Saturday, June 13, 2009

Look Ma . . . no hands

Bela Kosoian is a 38 year old multi-lingual immigrant from Russia. She’s currently working towards a BA in international relations at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Last month she was riding the down escalator at Laval's Montmorency metro station, north of Montreal, while rummaging through her purse.

A vigilant transit cop, observing her irresponsible and illegal behaviour, demanded she hold onto the railing of the rapidly moving carpet, er . . . stair, . . . whatever. A citizen jeopardizing her own safety in such wanton disregard of the law is simply unacceptable in the true north strong and free; at least to some people. And, it was, after all, the duty of the handrail police to ensure that the rules were enforced.

The rather diminutive mother of two paid no attention to the security guard’s admonition and continued to ignore the law, pointing out the obvious: “I don’t have three hands.” she told him.

So, the security guard took the only option available to protect society from this blatant breach of the law. He summoned a cop. And, the cop slapped the cuffs on the uncooperative Kosoian and took her to a detention area in the subway station where she was held for 20 minutes, presumably while the cop wrote out two tickets. Uh-huh.

The first ticket was a $100 ticket for not holding onto the handrail, and the second, a $320 fine for obstructing police work.

OK, so that’s one story. But, this story has been bandied about so much the truth may be lost forever. It’s been e-mailed, g-mailed, twitted and tweetered around the globe. But, regardless of the exact circumstances there is no dispute over the fact that she was handcuffed, detained and fined for the egregious (possibly criminal) action of failing to hold onto a handrail.

According to police, Ms. Kosoian became belligerent on being told by officers to hold onto the escalator handrail, refused to provide ID and created a scene, so she was handcuffed and escorted to a detention room. Fortunately, the SWAT team was not required and police did not have to resort to use of their tasers. And, they insist, officers were perfectly right in taking the actions they did and issuing the tickets. The law must be enforced. Without rules society will collapse.

So, according to police, the woman brought the full weight of the law down on herself by refusing to follow the instructions of police, or as a police spokesperson put it, “jumping in their faces right away.”

But, to the best of our knowledge, there is no law against not holding the handrail on an escalator. The actual citation was for "disobeying a directive or pictogram". An STM (Société De Transport de Montreal) bylaw states: "It is forbidden for all persons to disobey a directive or a pictogram posted by the Société."

suppose the STM has a scientific study somewhere showing that failing to hold the handrail is a serious health hazard which warrants a $100 fine for non-compliance. There usually is.

The only thing that really puzzles me, is where they found a vacant space to put those pictographs with all the "No Smoking" signs.

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