Montreal police ticket veteran bagpiper for carrying traditional knife
John Meagher, Montreal Gazette
Published on: November 4, 2016 | Last Updated: November 4, 2016 10:12 AM EDT
Jeff McCarthy might be the closest thing to a professional bagpiper in Montreal. You may have seen him playing the pipes at the downtown Ogilvy store, or occasionally parading through Montreal streets as a member of Canada’s famed Black Watch Royal Highland Regiment.
So the veteran piper was understandably upset on Wednesday afternoon when he was handed a $221 ticket by police for wearing a sgian-dubh (pronounced skin-do), a small knife that is a common accessory for men in traditional Scottish dress.
McCarthy, who was wearing a kilt, was cornered then ticketed by police officers who approached him after they spotted the knife tucked into his kilt hose while McCarthy was taking a break outside Place des Arts during a McGill University convocation ceremony.
“As I was walking by these three police officers, one of them … asked me, ‘Is that a knife?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely’.
“I started to explain to her what it was and why I wear it. It didn’t take her long to turn around say, ‘This is illegal.’ And I was pretty shocked and surprised because I’ve been playing the pipes for almost 27 years and I’ve never been stopped for carrying a sgian-dubh.”
McCarthy, 48, attempted to explain to police, who were later joined by two STM public security officers, that the knife is strictly Scottish cultural attire and not intended for use as a weapon.
“I explained … that’s it’s part of the costume, it’s not a weapon per se. It’s an accoutrement to what is considered a traditional Highland costume.”
Police were not swayed and confiscated the knife. McCarthy has not yet decided if he will contest the ticket, which amounted to about half his salary that day.
“There is no religious significance to the knife, but there is a cultural significance. I think that needs to be respected,” he said.
The fluently bilingual McCarthy comes from an ethnically diverse family. His father is of Irish and French descent, while his mother is of Jamaican descent.
McCarthy, whose grandmother was Scottish, said he felt his ancestry was being targeted by police.
“It’s sort of like crushing a culture, and it’s disrespecting a culture,” he said. “There are four things on the Montreal flag and one of them is decidedly Scottish (the thistle). You’d think there would be some respect in terms of that.”
McCarthy says there are many law-abiding members of Montreal’s Scottish community who will be surprised to hear of his run-in with the cops.
“My concern is that Scottish people in general are going to be targeted for wearing a sgian-dubh. Certain questions come to mind: Are they going to set up a paddy wagon in front of the Highland Games?
“Are they going to be bring in the task force when they hold the annual St. Andrew’s Ball in a couple of weeks? Let me tell you, there are lot of people there wearing a sgian-dubh.”
McCarthy, a lifelong Montrealer, said the whole affair has left him with a bad taste in his pipes.
It only made matters worse when one of the STM security officers told him he was “dishonouring my unit and dishonouring the (Canadian) forces by behaving the way I was behaving.”
Police chose not to comment on the matter when contacted Thursday.