Montreal Go Topless event: A report on Sunday’s demonstration

Photo by Jillian Page exclusively for jillianpage.com and Turning the Page. No other reproduction permitted.
Why should the men in this picture be allowed to be topless in public but not the women? In fact, the women in this picture were allowed to be topless in public Sunday during the demonstration at Mont-Royal in support of topless equal rights for women. Sylvie Chabot (centre, in white jeans) leads a march around the George-Etienne Monument on Mont-Royal as part of a Go Topless demonstration. (Photo by Jillian Page exclusively for jillianpage.com and Turning the Page. No other reproduction permitted.)

This morning before I headed out to the Go Topless demo in Montreal, I heard Sharon Hyland on CHOM-FM — my fave radio station — talking briefly about it. Besides giving the where-when-why details, she also mentioned that she doesn’t know any females who want to bare their breasts in public.

Well, if Sharon had gone to the event today, she would have met some. Several, in fact, though it is hard to put a number on just how many women were there to support the Go Topless cause, which is simply to give women the same right men have to be topless in social settings. As I mentioned in the preceding post, it’s about freedom of choice, equality and the desexualization of women’s breasts.

There were 15 to 25 women at the event today who bared their tops, and several others supporting the cause who chose not to bare their tops. That’s what freedom of choice is about, yes? There were also several men — 10 to 20 — showing their support by handing out pamphlets, carrying placards and doing some other innovative things: some wore bras to show how women are forced to  cover up; others taped their nipples to show their solidarity. Nice to see the guys showing their support that way . . .

The reason why it is difficult to give you attendance numbers of supporters is because of where the event was held: the Monument George-Etienne Cartier on Mont-Royal, a tourist attraction, hangout and the scene of the weekly Tams-Tams, which were in full beat. So, great crowds gathered round the topless women, many people taking pictures, talking to participants . . . I have no idea how many of them turned out to show their support or were just there enjoying the vibes of the carnival-like scene on a beautiful, hot August afternoon, but you can be sure they supported the cause: I didn’t hear any heckling.

I got a chance to sit down with the organizer of the event, Sylvie Chabot, who is a member of the Raelian Movement — which founded this international event. Today’s Montreal activities were the second time the demo has been held here, though it has been going on in other cities for as many as seven years.

I asked Sylvie if they have formally petitioned the Quebec government on this issue. She said no, because “the law is vague in Quebec. It’s not clear.” She hasn’t heard of any women being busted for being topless in public.

I also asked her how she felt about the concerns by some people that the Raelians were sponsoring the event, that some feared it is simply a recruitment campaign. And I threw out the “discrimination” word: did she feel they were discriminating against her organization.

Yes, she answered. “We are victims of discrimination.

“We’re separating beliefs from cause,” she said. “We cannot fight for one group and deny others.”

A young couple show their support for women's rights to be topless on Sunday, Aug. 24 at Mont-Royal park in Montreal.
A young couple show their support for women’s rights to be topless on Sunday, Aug. 24 at Mont-Royal park in Montreal. (Photo by Jillian Page exclusively for jillianpage.com. No other reproduction permitted.)

Indeed, I didn’t see or hear of any proselytizing by the Raelians today, and I made a point of asking some of the non-Raelian participants and onlookers if anyone had preached the Raelian philosophy to them at the event. The answer: No. Though, one young man wearing a bra to show his support did point out that the pamphlet had the “Raelian” word in a couple of spots (see quote at end for one).

There really weren’t a lot of questions to ask Sylvie, because let’s face it: we know what the cause is, and why. It’s a no-brainer for everyone, yes?

Well, not exactly, which led to the last question I had for Sylvie: What do you say to women who say they don’t want to be topless in public, and perhaps feel women shouldn’t have that right? Because, you know, there are many women who think that way.

Sylvie nodded. “Many are ashamed of their bodies,” she said. And they “are carrying taboos (about nudity) since they were little girls.”

“But (being topless) is not an obligation,” Sylvie said. “It’s a freedom.”

Indeed, those are sentiments shared by nudists/naturists and others who promote body acceptance and tearing down the taboos associated with nudity. After all, we are naturally naked, yes? The textiles we wear are not natural, no matter how fashionable they may seem. Yes, cover up, if you like, but don’t knock others who want to be as natural as possible — especially in hot, sticky weather.

Scott RedCloud, a naturist and co-organizer of Montreal’s annual World Naked Bike Ride, was there to show his support today, too, along with his partner in life, Amber RedCloud.

“As a naturist, I like to educate people,” Scott said. “Men in the 1920 and 1930s weren’t allowed to be topless (in public.) Now they have the right . . . and it’s women’s turn. They deserve it just as much as we do.”

Scott decried the fact that so many people incorrectly equate social nudity with sex.

