Canadian Woman Refuses To Hold The Escalator Rail, Gets Arrested And Fined, Takes It To Supreme Court

Bela Kosoian thinks this is about the most hair-splitting and minute 'crime' anyone has ever been tried for -- and she hopes Canada's Supreme Court agrees.

A woman holds an escalator rail.
tong patong / Shutterstock

Bela Kosoian thinks this is about the most hair-splitting and minute 'crime' anyone has ever been tried for -- and she hopes Canada's Supreme Court agrees.

A Canadian woman refused to hold the escalator rail while walking around the Montreal public transit system, setting off a series of events that concluded in her arrest — and a $420 fine — the Star is reporting. Defendant Bela Kosoian hopes to convince Canada’s Supreme Court that such a mundane and banal violation should never have been prosecuted at all, let alone to the tune of a hefty fine.

Way back in 2009, Kosoian was making her way through a portion of the Montreal public transit system, hoping to catch a train into the city from the suburb of Laval. Her troubles started when she approached an escalator.

If you’ve ever ridden an escalator at the shopping center, the airport, or on your city’s public transit system – you may have seen a sign, sometimes with a pictogram for those who may not read the native language, encouraging riders to hold the hand rail for safety. Kosoian decided, for whatever reason, not to hold the hand rail that day. And from there, things started to go wrong.

A Montreal transit police officer saw her flagrant disregard for her own safety, and ordered her to hold onto the rail. She told the officer that she didn’t regard the sign as Canadian law, interpreting it as a suggestion. The transit officer apparently didn’t see things that way, and, wanting to talk to her further on the matter, ordered her to identify herself. She refused.

a sign on an escalator telling users to hold the rail
  Philographer / Shutterstock

The officer called for backup, and by the time all was said and done, two police officers had placed her into custody. She was detained for about half an hour and then issued two fines: one for for CA$100 (about $76) for disobeying the sign, and another for CA$320 (or approximately $243) for “obstructing an officer.”

Rather than pay the fines, Kosoian fought them in court and, in 2012, both charges were dropped. However, she wasn’t going to let things stand there — she sued for CA$45,000 (equivalent to about $34,199) against the Montreal Transit Corporation, the City of Laval, and one of the officers — Fabio Camacho.

The case made its way through Canada’s lower courts, and this week the Supreme Court of Canada announced that they will hear it.

A subway train in the montreal transit system
  Elmer Cat / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The justices will have to decide on a couple of thorny legal issues. First, is the signage inside Montreal’s public transit system tantamount to Canadian law, something which must be obeyed? And secondly, if not, does a police officer’s command to obey a “law,” even if there is no law, make it a law?

Her attorney, Aymar Missakila, doesn’t see it that way.

“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.”

It remains unclear, as of this writing, when Kosoian’s case will be heard by the Court.