Another landmark sentence that the Maltese Attorney General’s Office should take notice of.
It may not be civil. It may not be polite. It may not be gentlemanly. But giving someone the middle finger is not a crime, a judge in Canada has ruled, adding that it is a right “that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian”.
In a bizarre case presided over by Dennis Galiatsatos, a teacher was accused of harassing his neighbour in Montreal in a long-running dispute over children playing in the road.
Neall Epstein claimed that Michael Naccache, his neighbour, held up a handheld drill and said: “You f—— crazy neighbour; you dip—-,” before adding: “You’re f—— dead.”
In response, Mr Epstein told him to “f— off” and stuck up his middle finger as he walked away. Mr Naccache claimed he made a throat-slashing gesture as well.
When Mr Epstein returned home from a long walk, the police were at his door and arrested him on suspicion of criminal harassment and uttering death threats.
‘Petty neighbourhood trivialities’
Judge Galiatsatos was incredulous that the case had reached court.
In a remarkable 26-page decision, he said the grievances were “nothing more than mundane, petty neighbourhood trivialities” and said it was “deplorable” that Mr Naccache had “weaponised the criminal justice system in an attempt to exert revenge on an innocent man for some perceived slights that are, at best, trivial peeves”.
Finding Mr Epstein not guilty, Judge Galiatsatos wrote: “To be abundantly clear, it is not a crime to give someone the finger. Flipping the proverbial bird is a God-given, Charter-enshrined right that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian.
“It may not be civil. It may not be polite. It may not be gentlemanly. Nevertheless, it does not trigger criminal liability.”
‘Citizens are to be thick-skinned’
He added: “Offending someone is not a crime. It is an integral component of one’s freedom of expression. Citizens are to be thicker-skinned, especially when they behave in ways that are highly likely to trigger such profanity – like driving too fast on a street where innocent kids are playing. Being told to ‘f— off’ should not prompt a call to 911.
“This needs to stop. The complainants are free to clutch their pearls in the face of such an insult. However, the police department and the 911 dispatching service have more important priorities to address.”
The judge concluded with a flourish: “Cases aren’t actually thrown out, in the literal or physical sense. Nevertheless, in the specific circumstances of this case, the court is inclined to actually take the file and throw it out the window.
“Alas, the courtrooms of the Montreal courthouse do not have windows.”