the street.
Topaloski testified last November that she resisted being removed from the race car because Femen members “want to convey the image of strong women resisting the patriarchy.”
The car’s owner said the vehicle was left with cracks in its fibreglass body and a broken side mirror — $2,546 in damage — as a result of Topaloski’s actions. In a video of the incident, the car owner’s brother, Louis Bordeleau, can be heard saying, “The car’s worth more than she is.”
The judge found the evidence was inconclusive about who damaged the car — the 130-pound Topaloski or Bordeleau as he struggled to remove her. But she was struck by Bordeleau’s dismissive attitude toward Topaloski, referring to him as someone “for whom a car is more valuable than a person.”
Topaloski had also been accused of committing indecent acts, but prosecutor Gabrielle Delisle withdrew those charges on the trial’s opening day.
Topaloski’s lawyer, Véronique Robert, sought to have all charges dismissed on the grounds that her violent removal from the car violated her Charter rights. Videos entered as evidence show Topaloski being manhandled by security guards and dragged by her feet across the pavement.
But the judge ruled that unlike a police arrest, the actions of a private security company are not subject to Charter protections.
Topaloski interpreted her acquittal as a vindication of her protest tactics. “They tried to criminalize it, but today we received proof that we live in a free and democratic country that values this freedom,” [But not if you are a Canadian and the oil and gas industry illegally frac’d and contaminated your drinking water supply with the abusive energy regulator violating your Charter rights trying to intimidate you into silence and stop you from finding and submitting documented evidence of the company’s (Encana’s) non-compliances] she said. “This is reason to speak even louder about the rights of women and to oppose even more strongly all those who ignore and violate human rights every day.”
The 31-year-old Montreal waitress said she would not rule out another action at this year’s Grand Prix, claiming the recruitment of young girls into prostitution remains a big problem in Montreal.
“If (pimps) are getting ready to sell more girls than ever this summer, with a big tourism year because it’s the 375th anniversary of Montreal, feminists on their side are getting ready to assert human rights as one of our fundamental values,” she said.
Femen began in Ukraine in 2008 as a statement against the objectification of women by the sex industry. Topaloski is the most visible Canadian member, having also taken part in Femen protests at Quebec’s National Assembly, Parliament Hill and at the New York City polling station where Donald Trump was set to vote last Nov. 8 [Emphasis added]