Neda Topaloski, one of the FEMEN activists who disturbed the 2015 Montreal Grand Prix, had her second and final day in court today. As per FEMEN’s usual tactics, Topalski protested bare-chested during the high profile event, and in a national first, she is now facing criminal charges for it.

“We’re in Canada and there’s no precedent for such cases. Our bodies are our banners for our values and ideas. It’s the first time there is an attempt to criminalize them,” explained Topaloski in a phone interview with FTB on Thursday morning. According to her, it’s the state of democracy and freedom in Canada that is at stake in this trial.

Topaloski was arrested on June 4th 2015, after she appeared topless in front of one of the showcased cars on Crescent Street and yelled “Montreal is not a brothel!”

She was referring to the sexual tourism that doubles or triples every time the high profile Grand Prix is organised in Montreal. She was initially charged on four counts, but the charges of indecency and exhibitionism were dropped last week. The crown is thus going forward with charges of mischief and disturbing the peace.

Topaloski claims FEMEN’s actions are a non-violent form of political expression and should not be criminalized. “Seeing activism as disturbance of peace is absolutely perverse, because expression doesn’t trouble peace, violence troubles peace,” she argued.

She was also accused of mischief. The crown alleges she dented the hood of the car she was leaning on during the stunt. The activist says that this is “absolutely impossible.” She notes that the Grand Prix is always full of pictures of women sitting on cars for publicity purposes and that none of them faced such accusations.

The Grand Prix: “A powerful lobby”

This is the first time a FEMEN protest has resulted in criminal charges in Canada, despite several public actions of the same sort. Topaloski believes that she is only being prosecuted this time because She managed to “sully the image of the Grand Prix.”

“It bothers this powerful lobby and it is because of their pressure that we are charged this time, but not the time that we were in the Canadian parliament, nor the time we were at the National Assembly in Quebec.”

In April 2015, Neda Topaloski interrupted a press conference about Law 20 at the National Assembly. She irrupted topless on stage to protest against the new law’s failure to prioritize free and accessible abortion.  She had done a similar act on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest C-51 just a few weeks earlier.

Allegations of excessive use of force

On Wednesday, Topaloski’s lawyer immediately moved to have all the charges thrown on the grounds that the arrest was unlawful. She argued that the Grand Prix’s private security made an excessive use of force.

“It was more than an arrest; I was dragged on the floor, still topless, they pulled my hair out…” recalls Topaloski. She highlights that their behaviour was wildly different from what she has seen from police officers in similar situations.

“[The security guards] were trying to prove that they were the guys in control of the situation and of the value of women. They used that situation to abuse, physically and violently.”

A video of the arrest was submitted to the court as proof. Although she is not sure of this move’s potential success, Topaloski explained that it is important for her to “shed light on those who perpetuate violence rather than those who protest for equality and are repressed and targeted by violence because of it.”

The court will probably not reach a verdict today, but Topaloski says she trusts that “common sense” and “constitutional rights” will prevail: “I have the law and the constitution on my side. Therefore, I hope that the judge will be able to recognize this.”


What is nonviolent resistance? Is it actually better than violent resistance? These two questions are at the heart of the documentary Everyday Rebellion produced by the Riahi Brothers. The very first quote in the film sets the mood for the discussion:

“Throughout the history of mankind, people have been fighting for their rights. But contrary to popular belief, violence is not the most successful method in this struggle. Nonviolence is.”

You might think that this is a very bold statement to make. How do you stand against a system, whose tools of control have been designed to monopolize the means of violence, by pacifism? Non-violence does not necessarily mean pacifism, though. It doesn’t mean that you respond to violence with passivity. Instead, non-violence encompasses a broad range of acts that can serve to obstruct the balance of the status quo.

One of the main messages of the documentary is that even the smallest act can trigger a change in the way people think. Small victories build up and eventually you might actually achieve something. According to the documentary, for instance, the Arab Spring in Egypt had been in the making for ten years before they actually managed to topple Hosni Mubarak.

To put the political theorizing aside, the documentary follows the multiple stories of everyday resistance. These stories include the Occupy movement in the United States, the Indignados in Spain, the Femen movement, the Arab Spring, and Iran’s Green Movement. In between the narratives, the documentary presents social scientific facts about the effectiveness of non-violence.

One of the strengths of this documentary is that it actually tries to advise people as to how to conduct non-violence most effectively and efficiently. The people who talk directly to the camera are activists and community organizers. The tone is educational. You can tell that they want to teach you how to bring down the system and give power to the people.

What is really amazing is that these people are from all over the world. It may seem like they are fighting for different causes, but in essence what they are doing is standing up for themselves. A narrator whispers at some point: “The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare, and the people’s happiness.”

