Montreal activist who staged topless protest during Grand Prix acquitted of charges
FEMEN activist Neda Topaloski gestures as she leaves municipal court in Montreal on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, March 21, 2017 5:03PM EDT
MONTREAL - A judge has acquitted a Montreal member of a women's rights group who was accused of mischief and disturbing the peace stemming from a protest at the city's Grand Prix festivities in 2015.
The group Femen said the charges against Neda Topaloski were the first to make it to trial in Canada against the international feminist organization known for its topless protests around the globe.
With regard to the two counts of mischief, defence lawyer Veronique Robert said Tuesday the judge ruled there was reasonable doubt about who caused the $2,500 in damage to a racing car at a street festival in downtown Montreal in June 2015.
As for the charge of disturbing the peace, the judge recognized the activist's right to protest at the Formula One event, she added.
Topaloski was ecstatic with the acquittal.
"It's great news for activists across Canada that freedom of expression is recognized here as a constitutional right," she said in a telephone interview.
"As citizens and feminists, we can go into the street and promote women's rights. It was recognized by the court today and I'm more than pleased about that."
In video shown to the court, Topaloski, who had written the word "Slavery" across her chest, was seen repeatedly shouting "Montreal Is Not a Brothel" as several people pulled her and another demonstrator off the vehicle.
Topaloski maintained she was peacefully protesting prostitution and sexual exploitation which she associates with the Formula One event.
She testified that event security staff dragged her roughly along the pavement by her hands and feet and stepped on her hair after she'd climbed on the car. She characterized their intervention as "excessively violent" and said she was left with skin abrasions and bruises.
Robert had argued the charges should be thrown out because her client's manhandling constituted an illegal arrest.
But the lawyer said the municipal judge rejected her motion on the grounds Topaloski was arrested by private security - not by police - and that rights charters, therefore, did not apply.
Topaloski has also disrupted events in the House of Commons as well as in Quebec's legislature. Last November, she was arrested after staging a topless protest at a New York City election polling station.