COMMENTARY: An important victory for Bela Kosoian — and the rights of all Canadians

Bela Kosoian isn’t the first Canadian to suffer an injustice at the hands of the state, and almost certainly won’t be the last.

However, I suspect many Canadians who might have found themselves in her position would not have been so direct and outspoken in asserting, and subsequently fighting for, their rights.

For that, we owe Kosoian a collective debt of gratitude.

It was a welcome and resounding victory for Kosoian on Friday in the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on her case. However, that doesn’t undo the outrage that Kosoian’s original ordeal should evoke in us all.

The case stems from an incident that occurred at a subway station in the Montreal suburb of Laval in 2009. Kosoian was on the escalator and looking through her backpack, when police officer Fabio Camacho demanded she hold on to the handrail. Camacho had pointed to a black and yellow pictogram, and insisted that it represented a requirement.

Kosoian considered the sign a mere suggestion and did not comply with the officer’s order, citing her own concern about how unsanitary the handrail was likely to be. Nonetheless, Camacho decided that Kosoian had committed an offence and demanded she hand over her identification. Kosoian refused.

As a result, she was arrested, searched, and detained — and even handcuffed. After about 30 minutes she was released, but not before being issued two separate tickets.

The insanity of this whole situation should be immediately obvious to any right-minded observer.

The whole impetus was the fact that Kosoian was not holding the handrail, and therefore this was ostensibly for her own good — that somehow everything she was forced to endure was so authorities could protect her from herself.

It shouldn’t be a legal requirement to hold the handrail on an escalator, and as it turns out, it wasn’t in this situation. As the Supreme Court noted Friday, “a reasonable police officer in the same circumstances would not have considered failure to hold the handrail to be an offence.”

Clearly, the officer she encountered that day was not reasonable.

As much as this case should have been a slam dunk, strangely and outrageously, that didn’t prove to be the case. Kosoian was acquitted when she brought the matter before the Montreal Municipal Court, and she subsequently brought a lawsuit against the City of Laval, the Transportation Company of Montreal (STM), and Camacho himself.

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