Trying to understand the global interconnectedness of these social movements is the main purpose of this documentary. These movements communicate with one another, share tactics, and learn. In that sense, this documentary does an excellent job in continuing that work, by allowing others to directly see what goes on within these movements. It can be daunting to attend a protest and risk getting arrested, but there are other things you can do.

So, if you wish to learn about non-violence, direct action, civil disobedience, organizing, and a lot more, Everyday Rebellion is what you’re looking for. Cinema Political will be screening this documentary on September 1, at 9 p.m. at la Place de la Paix, as part of Cinéma urbain à la belle étoile. You really shouldn’t miss it.

A group of protesters shouting “Crucifix, décalisse” (translation: Crucifix get the hell out of here) interrupted Premier Pauline Marois as she started speaking in the National Assembly yesterday. FEMEN Quebec claimed responsibility for the protest of the Charter of Quebec Values and its uneven approach to state secularism.

The charter exempts the giant cross on top of the Quebec legislature and other “ostentatious” Christian symbols from its sweeping ban on “ostentatious” religious symbols in the public sphere on the grounds that they are “integral to the Québécois identity.” The group pointed out that the cross only showed up in the National Assembly under Maurice Duplessis’ reign, symbolizing his government’s close ties to the Catholic Church.

Below is a video of security trying desperately to remove and clothe the protesters (La Presse has a longer video on their site).

Did the protest get its point across?

“Long live the topless jihad against infidels!  Our tits are deadlier than your stones!” – Inna Shevchenko

amina protest photoMembers of the radical feminist collective Femen are using their bodies as a weapon against patriarchy by scrawling slogans across their bare breasts and staging protests across Europe. One brave young Tunisian woman was recently threatened to death by stoning for two controversial photographs uploaded to the Femen Tunisia Facebook page.

In the first of the provocative images, the 19-year old activist known as Amina was topless with the words “Fuck your morals” written across her chest, giving the middle finger with each hand. The second photo showed her wearing thick eyeliner and smoking a cigarette with Arabic text written across her naked torso that read: “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour”.

The pictures sparked an outcry from religious conservatives in Tunisia who insisted that she be punished not just according to sharia law, which would result 80 to 100 lashes, but that she be stoned to death for the severity of her actions. Tunisian preacher Almi Adel’s fear that her act could implant disobedient thoughts in other women’s heads seems to be coming to fruition, as Femen has declared April 4th Topless Jihad Day.

“Religious dictatorship begins by enslaving women, but a woman’s act of self-liberation is the first step toward destroying the sharia regime.  Topless protests are the battle flags of women’s resistance, a symbol of a woman’s acquisition of rights over her own body!” wrote one of group’s leaders, Inna Shevchenko.

Founded in Kiev in 2008, Femen has spread across the globe thanks to their broad, radical attitude and strong social media presence. Their three major targets in the war on patriarchy are all religions, dictatorships and the sex industry. While they protest what seems like a diverse array of issues- gay rights, anorexic-thin models at Milan Fashion Week, Euro 2012 and disgraced lecherous former Italian prime ministers to name a few- what remains constant is the attention that they attract from baring their breasts.

Some have criticized Femen for their topless warrior tactics, charging that their reliance on the shock factor and sex appeal of skin seems counterintuitive. The group firmly believes it is an attempt to reclaim the female naked body, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

“A woman’s naked body has always been the instrument of the patriarchy,” said Shevchenko. “They use it in the sex industry, the fashion industry, advertising, always in men’s hands. We realised the key was to give the naked body back to its rightful owner, to women, and give a new interpretation of nudity … I’m proud of the fact that today naked women are not just posing on the cover of Playboy, but can be at an action, angry, and can irritate people.”

Amina was initially attracted to Femen because of their visibility in promoting women’s rights and freedoms. In her last interview before her disappearance, she told Italian journalist Federica Tourn that women in Tunisia are ready for a change. “Women have reached the height of self-determination: we no longer obey any authority, neither family nor religious. We know what we want and we make our own decisions.”

Unfortunately, Amina’s point of view is still the slim minority in contemporary Tunisian society. Since threats were made to her life, she vanished from the public eye. After her family vocalized their shame and disappointment with her, reports even emerged that they had her involuntarily committed to a mental institution, and members of Femen began to fear for her life again. Amina’s lawyer Bocha Bel Haj Hmida, a well-known Tunisian women’s rights activist, debunked those rumors when she made a statement that Amina was “home and well.”

As a burlesque dancer and strip karaoke aficionado, it both baffles and deeply saddens me that there are places in the world where the simple act of baring your breasts is enough to get you killed.