With a parade of defendants on trial for such offences as driving impaired, jumping subway turnstiles or rolling through stop signs, Montreal municipal court is rarely the theatre of intellectual debate.
But on Thursday, the courtroom of Judge Guylaine Lavigne felt more like a lecture hall as Femen activist Neda Topaloski presented her defence against charges arising from a 2015 protest.
In the first Canadian criminal trial of a Femen member, Topaloski faces two charges of mischief and one charge of causing a disturbance following her topless protest at a Montreal street fair celebrating the annual Grand Prix auto race.
Martine Delvaux, a literature professor at Université du Québec à Montréal, testified that the Femen movement occupies an important place in the history of feminist protest.
Delvaux noted that Topaloski and other Femen activists paint messages across their bare torsos, scream slogans during their actions and assume a forceful stance.
“It’s the opposite of erotic. They are saying they are warriors,” she told the court. “It’s a body that yells .… It’s not a body that’s there to be admired.”
She said Femen actions are planned for maximum effect, but they are non-violent. Members attend training camps to learn how to project their voices and to remain strong when authorities try to dislodge them.
Topaloski, accused of causing $2,546 worth of damages to an Alfa Romeo race car that was on display, said she was trained “to resist, to remain upright and strong.”
Video of the June 4, 2015, altercation shows security guards struggling to remove Topaloski as she drapes herself across the car and then clings onto a nearby post, yelling, “Montreal is not a brothel.” She and a fellow Femen member were protesting the sex trade — which researchers say experiences a surge in demand during the annual Grand Prix event — and the objectification of women.
Eventually a heavyset security guard pulls her from the post and she is dragged away by the feet, her bare chest scraping along the asphalt. During the incident, Louis Bordeleau, who was supervising the Alfa Romeo and is the brother of the car’s owner, can be heard saying, “The car’s worth more than she is.”
The heavy-handed response to her protest, including Bordeleau’s remark, reinforces the need for feminist activism, Topaloski said. “It shows a state of mind,” she said.
Bordeleau testified Wednesday that Topaloski’s weight damaged the car’s fragile fibreglass rear wing. He said she also broke a side mirror that she clung to. Topaloski testified that she never grabbed the mirror. And she said she cannot believe her 130-pound weight was enough to put cracks in a race car, particularly when her protest was motivated by photos she had seen of models sitting on similar cars.
Topaloski had been accused of committing an indecent act, but prosecutor Gabrielle Delisle informed the court Wednesday that she was withdrawing those charges.
That means Topaloski is no longer facing charges related to her nudity, but defence lawyer Véronique Robert is arguing that the right to free expression associated with the Femen protest is important in proving that she is not guilty of causing a disturbance.
Topaloski has taken part in Femen protests at Quebec’s National Assembly, on Parliament Hill and at a 2013 speech by then prime minister Stephen Harper. On Nov. 8, she staged a topless protest against Donald Trump inside the New York City polling station where he was set to vote. She said the Grand Prix action is the only one that resulted in criminal charges.
Original by National Post