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Hold on tight - We're in for a bumpy ride [Métro Mont-Royal]

« La loi nous oblige à faire ce qui est dit et non ce qui est juste. »
Hugo Grotius

What’s going on with our police forces in Canada? From Vancouver, to Ottawa; from the underprivileged to the affluent; from our city parks to our city squares, it seems that some of our men and women in blue (or, up until recently, pyjamas and camo pants) are taking an austere interpretation of the expression « the strong arm of the law ».

At first, one may say : « Are these not just examples of a few rotten apples spoiling the pie? »

But this holiday weekend, another instance of officious policing was exposed, this time in Laval, Québec. The sleepy suburb to our north is no stranger to controversy involving their agents of the law, although now, it has been taken from the streets to the métro. I do not believe the STM had this in mind when they extended the orange line to Montmorency, for even they admit that they have never heard of someone being arrested for not holding the handrail on the escalator.

Yes, my compatriotes.

You read correctly.

If you have not already heard and expressed your outrage or support, Laval police handcuffed and fined Bela Kosoian, a 38-year-old law student and mother of two, $420 for not gripping the disease-factory also known as the handrail whilst riding the escalator. This being in the province where pedestrians take traffic signals as mere suggestions and gangs on certain two-wheeled vehicles hold turf wars in our streets.

Let us first deal with the legal aspects of this case. According to Règlement R-036 de la Société de Transport de Montréal, Section III, sous-section I, paragraphe 4e :

  • Dans ou sur un immeuble ou du matériel roulant, il est interdit à toute personne de désobéir à une directive ou un pictogramme, affiché par la Société.
  • In a building or moving vehicle, it is forbidden for all persons to disobey a directive or a pictogram posted by the Société.

I am Pictogram. You must obey.

Technically, it IS illegal not to hold the handrail. Those drawings of the father and son gleefully riding the escalator are not there just to look pretty.

Nonetheless, the fact that someone has ended up in handcuffs for non-compliance, raises a bigger question: How should police interact with the community they are mandated to both serve and protect? Clearly, these recent examples do not provide the answer.

Community policing

photo by Digital Kangaroo Photography

Maybe I am too traditional and old-fashioned, but was life not better when police officers were members of the community; much like a teacher, a coach, a doctor, or a clergyman? They would come to school, talk with the kids, and acquaint them with different topics on safety. They would participate in festivals and parades. They would be on horseback and pose for pictures with tourists. They would help little old ladies cross the street or get cats down from trees. They would command respect and yet they would still figure into part of the neighbourhood fabric. In essence, they would be community leaders; serving the citizens of their respective districts and protecting them from crime. This is what community policing is all about.

A lesson may be enviously learnt from Toronto. The Toronto Police Service has many programmes invovled in getting their members to increase collaboration with local communities. These include:

ProAction – Cops & Kids: establishing a positive relationship between cops and kids at risk
Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI)
: summer work experience for youth at risk in the police service
Community Consultative Volunteers, Community Mobilization Workshops, Various community volunteer programmes, Newcomer Outreach, …

and this is not including the police officers that are at the schools, at the charity events, and dancing up a storm at the Pride Parade. This level of community partnership provides numerous benefits:

  • Officers develop an intricate knowledge of the area in which they are working.
  • Members of the community feel comfortable in approaching said officers.
  • There is increased cooperation between the police and other community leaders.
  • Puts a « human face » on the police forece.
  • Shatters the us vs. them image between the police and community residents that is becoming much too prevalent in urban centres across Canada.

This is not to say that Montréal area police services are not trying. It does nevertheless appear that they are not actively attempting to create connections with the citizens of this region. These actions are required not only for the safety of our communities but also the safety of the men and women who risk their lives each and every day to keep us free from harm.

Ulitmately, I fear the day will soon be upon us where we will say Ms. Kosoian was lucky that the police officer who stopped her did not Taser her into submission.

Image credits:

MONTRÉAL – Émile Thomas
TORONTO – Digital Kangaroo Photography


  1. I had in one of my university course one about law related to technologies. One of the thing he said about STM Laws were that since you had pay a ticket for an entry into the metro, and had not been fully gived all the rules about this entry (contract), as in “loi de la protection du consommateur” you were not aware of them and can contest them. He said in the course it could be tried, not being fully sure it would work.

  2. I’m not convinced that community policing is the answer. I think the police are here to serve and protect us, not be our friends. I don’t think the reason my respect for them has fallen is because they are not present in my neighbourhood’s schools, community centres, etc. It has fallen because they kill people and make stupid arrests like the one describe above.

    Rather than spending money on school programs and dancing in the streets during parades,the police could be taught and trained to be better decision-makers. Rather than people laughing at them, people should have a healthy respect and confidence in them and I don’t think they can earn this by posing for pictures, they can earn this by showing us they know what they are doing, that they make wise decisions and that they don’t react to aggression out of fear or racism but sound, ethical values.

