Inner West Independent

Time of the signs

Danny Lim chats with police during an Extinction Rebellion march in August. Photo: Alec Smart

BY ALEC SMART

Danny Lim is about to learn whether a sign he displayed at a protest, deemed ‘offensive’ to the police who arrested him, will get him into further hot water or be dismissed as a risqué prank. Either way, it will garner Lim more publicity, which is beneficial to the veteran peace campaigner.

On 30 August Mr Lim is expecting the outcome of his appeal against a $500 fine issued at Downing Centre Local Court. He was arrested at Barangaroo in January and fined for offensive behaviour for wearing a sign that read: “Smile cvn’t! Why cvn’t?”.

Mr Lim’s lawyer, Bryan Wrench, criticised the police who arrested his client. “What we’ve seen is just disproportionate conduct to the fine; he got arrested for trying to make people smile. There was no respect shown to Mr Lim, who is 74, instead they handcuffed him and threw him in the back of the paddy wagon.”

Mr Lim, A former Strathfield Councillor, is familiar to many Sydney residents, particularly those working in and around the city, as the smiling Chinese man with long silver hair and whispy beard who wears humorous and political tabard signs at traffic junctions.

There’s no denying the provocative nature of the sign that landed him in trouble; at first appearance it reads as the ribald ‘C-word’, although closer inspection reveals it is a cheeky modification of ‘can’t’ with a letter V replacing the letter A.

Provocative

Nevertheless, as Lim told City Hub, despite its intention to provoke reactions, in a previous District Court of NSW hearing also involving him displaying an apparent bastardisation of the C-word: Danny Lim v Regina [2017] NSWDC 231, he was found not guilty of offensive behaviour on appeal.

On that occasion, 29 August 2017, Judge AC Scoting set aside the conviction imposed by her Honour Magistrate Stapleton on 9 February 2016 at the Waverley Local Court. Lim had been arrested for wearing a tabard sign saying: “PEACE SMILE. PEOPLE CAN CHANGE. “TONY YOU CUN’T..” LIAR, HEARTLESS, CRUEL. PEACE BE WITH YOU.

And on the reverse:  “TRICKY LYING TONY, YOU CVN’T SCREW EDUCATION HEALTH, JOBS & THE ENVIRONMENT. CHILDREN’S CHILDREN’S FUTURE. SMILE”

In summing up his judgement, Judge Scoting wrote: “At its highest, the prosecution case is that the use of the impugned word was used as derogatory description of the Prime Minister, and it is the use of the impugned word that is offensive. As a matter of law, the impugned word is not necessarily offensive, even when used in a public place…

“Politicians and their views are often subject to criticism in public. This is an essential and accepted part of any democracy. That criticism can often extend to personal denigration or perhaps even ridicule, but still maintain its essential character as political comment. There is no reason to conclude that the Prime Minister, as the leader of the Federal Government should be treated any differently to any other person who holds or seeks political office…

“The language used was clearly a play on words. If the appellant’s conduct was offensive.. in my view it was only marginally so.”

Exoneration

And so Lim was effectively exonerated and permitted to call then-Prime Minister Tony Abbot the C-word.

In the Downing Centre Local Court at the start of August, Mr Lim’s lawyer compared the double entendre to the UK-based fashion clothing brand French Connection, which in 1991 relaunched itself as French Connection UK, spelling its name FCUK.

The implied use of the taboo F-word courted international controversy, but was hugely successful in raising the profile of a brand that was until then in decline, and inspired many other organisations to adopt humorous word-plays utilising profane words.

Most recently, a company promoting unofficial tourism to the Northern Territory via T-shirts and merchandise has also courted controversy with significant results following their cheeky use of the C-word to substitute the words ‘see you’. On their website they state: “CU in the NT is the independent underground campaign to promote travel awareness to the unique Northern Territory as an ideal travel destination for the young or young at heart..”

The irony of Mr Lim’s conviction is that during his arrest the police officers who handcuffed him used language many deem offensive. In court, footage of Mr Lim’s arrest recorded on the body camera of one officer was replayed, in which a policeman is heard telling Lim he is ‘bullshitting’ in response to a complaint the handcuffs hurt his hand. When witnesses nearby complained that Mr Lim’s arrest was unacceptable, one officer is then heard to describe them as ‘f***ing pathetic.”

 

 

 

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