Protecting The Finger

Giving somebody the finger is a vulgar, inherently provoking way of expressing extreme disapproval–but should it be viewed as a criminal act? A court in Canada recently addressed that question, and found that, to the contrary, flipping someone off is “a God-given, charter-enshrined right that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian.” You can read the court’s decision here.

The case arose in the context of a neighborhood dispute that turned ugly, on a quiet street where relations clearly had become so poisonous that seemingly everything has become a provocation. One set of neighbors, the complainants in the case, lived in a house equipped with an array of video cameras that they used to keep an eye on the neighborhood, including the accused, a schoolteacher who was the father of two young girls. The complainants also kept a written log of the accused’s activities.

The story begins on March 25, 2021, when kids watched by their parents were playing on lawns and in the street in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns. The complainants drive by, too fast and too close to the children, according to the parents nearby. There is a brief interaction and the complainants call the police, who come to the neighborhood but make no arrests. The complainants call the police again on the following days and record additional supposed incidents in their neighborhood log, all of which are meticulously described in the court’s opinion. Things finally come to a head several weeks later, when another confrontation occurs, the accused drops an f-bomb and gives one of the complainants the finger, and is then arrested for harassment after the complainant calls the police again.

After reviewing the video and testimonial evidence, carefully assessing the credibility of the witnesses, and making numerous findings of fact, the court concludes:

“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. 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 “fuck off” should not prompt a call to 9-1-1.”

In short, our neighbors to the north expect people to be a bit tougher when confronted with crude gestures. Part of protecting the right to free speech involves protecting unseemly speech, like the upraised middle finger. In Canada, at least, that right is protected.

And let’s all be glad we don’t live in that dysfunctional neighborhood.

Marcus Hall’s Middle Fingers

During last week’s Ohio State-Michigan game, a brawl broke out after a kickoff return.  Senior OSU offensive lineman Marcus Hall participated in the melee and was ejected.

Frustrated because he wouldn’t be able to play in his last game against Ohio State’s arch-rival, Hall threw his helmet, kicked the Ohio State bench, and was escorted to the locker room.  While still on camera as he entered the tunnel — and no doubt being booed and razzed by Michigan fans — Hall suddenly flashed the middle finger from both hands.

The reaction to the double-barreled gesture has been interesting.  The next day Hall apologized to “The Ohio State University, The University of Michigan, my teammates, my family, the fans and the TV viewing audience for my behavior during yesterday’s game.”  Hall said “I let my emotions get the best of me and didn’t conduct myself properly in the heat of the moment” and added:  “From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry and hope everyone can accept my sincere apology.”

Hall properly recognized that making an obscene gesture on national TV doesn’t reflect well on him as a person; to his credit, he apologized and took the blame.  Other Ohio State fans, however, seem to be celebrating Hall’s obscene gesture.  You see some fans chuckling about it, saying it captures their feelings about Ohio State’s great rival, and people have even made Hall’s gesture into their computer screensavers and, apparently, shirts where Hall’s upraised arms and fingers as he left the field form the “H” in the familiar “O-H-I-O” Buckeye salute.

This sort of crass fan reaction is embarrassing to me and should be embarrassing to other members of Buckeye Nation.  Hall’s actions were improper, but they were the impulsive act of a young man whose emotions were running high.  There’s no similar excuse for fans who are acting like Hall’s gesture was a great moment in Ohio State history.  I was taught that obscene gestures — whether flashed from a driver’s seat or on the football field — reflect ignorance, lack of self-control, and inability to express oneself in an acceptable way. The right way to root against Michigan is to cheer like crazy for the Buckeyes and boo the Wolverines — not get into fights or launch obscenities or obscene gestures.

I believe in sportsmanship.  The one-fingered salute is not funny, or “edgy.”  It’s pathetic, and the positive reaction to Hall’s conduct by some Ohio State fans makes them look like  ill-educated jerks.  I’d like to think that the Buckeye Nation is better than that.