A Quebec judge last month, when he acquitted a man accused of threatening and harassing his neighbor, said Canadians have a “God-given” right to show someone the middle finger.
The man who was acquitted, Neil Epstein, was arrested outside his home in Beaconsfield, a suburb southwest of Montreal, in May 2021 and charged with criminal harassment and threats to kill. The target, authorities said, was Michael Nakache, his neighbor on a small, narrow road with no sidewalks.
The arrest was the latest in a series of feuds between the two men that had been going on for months.
Judge Dennis Goliatsatos wrote in his Feb. 24 ruling that Epstein is innocent and that “it is regrettable that petitioners have used the criminal justice system as a weapon in an attempt to exact revenge on an innocent man for some perceived slights that are, at best, trivial offenses “.
“To be perfectly clear,” he wrote, “it is not a crime to give someone the finger.”
Goliatsatos added, in an apparent reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “To flip the proverbial bird is a God-given Charter right that belongs to every pure-blooded Canadian. It may not be civilized, it may not be polite, it may not be gentlemanly. But it does not attract criminal responsibility.”
Details of the case and its outcome were reported this week by The Canadian Press.
Epstein, a school teacher with two young daughters, was arrested on May 18, 2021, after returning home from a long walk. Earlier that day, he and Nakache got into an argument outside Nakache’s house.
Nakache testified that he was doing renovations on his front staircase when Epstein walked by his house, said something and gave him the finger with both hands. Naccache, who said he was wearing earplugs at the time, claimed Epstein made a “throat-slitting gesture” and a “hand motion” as if challenging him to a fight.
Nakache called the police and said he was afraid Epstein was going to try to kill him.
Epstein recalled the interaction differently. He testified that Nakache was holding a power drill in a menacing manner and shouting threats at him. Epstein denied cutting his throat, but said he yelled an obscenity and admitted giving the neighbor the finger as he was walking away.
The judge dismissed Nakache’s charges.
“On what basis did he fear that Epstein was a potential murderer?” he wrote. “The fact that he calmly walked with the children? The fact that he communicated with other young parents on the street? If this is the standard, we should all fear that our neighbors are killers in waiting.”
Nakache also repeatedly accused Epstein of recording him, but the judge said the opposite was true. Epstein walked around the neighborhood with a phone in his hand, Galiatsatos said in his ruling, while Nakache had four cameras on the front of his house, dashboard cameras in his parents’ cars and a camera on his motorcycle helmet.
Joali Jenkins, Epstein’s attorney, said her client was pleased with the outcome but declined to comment further. The prosecutor declined to cross-examine Epstein, saying it was “not in the public interest,” according to the order, and asked the court to enter an acquittal.
Audrey Roy-Cloutier, a spokeswoman for the Quebec prosecutor’s office, said the case would not be appealed, even though prosecutors disagreed with some of the judge’s findings.
Epstein also accused Nakache’s parents of driving dangerously near neighborhood children, including Epstein’s children. In his ruling, Galiatsatos said the video evidence supported the allegation and that the family members were lucky not to be charged with assault or issued reckless driving tickets.
In dismissing the case, Goliatsatos said he wished he had “actually taken the file and thrown it out the window,” which he added would have been the only way to “adequately express” his surprise that Epstein had been charged at all.
“Unfortunately, there are no windows in the Montreal courtrooms,” he wrote. “A simple acquittal will suffice.”