Police in Kingston, Ont., arrested a man during the Santa Claus parade there on Saturday after he started yelling obscenities and – this is what really got him in the news – telling children that Santa doesn't exist. The police, who admit they were appalled by the man’s Grinchiness, arrested him and charged him with causing a disturbance by being drunk, and with public intoxication.
But would they have arrested him had he only been yelling obscenities and not crushing the holiday dreams of children; and could they have stopped him had he been stone-cold sober and merely expressing his genuine beliefs? Some people are questioning whether the man’s right to free expression was violated, intoxicated or not. We think the police did the right thing in this case, but it does raise an interesting point.
Parents have the right to protect their children’s innocent beliefs from the intrusions of ill-intentioned people. On the other hand, kids usually discover Santa’s true identity outside the home. It’s going to happen one day, and no one’s well-being is particularly put at risk by learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist exactly as described. So, if someone really wants to attend a Santa Claus parade carrying a sign saying “It’s all a lie” and shouting “Santa’s not real,” and they have genuine beliefs about the issue and its gravity, they have that right – as long as they don’t deliberately disturb the peace or disrupt the parade, and don’t weaken their credibility by being drunk.
Why this hypothetical malevolent person with an undersized heart would want to do such a creepy thing is beyond us. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to arrest him for his words, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. No responsible police officer would fail to approach a person behaving in the manner the suspect was alleged to have been. And if the person appears to be publicly intoxicated, it’s definitely game over. It’s important to remember, though, that even Grinches can speak their mind freely 12 months of the year.
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