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Nation Can 'Breathe Freely' After Ruling on Escalator Case

Canada's Supreme Court says cops overstepped in 2009 in detaining woman who wouldn't hold rail
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2019 8:30 AM CST
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Stock photo.   (Getty Images/omyim1637)

(Newser) – When Bela Kosoian rode the escalator in a Montreal-area subway station in 2009, she probably never expected to become embroiled in a legal battle that would last for a decade. Kosoian was arrested in the Quebec city of Laval then after police officer Fabio Camacho advised her to hold onto the escalator's handrail, as per a safety sign, and she said she didn't have to; she also refused to identify herself, per Global News. She was detained for a half-hour in cuffs, had her belongings searched, and was given two tickets totaling about $315 for not heeding the sign and obstructing Camacho's instructions. Three years later, Kosoian was acquitted in municipal court of all charges against her, and she filed a $34,000 suit. That suit was rejected by both a Quebec court and an appeals court—but on Friday, the Canadian Supreme Court sided with Kosoian.

"An unlawful arrest—even for a short time—cannot be considered one of the 'ordinary annoyances, anxieties, and fears that people living in society routinely ... accept,'" read the high court's ruling, written by Justice Suzanne Cote, which noted the safety sign reading "Hold the handrail" didn't legally mandate people to follow its instructions, and that Kosoian was within her rights not to ID herself. The court's unanimous decision noted that a "reasonable" officer wouldn't have allowed the situation to escalate to the point that it did. The court also awarded Kosoian $15,000 in damages from Camacho, the city of Laval, and the local transit agency. In an interview with the Toronto Star after the ruling, Kosoian said she "was screaming with happiness" after the ruling. "I was principled and I knew something was wrong," she says. "I'm happy that all Canadians now can breathe freely." (Read more Canada stories.)

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