MONTREAL -- Quebec has had it with "pie terrorists" and is starting to hurl criminal charges at the political pastry throwers who in recent months have gotten in the faces of many prominent figures.
The crackdown on the "Entartistes," as the cream pie anarchists call themselves, is winning praise from news columnists and others who usually delight in taking aim at the high and mighty -- but who say the pie throwers are far more pompous than the politicians they harass.
"They are nothing more than out-of-control aggressors who are to democracy what germs are to public health," said Pierre Bourgault, a political commentator for Journal de Montreal.
The pie tossers, part of a loose-knit international group based in Belgium, have been active lately in Quebec, mounting attacks with cunning and precision. Their hapless targets are almost always creamed at public events where television cameras and photographers are sure to record the humiliation.
The "Entartistes" -- roughly translated, "pie-ers" -- released a hit list this month with Quebec-born pop singer Celine Dion and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien holding top spots.
But now the targets are striking back.
Stephane Dion, Canada's minister for intergovernmental affairs -- and no relation to the singer -- took a pair of pies in the face two weeks ago while handing out slices of cake to homeless people at a Montreal soup kitchen.
Unamused, Dion filed criminal complaints against his assailants.
"It's my duty as a citizen," he said.
Far from being hooted as a humorless stiff, Dion's response is winning cheers.
"I know the pie is supposed to be a joke, but these pie throwers are really bullies, and not funny at all," said Christine Fortin, a volunteer at the soup kitchen. "An event that was supposed to raise money to help the poor was ruined."
Police are expected to bring charges against two Quebec followers of Noel Godin, 52, the Belgian anarchist who for nearly three decades has organized pie attacks against politicians, business leaders, artists and celebrities.
Bill Gates, the billionaire chairman of Microsoft Corp., was a recent victim.
In Quebec, pie anarchists have ambushed about a dozen prominent people in recent months, from Montreal's mayor, Pierre Bourque, to Anglo-rights crusader William Johnson.
In Dion's case, the pie throwers issued a press release accusing him of "making political capital on the backs of the poor."
That seems a harsh assessment of the former University of Montreal professor who regularly spends weekends doing volunteer work, but Quebec's pie throwers are given to strident rhetoric and refuse to make apologies.
"It is a burlesque terrorism," founder Godin recently told the Sunday Telegraph, a London newspaper. "We do not wound our victims, they are only wounded in their self-love."
But Quebec police say a pie in the face is no joke -- it's assault under the criminal code.
Bruno Caron, 19, made Canadian legal history this week when he appeared in court in Montreal -- wearing a red rubber nose -- and pleaded not guilty to a charge of assault with a pastry. It is the first time anyone has been charged with assault in Canada for a pie attack.
Caron is accused of pushing a cream-filled pastry shell into the face of former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau this year.
Parizeau, in turn, became the first politician in Canada so enraged by the attack that he filed a criminal complaint, winning wide support from callers to radio talk shows and other Quebecers.