“They are completely opposite,” he said. “There is nothing sexual about nudism. And there is absolutely nothing sexual about a woman baring her breasts” in public situations like today’s event on Mont-Royal.

The event was very much about the desexualizing of women’s breasts for Amber, who is concerned about the way television depicts women, and its influence on people. “TV is always sexualizing us, and it brainwashes society,” she said.

Which was a point Sylvie made to me, though I had given up on taking notes because of the press of onlookers, whom Sylvie asked to move back and give us some space. She talked about countries where topless women are the norm, not the exception, and feels we can all learn from them.

A closing thought from the pamphlet handed out by the participants at today’s demo:

“As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else, men should have to wear something to hide their chests.” – Rael, founder of Go Topless and spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement.

Personally, I felt today’s message got a little lost in the carnival atmosphere of the Tam-Tams Mont-Royal setting. I think they would have been better served to hold a demonstration in the streets of Montreal, much like the World Naked Bike Ride does. But I applaud all the participants and their supporters for striving to give women equal rights. That’s what it is really all about.

As for just how legal or illegal it is in Quebec, well, perhaps it will take a court case for us to find out, if the government doesn’t move to clarify things here first. Indeed, it was individual court challenges in Ontario and British Columbia (see Wikipedia entry) that brought the matter to a head, and won women the right to be topless in those provinces — whether they choose to exercise it or not.

Peace and love

– Jillian

Sylvie Chabot is interviewed by a media person who shows his support by taping over his breasts at Sunday's demonstration in support of women's rights to be topless in public. (Photo by Jillian Page exclusively for jillianpage.com. No other reproduction permitted.)
Sylvie Chabot is interviewed by a media person who shows his support by taping over his breasts at Sunday’s demonstration in support of women’s rights to be topless in public. (Photo by Jillian Page exclusively for jillianpage.com. No other reproduction permitted.)

12 thoughts on “Montreal Go Topless event: A report on Sunday’s demonstration

  1. I recall many, many years ago in the shipping department where I worked, it was frequently uncomfortably hot and the guys routinely doffed their shirts. One day the only woman in the department joined them. Nothing happened. She was rather under-endowed and skinny, and from 20 ft you couldn’t tell the girl from the boys, but that’s not the point of this story. Or is it?

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  2. The desexualisation of the female breast has another, important, consequence; it will help to allow it to be used for what it is really intended – feeding a baby – with far less of an outcry when that happens to be needed in a public place.

    I have even heard it said that young children should not be allowed to see a female breast! How has society gone so wrong?

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  3. A few legalistic points:

    The court case that set the Ontario precedent was won on appeal on the grounds that the officer and trial judge had erred in assessing the definition of “indecent”. The case that set the BC precedent was won on the grounds that nobody could prove any evidence of harm .

    No cases involving topfreedom have ever made it to a Canadian federal court. If it did, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms sec. 15(1) and sec. 28, which explicitly guarantee male-female equality in all legal matters, would undoubtedly be invoked.

    A Criminal Code s.174 case (“nude and exposed to public view”) can only be brought with the Attorney-General’s support. If it weren’t tossed out on definition grounds (topfree != nude), it would invoke a Constitutional challenge under Charter 15(1) & 28 – in Quebec – something no lawmaker will touch with a 50-foot pole.

    That leaves just Crim. Code s.173 (“indecent act”) which, unless there is real, undeniable indecency involved, is very shaky grounds on which to go after topfreedom.

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      1. I often suspect that any topfree or nudity cases are settled for lower misdemeanors under threat of long prison terms if they lose in court. Typical plea bargain – scare the shit out of the “offender” to close the case. I think that the real reason is that the law enforcement and political interests do not want a case to go forward to a precedent-setting venue because they know they would lose.

        But, who has the guts and resources to say “no” to plea offers all the way?

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      2. Steve, that’s exactly it. After the Ontario crown lost R. v. Jacob in the Ont. Court of Appeal, the province declined to appeal further – not stating their exact reasons, naturally. But it’s pretty clear that it’s because Jacob had invoked the Charter in her arguments, the Court of Appeal had declined to rule on those grounds, and everyone knew that the Supreme Court would *have* to rule based on the strict and unambiguous guarantee of legal equality in the Constitution.

        Note that you can still be charged and successfully convicted of public indecency under Crim. Code. s.173 for intentionally being offensive (eg. protesting topless outside a conservative church) or if there’s a questionable commercial purpose involved (eg. flashing cars on a street corner to advertise prostitution). But simply being topfree and female, in situations where being topfree and male is acceptable, is pretty clearly A-OK.

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  4. As a Libertarian I see no issue with nudity or someone wanting to no wear clothing in public with the exception of worker safety and employer dress codes as long as they are applied equally to all workers.

    There is nothing more perfect than the human form.

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