Supreme Court rules in favour of Montreal woman fined for not holding escalator handrail
MONTREAL -- The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has ruled in favour of a woman who was fined for refusing to hold onto an escalator handrail 10 years ago.
Bela Kosoian was coming down an escalator in the Montmorency metro station in Laval, on Montreal's north shore, in 2009 when a police officer ordered her several times to respect a pictogram on the escalator that was written, in French, “Caution, hold the handrail.”
She argued with the officer, who detained her for 30 minutes and searched her bag. Kosoian was then released with a $100 ticket for failing to hold the rail and given a $320 ticket for failing to identify herself.
"A reasonable police officer in the same circumstances would not have considered failure to hold the handrail to be an offence," the SCC stated in its judgment.
"The police officer, therefore, committed a fault when he arrested K [Kosoian]. 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 SCC ruled that the city must also be held liable for the officer's fault.
"As for K [Kosoian], she was entitled to refuse to obey an unlawful order, and she, therefore, committed no fault that would justify an apportionment of liability," the judgment continued.
The court ruled that the "risk of abuse is undeniable" and therefore, there must "always be a legal basis for the actions taken by police officers; in the absence of such justification, their conduct is unlawful and cannot be tolerated."
The judgment insists that police officers cannot simply argue they were carrying out an order they "knew or ought to have known" was unlawful.
It puts some of the blame on the STM as it is up to the public transit authority to train the officers properly.
"[The STM] had to ensure that the training would be appropriate and that it would reflect the law," the SCC stated.
"If the police officer was at fault for believing that holding the handrail was an obligation, the STM was equally at fault for misinterpreting the bylaw and providing training accordingly."
Kosoian was acquitted in municipal court in 2012. She then filed a lawsuit against the City of Laval, police officer Fabio Camacho and the Société de transport de Montréal (STM). She lost twice in Quebec court. The SCC took up the case in 2018.
The SCC states Kosoian must be paid $20,000 in damages. The police officer and the STM are each liable for half the amount.
Kosoian on Friday told reporters she was pleased with the judgment, but thought it should never have gone to the Supreme Court, and taken so long to be resolved.
"Ten years. It's not easy, it's not easy. Ten years of my life to fight," she said. "It should have never gone to the Supreme Court but they were resisting. They were pushing and they were resisting and I thought 'no, it cannot be.'"
Neither the STM nor the City of Laval on Friday would comment on the decision.