SHAWINIGAN, Que. — A child has been acquitted of assaulting his younger stepsister after what a Quebec judge deemed to be a harmless bit of teasing.
The boy, who was 12 years old at the time, admitted to having touched his then-11-year-old sister's thighs while the two were watching a movie one evening.
But the girl suffered no harm as a result of her brother's actions, Quebec court Judge Geneviève Marchand wrote in her June 14 decision, which was published this week.
Though the boy admitted to touching his sister, the judge ultimately acquitted him of assault on the basis of a defence known in Latin as de minimis non curat lex — "the principle that the law does not concern itself with trivial matters," Marchand explained. The boy's only intention was to tease his sister, and this teasing was consistent with their playful relationship, the judge said.
"The accused's actions are so harmless and devoid of any violence or malicious intent that they cannot in themselves justify a conviction," Marchand concluded. "Such a conviction would surely shock the public and undermine their confidence in the judicial system."
The case was heard by a court in Shawinigan, Que., northeast of Montreal, but the location and date of the incident were not included in the court ruling. Both children's names are protected by a publication ban.
The boy's lawyer, Yan Primeau, declined to comment on Tuesday. But Alexandre Biron, a lawyer and spokesperson for Primeau's law firm, says Marchand's ruling calls into question the decision to authorize the case.
"This case took up the court's time — time that could have been used to hear a case with a higher priority, or at least a more serious one," Biron said in a phone interview.
Quebec's prosecutors office — Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales — did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
In her ruling, Marchand said the girl reported her stepbrother's teasing to authorities at the request of her mother. The judge also noted a "conflictual" relationship between the woman and the boy's mother, who is married to the girl's father.
Biron reflected on the children's experience through the court proceedings. He called it regrettable that "the decision … to authorize this case has meant that the girl … who was 11 at the time of the events, has had to testify in court."
"To await trial, to stand trial is an ordeal for everyone," Biron continued, turning his thoughts to the boy. "For a 12-year-old … we can deduce that this wait has been extremely difficult."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.
— By Thomas MacDonald in Montreal.
The Canadian Press