Supreme Court awards $20K to woman fined for refusing to hold escalator handrail

Bela Kosoian was at the Montmorency Metro station in Laval, Que., in 2009 when a police officer told her to respect a pictogram saying, "Hold the handrail." She refused. Canada's top court has ruled it was "an unlawful order" and ordered compensation.

Court orders transit authority, police officer to each pay half of the cost

Bela Kosoian, right, reads the Supreme Court of Canada decision with Fo Niemi, executive director for the Center for Research Action on Race Relations. (Radio-Canada)

The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered that a woman who was arrested for refusing to hold an escalator handrail in a Metro station in Laval, Que., be awarded $20,000 in damages.

Bela Kosoian was at the Montmorency Metro station in 2009 when a police officer told her to respect a pictogram with the instruction "Hold the handrail."

The situation grew tense when she refused to comply and declined to identify herself when asked. 

She was arrested, detained for 30 minutes and finally let go with two tickets: one for $100 for disobeying a pictogram and a $320 fine for obstructing the work of an inspector.

She was acquitted of the two infractions in Montreal municipal court in 2012 and subsequently filed a $45,000 lawsuit against Montreal's transit authority, the City of Laval and one of the officers, Fabio Camacho.

Her suit was rejected by Quebec court in 2015 and by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2017, which said Kosoian was the "author of her own misfortune."

The Supreme Court has ordered $20,000 be paid to Kosoian in damages. The Société de transport de Montréal, which operates the Metro, and Camacho will each be liable for half the amount.

The judges wrote in their decision that Kosoian was "entitled to refuse to obey an unlawful order and therefore committed no fault" in the case.

"A well‑informed person whose rights are infringed must be able to respond — within reason — without being held civilly liable," the court concluded.

Kosoian was visibly emotional after the decision, saying it was a "very difficult" process but that she was happy the judges "recognized the rule of law."

"I knew that I didn't do anything wrong. It was the principle of it," she said. "I knew, I knew, I knew."

Kosoian said it was important to take this to the Supreme Court because the decision is not just for herself but for all Canadians.