Over a decade ago, Bela Kosoian was riding an escalator at the STM‘s Montmorency metro station when she was stopped by Laval police for not holding the handrail. The police repeatedly asked her to do so, as they said she was breaking the rules by not respecting a pictogram on the escalator that cautioned ‘Tenir la main courante’ (Hole the handrail). Kosoian refused and was then handcuffed, detained at the station and had her bag searched. After close to 30 minutes she was finally released – with a $100 ticket for ‘failing to hold the rail’ and another a $320 ticket for ‘failing to identify herself’. However, Kosoian was not going to let it end there. This ride was not over as far she was concerned and she went to court to fight the tickets.
Victory for woman who fought not holding escalator handrail $320 ticket
In 2012 she was in Montreal’s municipal court and was acquitted of the two infractions, but then decided to file a $45,000 lawsuit in Quebec Court against the City of Laval, STM and one of the police officers who had detained her, but in 2015 it was rejected. Still determined, she filed another lawsuit in 2017 with the Quebec Court of Appeal, but it was also rejected – with the ruling citing she was the ‘author of her own misfortune’. It would now have to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if she wanted to be vindicated. In November of 2018, the Court agreed to hear her case and on April 16th 2019, Kosoian found herself before the highest court in the country. Lawyers and judges were requested to determine if the pictogram was an order of a STM bylaw, or if it was showing that commuters should hold the handrail as a precautionary measure. After a two hour hearing, the debate became about the responsibility of the Laval police in applying a law that was not clear. Kosoian would now have to wait months for the Court’s decision. Her long ride continued, but this past Friday November 29th, it finally ended, with a ruling that made the long journey worth the trip. The verdict was in and the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled in her favour.
The judgement states in part, ‘A reasonable police officer in the same circumstances would not have considered failure to hold the handrail to be an offence… the STM committed a fault by teaching police officers that the pictogram in question imposed an obligation to hold the handrail, a fault that explains, at least in part, the officer’s conduct.’ The court also ruled that the City of Laval ‘must also be held liable for the officer’s fault’. It goes on to say that ‘she was entitled to refuse to obey an unlawful order, and she, therefore, committed no fault that would justify an apportionment of liability’. The onus has now been put on the STM to properly train their officers in which the judgement declared that police officers cannot simply argue they were carrying out an order they ‘knew or ought to have known’ was unlawful. Bela Kosoian was awarded $20,000 for damages, with the police officer and the STM each liable for half. Although she said to reporters that she was pleased with the judgement and felt it should have never gone all the way to the Supreme Court and taken so long, this decade long ride has pulled into the station.
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