Love thy neighbour — but also, feel free to give them the one-finger salute if the need arises.
That’s the conclusion a Quebec judge reached in a scathing ruling where he defends a man’s use of the obscene gesture in a dispute with his neighbour, declaring it a “God-given” right that is covered by freedom of expression.
“To be abundantly clear, it is not a crime to give someone the finger. Flipping the proverbial bird is a God-given, enshrined right that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian,” said Judge Dennis Galiatsatos in his ruling last month.
“The complainants are free to clutch their pearls in the face of such an insult. However, the police department and the 9-1-1 dispatching service have more important priorities to address,” he added.
The ruling stems from a quarrel between neighbours Neall Epstein, or he who flipped the bird, and Michael Naccache, who is documented as having called police numerous times for what he perceived to be threatening gestures or behaviour from his neighbour.
The court document depicts an increasingly fractious relationship between the neighbours, with the issue of children playing in front of Epstein’s home as the cause of friction.
In his opening remarks, Galiatsatos describes a picturesque “blissful snapshot of a suburban utopia” that the complainant took issue with.
“To the complainants, the presence of young families outside is a source of scorn and vivid resentment that ultimately spilled over into a criminal complaint against their neighbour,” Galiatsatos wrote.
The discord between the two culminated in a May 2021 incident where Naccache is described as holding “what appeared to be a hand-held drill,” while standing on his front porch and making obscene remarks as Epstein walked by. In response, Epstein told his neighbour to “f— off” and proceeded to give him the finger.
Upon returning home, he found police officers waiting for him and was subsequently arrested for uttering death threats.
The judge ruled that while giving someone the finger may not be civil, polite or “gentlemanly,” it is protected by the freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He concluded that citizens are to be “thicker-skinned, especially when they behave in ways that are highly likely to trigger such profanity.”
Not only did the judge acquit Epstein of criminal harassment, he also remarked that it’s “deplorable that the complainants have weaponized the criminal justice system in an attempt to exert revenge on an innocent man for some perceived slights that are, at best, trivial peeves,” and that based on the video evidence, that the complainant was fortunate that he himself was not charged with uttering threats.
Andrew McDougall, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and an expert in constitutional law, said the freedom of expression is “quite broad” in Canada, and that while a gesture could technically be seen as a threat, a middle finger doesn’t quite reach that threshold.
“If all the person did was simply put up the middle finger, it would be hard to read as a threat,” he said.
does not endorse these opinions.
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