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The Montreal Gazette

Pie Throwers Serve Up Long Tradition of Political Protest

Mark Iype

Minister Gail Shea being pied in the face on Monday Jan. 25, 2010 in Burlington, Ont.. Photograph by: Frame grabs, GLOBAL TV

Political protests take countless forms.

The hunger strike and the wildcat strike. The protest march and the protest song. The sit-in and the petition. They all have their place in history for combating the powerful.

But none match the splendidly photogenic, questionably effective, sometimes delicious and always ludicrous act of throwing a pie in the face of authority.

"It's the simplest form of political message," said Patrick Robert - also known as Pop Tarte - the founder of Montreal-based Les Entartistes, Canada's most active pie protest group.

Last Monday, in an attack that Robert said could reinvigorate the 40-year-old form of protest, an animal-rights activist pied Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea square in the face.

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne called the act "akin to terrorism," a comparison Robert said was, well, half-baked.

"If it is seen as a terrorist act, the terrorists have won," he said.

Then, on Friday, a seal-hunt protester in Newfoundland was pied in the face by someone who supports the hunt.

The flying pies have placed Shea and Friday's victim, in the company of the famous and infamous.

Canadian victims alone include some of the most powerful political luminaries of the past 20 years, with names such as Chretien, Charest, Dion, Klein, Pettigrew, Rock and Parizeau peppering the list.

While some targets, such as former health minister Allan Rock, laughed the incident off, others seemed less amused.

Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion pressed charges when he was pied in 1999 by Robert.

Shea's attacker has also been charged.

When former prime minister Jean Chretien got a face full of custard at an event in Charlottetown in 2000, some law-enforcement officials called it a sign of rising civil disobedience not seen since the anti-war protests of the 1960s.

Several political pie-throwing cabals exist around the world, including Les Entartistes and the Meringue Marauders from Canada, the Biotic Baking Brigade and Al Pieda from the United States and Internationales Patissiere from Belgium.

Many of the groups sprang to life after a 1998 attack on Microsoft chairman Bill Gates by more than 30 cream commandos.

Their attack, which left pie covering the computer magnate's glasses and shoulders, seemed to reheat the pie as a protest tool.

Since then, high-profile targets have included conservative political pundit Ann Coulter, Swedish King Carl Gustaf, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and actor Sylvester Stallone.

Tracing the history of pie throwing, much is owed to cinema. The pie in the face is a slapstick gag dating back to silent films, and popularized by Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. It has been comedic gold for nearly a century.

In 1969, Belgian artist Noel Godin, who led the 1998 Gates mission, used a protest pie for the first time against another artist. But in 1970, it became political. Thomas Forcade, the founder of the marijuana-promoting High Times magazine, pied Otto Larsen, the chairman of a U.S. federal commission on obscenity.

In 1973, the most celebrated North American pie protester, the "Pie Man" Aron Kay flung his first pastry.

In an interview with Canwest News Service, he described pieing as "a form of character assassination."

"Pies smash your demeanor, they take you down a notch," said the Winnipeg-born Kay.

"The only thing that gets hurt is your ego."

Kay has several high-profile hits, including political commentator William F. Buckley, former CIA director William Colby and artist Andy Warhol.

Of Kay's 40 or so strikes, his greatest, he said, was nailing G. Gordon Liddy, one of the central figures of the 1972 Watergate scandal.

On the day Liddy was paroled in 1977, Kay borrowed a jacket and tie, strolled nonchalantly into the luxurious Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., and hit Liddy with an apple pie.

"In honor of mother America," Kay said.

Kay, 60, retired from pieing since 1992, was introduced to a new generation when the Simpsons satirized him in 2004, enhancing his legend.

He remains a vehement supporter of the movement.

"I am issuing a fatwa against Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others of that ilk," he said, referring to two of the most controversial conservative commentators in the U.S.

"The pies must fly!"

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