Woman Arrested For Not Holding Escalator Handrail Gets Her Day In Court
Rules? They're more what you'd call guidelines...
That was the municipal court's decision in the case of Bela Kosoian in 2012, when she was acquitted of two bogus infractions from 2009.
The original incident reads like something that could've happened in the USA, but it occurred in a subway station in a suburb of Montreal called Laval. Kosoian was minding her own business when a police officer ordered her to hold the handrail, as per instructions from a nearby pictogram. She didn't consider the sign's advice to be an obligation, and refused to hold the handrail.
Tensions mounted and when she refused to identify herself, the officer called for backup and took her "by force" with the help of another officer. Kosoian was detained for a half hour and received two tickets - $100 for disobeying a pictogram and $320 for obstructing the work of an officer.
When she was finally acquitted of the charges in 2012, she promptly filed a $45,000 lawsuit against the Montreal Transit Corp., the City of Laval, and officer Fabio Camacho. After the lawsuit was rejected in 2015 and 2017 by the Quebec Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal, she decided to take it to the supreme court.
Today's news? The supreme court has just decided to hear her case!
According to CTV Kosoian and her lawyer, Aymar Missakila, are breathing a sigh of relief. Missakila explained:
"A police officer who has a sincere but false belief that a law exists and decides to punish a party on the basis of this law could be exonerated of all responsibility... It goes squarely against important principles of law."
Justice Julie Dutil disagreed in the Court of Appeal decision, saying that the officer "had reasonable grounds to believe that an infraction had been committed," justifying his decision to arrest and fine Kosoian "because she had refused to identify herself." Dissenter Justice Mark Schrager had countered that the officer's "honest but false belief" that Kosoian had committed an infraction was not enough to clear him of responsibility. Justice Schrager added that the pictogram was "a warning" and anyone who saw it was under no "obligation to hold the handrail at risk of receiving a fine." His words couldn't sway the court in 2017, but there's still hope!
Police officers obviously play an important part in society and a lot of them deserve our respect and gratitude, but abuses of power can't be swept under the rug or dismissed. Hopefully the supreme court will dole out some sort of punishment, but at the very least this case will bring attention to the careful balance between civil disagreement and unlawful resistance and how officers can deescalate these situations. Know your rights and stand up for them!