A Quebec judge declared last month, as he acquitted a man who had been accused of threatening and harassing his neighbor, that Canadians have a “God-given” right to give someone the middle finger.
The man who was acquitted, Neall Epstein, had been arrested outside his home in Beaconsfield, a suburb southwest of Montreal, in May 2021 and charged with criminal harassment and uttering death threats. The target, the authorities said, was Michael Naccache, his neighbor on a small, narrow road without sidewalks.
The arrest was the final step in a series of squabbles between the two men that had played out over several months.
Judge Dennis Galiatsatos wrote in his Feb. 24 ruling that Mr. Epstein was not guilty and that it was “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.”
“To be abundantly clear,” he wrote, “it is not a crime to give someone the finger.”
Judge Galiatsatos added, in an apparent reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “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.”
Details of the case, and its outcome, were reported this week by The Canadian Press.
Mr. Epstein, a schoolteacher with two young daughters, was arrested on May 18, 2021, after returning home from a long walk. Earlier that day, he and Mr. Naccache had a confrontation outside Mr. Naccache’s home.
Mr. Naccache testified that he had been doing renovation work on his front staircase when Mr. Epstein walked by his house, said something and gave him the finger with both hands. Mr. Naccache, who said he had been wearing earplugs at the time, claimed that Mr. Epstein had then made a “throat-slashing gesture” and a “punching motion with his hand,” as if he were challenging him to a fight.
Mr. Naccache called the police and said he feared that Mr. Epstein was going to try to kill him.
Mr. Epstein recalled the interaction differently. He testified that Mr. Naccache had been holding a power drill in a menacing way and yelling threats at him. Mr. Epstein denied making a throat-slitting gesture but said he had yelled an expletive and acknowledged having given his neighbor the finger as he walked away.
The judge rejected Mr. Naccache’s allegations.
“On what basis did he fear that Mr. Epstein was a potential murderer?” he wrote. “The fact that he went for quiet walks with his kids? The fact that he socialized with the other young parents on the street? If that is the standard, we should all fear that our neighbors are killers in waiting.”
Mr. Naccache also repeatedly accused Mr. Epstein of recording him, but the judge said that it was the other way around. Mr. Epstein walked around the neighborhood with his phone in his hand, Judge Galiatsatos said in his ruling, while Mr. Naccache had four cameras on the front of his house, dashboard cameras in his parents’ cars and a camera on his motorcycle helmet.
Joalie Jenkins, a lawyer for Mr. Epstein, said her client was happy with the outcome but declined to comment further. A prosecutor declined to cross-examine Mr. Epstein, saying it was “not in the public interest to do so,” according to the ruling, and asked the court to enter an acquittal.
Audrey Roy-Cloutier, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s prosecution office, said that the case would not be appealed even though prosecutors disagreed with some of the judge’s findings.
Mr. Epstein had also accused Mr. Naccache’s parents of driving dangerously near children in the neighborhood, including Mr. Epstein’s children. Judge Galiatsatos said in his ruling that video evidence supported that accusation and that the family members were lucky that they had not been charged with assault or issued tickets for reckless driving.
In dismissing the case, Judge Galiatsatos said he wished he could “actually take the file and throw it out the window,” which he added would be the only way to “adequately express” his bewilderment that Mr. Epstein had been charged in the first place.
“Alas, the courtrooms of the Montreal courthouse do not have windows,” he wrote. “A mere verdict of acquittal will have to suffice.”
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