Nov 30, 2016

Activist who bared breasts at Montreal Grand Prix tells her trial she was 'resisting the patriarchy'

National PostGraeme Hamilton
November 30, 2016

MONTREAL — As tourists ogled sports cars along Montreal’s Crescent Street in the lead-up to the 2015 Grand Prix auto race, Neda Topaloski removed her shirt to reveal the slogan “Slavery is not a choice” written across her bare chest.

“Montreal is not a brothel,” the Femen activist yelled repeatedly, draping herself over a red Alfa Romeo race car to bring attention to what sex trade workers said was a doubling in demand during the annual race.

Topaloski and her fellow activists believe baring their breasts in protest is a form of free expression, but on Wednesday she went on trial on charges of disturbing the peace and mischief. It is the first criminal trial against Femen members in Canada.

The charges stem from her Grand Prix action on June 4, 2015. She had also been accused of committing several indecent acts, but prosecutor Gabrielle Delisle told the court she was withdrawing those charges. She declined to elaborate on the reason.

In an interview before the trial began in Montreal municipal court, Topaloski called the Grand Prix “a gold mine for pimps and escort agencies.” Last year Quebec human rights groups launched an awareness campaign to coincide with the race using the slogan, “Buying sex is not a sport.” They estimate demand for prostitution doubles or triples each year around the event.

Topaloski, a 30-year-old Montreal waitress, said it makes no sense that she would be arrested for baring her breasts at a Grand Prix event where scantily clad models are brought in to market cars and drinks.

“It’s kind of a perverse way to see our expression, as something that troubles the peace, when in fact it does not trouble the peace. It troubles sexist ideas,” she said. “Our message has to be loud to be heard, to get across.”

Topaloski’s lawyer, Véronique Robert, began with a motion to have the charges thrown out on the grounds the arrest was illegal. Videos entered as evidence show Topaloski being manhandled by private security guards and dragged by her feet across the pavement.

Topaloski testified she was in pain as her bare breasts were scraped along the asphalt. She ended up with scrapes and bruises all over her body, she said. Her lawyer argued that the manner in which she was detained by security guards was a violation of her rights that would never be tolerated if it were done by a police officer.

Asked by Delisle why she resisted being removed from the race car, Topaloski said Femen members do not like to be gagged. “We want to convey the image of strong women resisting the patriarchy,” she said.

Louis Bordeleau, who was supervising the Alfa Romeo the day of the protest and is the brother of the car’s owner, testified that Topaloski’s actions left the vehicle with cracks in its fibreglass body and a broken side mirror. An affidavit submitted to the court put the value of the damage at $2,546.

In a video of the incident, Bordeleau can be heard saying, “The car’s worth more than she is.” He told the court it was an “unfortunate,” adrenalin-fuelled comment made after he realized the car had been damaged.

Femen began in Ukraine in 2008 as a statement against the objectification of women by the sex industry. It has a small presence in Canada, with fewer than 10 members, Topaloski said.

It was not Topaloski’s first arrest, nor her last. She has taken part in Femen protests at Quebec’s National Assembly and on Parliament Hill. On Nov. 8, Topaloski staged a topless protest against Donald Trump inside the New York City polling station where he was set to vote. She was issued a summons for an election violation of promoting a candidate at the polls.

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