Having spent her formative years in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Bela Kosoian knows what it’s like for government to encroach on personal liberties. The manner in which she says she was treated inside a Laval Metro station would make even the most hardened Stalinist blush.
Two weeks ago, the Université du Québec à Montreal international law student, a 38-year-old mother of two, was making her way down to the platform of the Montmorency station and heading to an evening class. She was riding down the escalator, rifling through her purse, looking for fare, when she was interrupted by a security officer. She was asked to hold the handrail but declined because her hands were full at the time. The situation quickly degenerated as the officer insisted she hold the rail.
Kosoian told The Métropolitain that she was then asked to show identification, and unaware she had broken any law, she refused and argued her point with the officer. She was then handcuffed, taken to a holding room inside the station and fined $420; $100 for disobeying STM safety regulations and $320 for obstruction.
It is believed to be the first time that any STM client has been fined for not holding on to a handrail on an escalator. Regulations state that anyone who does not follow safety guidelines illustrated with pictograms posted on the escalators is subject to a fine. Setting aside the merits of a banister-holding rule, Kosoian said the pictogram wasn’t even clear and she thought it applied only to women with children, since that is what is depicted.
“My dignity was destroyed. I can’t imagine that this would happen in this country,” said Kosoian. “People have to know that this is an abuse of power. Normally, police are there to protect citizens.”
The treatment she received from Laval police deeply upset her; she said an officer stepped on her foot and left abrasions on her arms. After being taken to the small holding room, she said she was not permitted to use her cell phone to reach her husband or a lawyer. Unable to get the full story from his wife who was late for class, Richard Church only spoke to her briefly and, hearing the panic in her voice, worried that she was in distress. He called Laval police that evening and could not get an answer on what had transpired at the Montmorency station just after 5 p.m.
“I was thinking, ‘what if she was kidnapped and it was a fake arrest,’” Church said. “I couldn’t get a police officer to tell me what happened. They told me nothing happened. Later that evening, my wife came home with two tickets.”
Well-versed in matters of law, Kosoian said she knows her rights were violated and is anxiously awaiting her day in court. A Laval police spokesperson said the tickets were justified because Kosoian did break a regulation and subsequently yelled at officers, refusing to show identification. Kosoian doesn’t deny being argumentative but said her motivation for not holding the rail had more to do with protecting her own health in an H1N1 era than taunting the long arm of the law.
The rail was “filthy and disgusting,” she said. “People have the right to protect themselves from sickness. What did I do wrong? I wanted to scream, but nobody was there.”