Canada’s Supreme Court recently sided with a woman who was arrested for refusing to hold an escalator handrail.
We discuss this unusual case below.
In 2009, Bela Kosoian was approached by transit police at a train station in Québec, Canada.
Ms Kosoian was riding the escalator. She was instructed to hold the handrail until the escalator’s end.
She refused, and refused to provide identification to the officer. She was subsequently arrested, and fined C$100 for failing to hold the handrail, and an additional $320 for obstructing the officer (approximately AUD$500).
The Escalator Sign
Why did she have to hold the handrail?
A sign near the escalator stated “caution” and “hold handrail“.
Legal Challenges in Lower Courts
Ms Kosoian fought the fines in court, and in 2012 was cleared of the two infractions.
She sued the Québec transit authority, the city, and the arresting officer for C$69,000. She alleged that her arrest had caused her “significant psychological stress and humiliation”.
Two lower courts rejected Ms Kosoian’s lawsuit. The second, the Québec Court of Appeal, indicated that she had been “the author of her own misfortune”.
The Canadian Supreme Court
Finally, the matter was appealed to the Supreme Court.
The court “unanimously disagreed” with the lower courts.
They found that Ms Kosoian was entitled to refuse to obey an unlawful order.
The ‘caution’ signage did not constitute a legal obligation.
Ms Kosoian was arrested for a “non-existent offence, namely disobeying the pictogram indicating that the handrail should be held”.
She was awarded C$20,000 damages.
In their judgment, the Supreme Court wrote:
In a free and democratic society, no one should accept – or expect to be subjected to – unjustified state intrusions. Interference with freedom of movement, just like invasion of privacy, must not be trivialised.
A C$420 fine (AUD$500), three courts, and ten years of litigation.
Why did Bela Kosoian refuse to obey the officer’s instruction?
What was her motivation to fight the case?
I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong. It was the principle of it.
If you need advice in relation to any criminal or litigation matter, Martin Bullock Lawyers can help.
Call Greg or Jacqueline on (02) 9687 9322.