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The 10-Year Court Battle of a Woman Fined for Not Holding Escalator Handrail

When riding an escalator, it’s recommended that you keep a tight grip on the handrail, just to be safe. But what if you choose to disregard that advice? Well, one Canadian woman has been fighting a 10-year-long court battle for her right to ride escalators hands-free.

In 2009, Bela Kosoian was riding an escalator at a subway station in the city of Laval when a police officer told her to respect a pictogram on the escalator that said “Caution, hold the handrail”, in French. The Montreal-area woman refused to obey the officer’s command and instead started arguing with him. She ended up being detained and getting a $100 ticket for refusing to hold the rail and another $320 for failing to identify herself. She was also handcuffed and detained for 30 minutes.

Kosoian was acquitted of her “crimes” in municipal court in 2012, and then filed her own lawsuit against the city, arguing that she was not obligated to hold the escalator handrail or identify herself in front of the police officer. She has so far lost twice in Quebec courts, but refused to give up, and this Tuesday her unique case was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Photo: Marcus Bellamy/Unsplash

According to court documents, Bela Kosoian refused to hold the escalator handrail because she didn’t consider the “Caution” pictogram to be an obligation. Tensions between her and the overzealous police officer escalated after she refused to identify herself, and she ended up being “taken by force”, after another officer arrived as backup.

The judges in the previous two cases ruled that the officer had an “honest but false belief” that a law requiring escalator passengers to hold the handrail, but also that he “had reasonable grounds to believe that an infraction had been committed”, which justified his actions.

“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,” Kosoian’s lawyer, Aymar Missakila, said last year, after losing the trial at the Court of Appeal.

Things may turn out differently this time around though, as Supreme Court Justice Clement Gascon has already hinted that he disagrees with ticketing people for not holding escalator handrails.

“I suppose if we were to give tickets to people not holding the handrail, we’d be issuing hundreds per hour,” Gascon said at one point during the proceedings.

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