Joy for Canadian bagpiper charged over Sgian Dubh in sock

A Canadian bagpiper who generated huge public support after being fined for carrying a Sgian Dubh 18 months ago has had his case dropped and his knife returned.

Piper Jeff McCarthy was stopped by police in Montreal in 2016.
Piper Jeff McCarthy was stopped by police in Montreal in 2016.

Jeff McCarthy from Montreal was carrying what authorities deemed to be a weapon in November 2016 while taking a break during a performance and was fined $221.

Now, after months of appealing, the charges, which came from McCarthy carrying the traditional item – made by Loch Ness craftsman Rab Gordon – in his sock, have been dropped and his fine cancelled.

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But McCarthy has warned that as the case did not reach court and there was no decision made, other bagpipers in Canada could be at risk of the same happening in the future.

The ceremonial Sgian Dubh was treated as a weapon. Photograph: Getty

He wrote on his Facebook page: “Ticket cancelled. I’ll be getting my knife back. Prosecutor doesn’t want to press on with this. THE END. VIVE L’ÉCOSSE.”

But he told Scotland on Sunday that he wanted Montreal law to be changed to match Scottish laws, which state that if someone is carrying a knife “as part of national dress”, they have a defence against prosecution. He said: “We would have liked it to go before the judge because we would have liked it to set a precedent; people who don Highland dress are not doing so for nefarious purposes and as such it should be recognised in a small amendment to the bylaw.”

The fine triggered uproar in Montreal’s Scottish community.

Lawyer Daniel F O’Connor, former president of the St Andrew’s Society of Montreal, who agreed to represent McCarthy pro bono, claimed at the time of the fine that while there is a bylaw that prohibits the possession of a knife in public without a reasonable excuse, the piper had a legitimate reason because he was taking part in a performance at McGill University.

McCarthy says he was stopped by three police officers who questioned him about the hilt of the Sgian Dubh, which was sticking out of his sock. He told Scotland on Sunday: “I know the police were just doing their job, and in this case they weren’t particularly knowledgeable about Highland attire so they just did what they thought was best for the moment.

“I told them who I was in quite a bit of detail but they seemed more interested in serving me a ticket and so there was not much I could really do but take the fine and then contest it.”

McCarthy is one of Canada’s best known bagpipers, having played for 25 years at a Scots-founded department store in Montreal, until it axed piping performances last year. Ogilvy’s department store featured a daily piping performance since 1945, when businessman Aird Nesbitt launched a series of Scottish traditions including tartan shopping bags and packaging to mark its founder, James Angus Ogilvy, who launched the business after emigrating to Canada from Kirriemuir in the 1860s.

Montreal Police did not respond to requests for a comment.