The Supreme Court of Canada is seen Friday April 25, 2014 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Woman wrongly detained in Montreal handrail dispute, Supreme Court rules

Court found Bela Kosoian was within her rights when she refused to obey an unlawful order

A police officer stepped over the line when he detained a Quebec woman for refusing to hold onto an escalator handrail, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday while also slamming Montreal’s transit authority.

In its unanimous ruling, the court found Bela Kosoian was within her rights when she refused to obey an unlawful order, and that a reasonable police officer would not have considered refusing to abide by a caution-notice pictogram on the escalator to be an offence.

The Societe de transport de Montreal “for its part, committed a fault by teaching police officers that the pictogram in question imposed an obligation to hold the handrail,” adds the ruling, written by Justice Suzanne Cote.

Kosoian is entitled to a total of $20,000 in damages from Const. Fabio Camacho, the City of Laval as Camacho’s employer, and the STM, the court ruled.

READ MORE: Lawsuit against RCMP officer for excessive force begins in Smithers

Kosoian was in a subway station in the Montreal suburb of Laval in 2009 when Camacho told her to respect the pictogram bearing the instruction, “Hold the handrail.”

She replied that she did not consider the image, which also featured the word “Careful,” to be an obligation, declined to hold the handrail and refused to identity herself.

Officers detained Kosoian for about 30 minutes before letting her go with two tickets: one for $100 for disobeying a pictogram and another for $320 for obstructing the work of an inspector.

She was acquitted of the infractions in Montreal municipal court in 2012 and subsequently filed a $45,000 lawsuit.

Her suit was rejected by Quebec court in 2015 and two years later by the Quebec Court of Appeal, which said Kosoian was the “author of her own misfortune.”

But the Supreme Court found Kosoian “was entitled to refuse to obey an unlawful order.”

The Canadian Press

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