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Open Your Mouth, Go To Jail
23/01/2003
An Iranian law professor, travelling to Canada to study English, has now been convicted of mischief because of a poor selection of words on an Air Canada flight. As reported in the Globe and Mail today,
The trial heard that the flight attendant was trying to jam Mr. Barghi's briefcase under a seat, leading him to say: "No, no. Be careful or it might explode." Even the Crown's main witness, a Canadian navy officer, told the court he thought Mr. Barghi had simply made a bad choice of words as he tried to warn that the bag might pop open.
Quebec Court Judge Gilles Cadieux has judged Barghi to be guilty because: "the word 'explode' does not lend to ambiguities. It is a common word that one wouldn't have trouble understanding." Obviously Cadieux must think Barghi was the kind of moron who thinks it's funny to make bomb jokes at airports. Barghi certainly wasn't seriously implying that he had a bomb, since the bag didn't have one when searched. Unfortunately, although Barghi was the one here to study English, he seems to have a better grasp of it than the judge. If Cadieux had taken the time to consult a dictionary, he would have been able to look up the word "explode", which in fact has a few other meanings. In my American Heritage Dictionary, definition number two is
To burst violently as a result of internal pressure
Actually, I've frequently been afraid my over-packed suitcase would do exactly that. Meanwhile, the judge says it doesn't really matter.
He added: "Even if the accused didn't specifically want those consequences, there was carelessness as to the consequences of the words he uttered."
So, there you have it. Any innocent idea, expressed on an airplane, in proper English that can cause a flight attendant to panic will get you not only questioned, but also arrested, charged and convicted. Of course, it helps if you're Iranian. [Update -- The Globe and Mail reports on February 6 that: "Wednesday, Quebec Court Judge Gilles Cadieux granted the Iranian law professor an absolute discharge. He noted that Mr. Barghi's words were never deemed an actual threat, and the 35-year-old, who had no criminal record, was never linked to any violent act."]
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