STM backs down after fining Montreal man for giving free hugs

For the past year, Tommy Boucher has been donning a green T-shirt with the words "Free Hugs" on it and embracing people at Metro stations around the city. But things changed last week.

City's public transit agency does not allow 'soliciting' without permission

Montrealer Tommy Boucher has been giving out free hugs for about a year, and says the $101 ticket marks the first time he has been fined. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Montreal's public transit agency has decided to withdraw a ticket issued to a man who was offering free hugs and give him a warning instead.

Tommy Boucher says he was initially fined for giving out free hugs at the Jean-Talon Metro station.

For the past year, Boucher has been donning a green T-shirt with the words "Free Hugs" written on it and embracing people at Metro stations around the city.

But last Tuesday, he says, he was approached by two public transit (STM) agents who told him what he was doing was illegal.

According to STM regulations, 'soliciting' services without permission is illegal.

"It's just giving hugs. So they found me guilty of what? Of spreading my arms? Of wearing the T-shirt? Of staying too long in the subway in the same place?" Boucher said.

He was handed a fine totalling $101.

The STM now says Boucher will receive a warning instead, reminding him that any soliciting of hugs should take place outside the turnstiles at stations.

Bad morning leads to hugging project

Boucher says sometimes a hug is exactly what a person needs to brighten their day. (Submitted by Tommy Boucher)
The free-hugs idea came to Boucher about a year ago. He was having a bad morning when he came across somebody who was giving free hugs at Berri-UQAM station.

"I took my free hug because I needed it. I found it so great and so easy, I wanted to share and give it back to people around me," he said. 

"I was surprisingly really comfortable with it. I just wear the T-shirt and spread my arms."

Boucher says he chooses to give hugs at Metro stations because there are always people around, and it's part of their daily routine to take transit.

"It's the best place where people may be in need of a hug."

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