Nova Scotia

Man gets court date after arrest for using F-word at Halifax protest

A Dartmouth man who was arrested last June is going to court to defend his right to use foul language at a public protest.

26-year-old Joseph Currie was arrested following complaints of foul language at Bill C-51 protest last year

Joseph Currie being put into the back of a police vehicle last June. (YouTube)

A Dartmouth man who was arrested last year is going to court to defend his right to use foul language at a public protest.

Halifax Regional Police arrested Joseph Currie, 26, during a protest on Spring Garden Road. It was one of many protests that happened across the country, in which protestors took to the streets to express their displeasure with anti-terror legislation Bill C-51. 

Currie is charged with causing a disturbance. Court records show police allege Currie yelled, "F--k the government. F--k this place. Take action."

Currie was using a megaphone at the time, which drew complaints from people on Spring Garden Road.

Foul language

Currie's lawyer Gordon Allen says police overreacted.

"He wasn't running into a daycare screaming this. He wasn't in a seniors home. It was a location where the whole purpose is to raise awareness about an issue," Allen said.

Joseph Currie was arrested and charged with causing a disturbance last June at a Bill C-51 protest in Halifax. (CBC)

The protest started in Victoria park and moved east on Spring Garden Road toward Barrington Street.

Currie says he didn't use that particular phrase but doesn't deny using the F-word during the protest.

'Numerous' complaints

A video of the arrest on YouTube shows a police officer telling other protestors that they'd received "numerous" complaints about the noise and profanity.

Allen says his client still did nothing illegal.   

"In a democracy, people have to be able to express themselves," he said. "And you have to do it in a way people hear you and take note of the message. That's part and parcel of the expression — the amplification of it."

A 'ubiquitous word'

Allen says the F-word is a "ubiquitous word" and "it's a common word of scorn, derision today."

Allen cited the N.W.A song F--k tha Police, as well as songs by Rage Against the Machine that feature the word numerous times.

"This was a protest," he said. "And I think nothing can more express contempt for that issue and make people pay attention than perhaps occasionally, use expressive language. And the fact it's at a protest is relevant."

The case will go to trial in October. 

Lawyer Gordon Allen says police overreacted when they arrested his client. (CBC)

Case attracts attention

Some people watching this case say it might be significant.

Bob Huish, a professor of international studies at Dalhousie University, is an expert in public protests and clashes between police and protestors.

He says a lot of obscenity and foul language online is routinely ignored and goes unpunished and wonders why cursing at a protest is such a crime.

"Far more hateful and hurtful forms of expression have yet to be brought into that form of public tribunal. And I think this could be a good case to try to evolve that conversation forward."

Not a routine arrest

Staff Sergeant Mike Hobeck of the Halifax Regional Police says police don't routinely arrest people for using foul language in public.

But he says if it is excessively loud —and people are complaining — they can.

"When it involves an area like Spring Garden Road who may be affected by the actions or language or what is going with people going through that area, then we may react a little differently in that case." 


Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.