News / Canada

Montreal activist who staged topless protest at Grand Prix wants charges stayed

FEMEN activist Neda Topaloski leaves municipal court, Wednesday, November 30, 2016 in Montreal. Topaloski is charged with mischief and disturbing the peace for actions at the Montreal F1 Grand Prix. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

FEMEN activist Neda Topaloski leaves municipal court, Wednesday, November 30, 2016 in Montreal. Topaloski is charged with mischief and disturbing the peace for actions at the Montreal F1 Grand Prix. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL — A Montreal-based women's rights activist who staged a topless protest during the city's Grand Prix festivities in 2015 was violently dragged along the pavement by security staff trying to detain her, her lawyer said Wednesday.

The charges against Neda Topaloski should be stayed because the way she was handled by security agents constituted an illegal arrest, defence lawyer Veronique Robert told the municipal court during her trial.

Topaloski, 30, is a member of the international feminist group, Femen, whose members stage topless protests around the world. She has previously disrupted events in the House of Commons as well as in Quebec's legislature.

She has pleaded not guilty to charges of mischief and disturbing the peace in connection with her actions during a June 2015 street festival in downtown Montreal associated with the Canadian Grand Prix.

Topaloski testified that members of the event's security staff dragged her roughly along the pavement by her hands and feet and stepped on her hair after she climbed onto a car.

"It was excessively violent," she told the court. "I felt like I was being thrown, the propulsion was so strong."

She said she was left with skin abrasions and bruises.

The Crown said it did not dispute that Topaloski was dragged but argued the treatment did not constitute an illegal arrest since she was detained by private security guards and not policemen.

Television footage from the event played in court showed Topaloski and another protester climbing on top of a race car that was parked on a stage.

As a large crowd looked on, Topaloski, who had written the word "slavery" across her chest, was seen repeatedly shouting "Montreal is not a brothel," as several people pulled her off the vehicle.

She was later seen being carried along the street with one man holding her feet in the air and another holding her hands.

Montreal police officers later arrived on the scene to place Topaloski under arrest, the court heard.

A technician who had been working at the festival testified Wednesday afternoon that Topaloski had caused about $2,500 in damage to the vehicle. 

Outside the courtroom, Topaloski said that at the time of her arrest, she was peacefully protesting the prostitution and sexual exploitation she associates with the Formula One event.

"Women's bodies are always used to sexualize women and objectify women and they are used to sell products and sell women as products," she said. "If they can use our bodies to sell things and sell women then we can use them for our feminist goals and write our ideas of equality and freedom on them."

In November, Topaloski was also arrested after staging a topless protest at a New York City election polling station.

Her two-day trial is expected to conclude Thursday.