  3. I have no symapthy for this woman. She could have rifled through her bag at the bottom of the escalator. She disobeyed a direct order by the police and talked back. She got what she deserved.

  4. How can you expect the bœufs to be “members of the communities” they “serve and protect” when they live in bedroom communities far away from the city?

    In this case, they clearly acted like bullies when the girl talked-back to them. If a cop expects instant respect without giving anything in return, there is something seriously wrong with him. Nowhere in the law it is required to be absolutely nice to a bœuf (although the police union is trying hard to abridge free speech by having swearing at cops prohibited).
    Issuing the ticket when the girl made it clear she was not going to hold the handrail is clearly the retaliation cops offered when talked back to.
    And it is quite likely that the bœuf did not tell the girl why she was being arrested (as he is obligated to do*), prompting her to withold identification until she was properly notified of the reason why she was being ticketed in the first place, further triggering the arrest for obstruction.
    If there is one who did the obstruction, it is the bœuf himself; likely expecting to be instantly respected, he did not like having his “wisdom” questionned by a HC†.
    When questionned about this, a STM flunky seemed to be “relieved that this happenned in Laval”, as is “thanks, in Montréal, we don’t do those kind of things”. Oh right? How about that photographer who was fined $628 for sitting in a sculpture in Émilie Gamelin square after he photographed some cops roughing-up some bums there?
    But, again, this is the Laval police, the very same Laval police who botched-up a drug raid in Brossard (where it doesn’t have jurisdiction) after abusing a search warrant (“serving” it outside of the madated hours) obtained under false pretenses. It’s no wonder that shooter Parasiris was to be acquitted of killing the cop; the bœufs brought it all upon themselves, especially for not checking if the guy to be raided had a weapon license (oopsie. Now one bœuf is dead because of that. Think of the widow and the children!!!).
    No, clearly there is something wrong with the police. Maybe only the Laval police or maybe the police in general.
    Must be the police in general, because recently, the institut de police du Québec announced they will change their curricula, following complaints by police chiefs who are not satisfied by the new freshly-minted recruits because they tend to discuss orders instead of blindly following them.
    Oh! The humanity! (There is nothing new there. Back before World War I, US soldiers participated in exchanges with the german army. German officers were totally dumbfounded when they saw that the US officers actually EXPLAINED to their soldiers what they were about to do instead of just telling them!!!).
    The institut de police was setup so the police force would emerge from the neanderthal days of the 1970’s police (where they raided “faggot bars” with machine guns) and give the policepersons some kind of uniform training. One could suppose that over the years the quality of the police coming out of it was much better than the bœufs of yersterday. And perhaps that freshly minted constables question themselves when asked to do something bad by their superiors, and actually discuss such orders.
    Make no mistake, being police chief is all about control. Control of the bœufs under him, for sure, but also control of society at large.
    And that’s what’s wrong with the police, they expect to be in control whereas in a Democracy, it’s the people who are.
    * Section 10a of the canadian charter of rights.
    Hostie de civil, what many cops call those who are not blessed by policeness.

  5. Our problem is that our police keep doing stupid, brutal brain-dead things that most of us, put in their place would never contemplate.

    To solve this problem, we have to figure out the underlying causes. In my opinion, these are legion, but a few of them might be:

    • The Us vs. Them mentality that exists on both sides of the equation. Cops view the public as nothing more than potential criminals, we view the cops as nothing more than armed government tax men with a penchant for brutality, racism, and general assholery. This is an oversimplification, not every cop or member of the public is like this, but I think I’ve described more or less the roots of the division.

    • The system is unfairly weighted in the cops’ favour. It takes no effort for a cop to give a ticket, or detain someone without just cause but it’s the height of bullshit to contest a ticket or get a charge thrown out, even with evidence overwhelmingly in your favour. The public need effective advocates in the police force. Public/volunteer policing would be an excellent way to address this.

    • Cultural Sensitivity: Cops need to be intimately familiar with the place they are asked to serve. That means knowing the language and culture, it means knowing shopkeepers, it means knowing the names of local kids. It means, in short, that the cops need to be part of the community. It should mean that when a cop arrests someone, gives a ticket, asks someone to move along, they are not only thinking of their service record when considering what to do, but also their standing in the community. Cops need to be connected personally to the consequences of what they do.

    Which brings us to:

    • Lack of accountability: Cops get away with killing. They get away with racial profiling. They get away with all manner of bullshit, because again, the system is unfairly weighted. When it comes down to your word against a cop’s, 9 times out of 10 it won’t matter what other evidence there might be. The cop’s side is the official side and that’s the end of the story.

    • The laws governing our interaction with police are borderline retarded:
    If you didn’t do anything wrong, of course you’re going to resist arrest. This charge gets thrown around carelessly all the time. I think we should abolish it.
    We can’t photograph police? Excuse me? A lot of the time, citizen photos or video are all we have to prove police wrongdoing. Throw this one out too.

    • Civility: If a cop can’t be civil and polite while doing his job, he shouldn’t do the job. Let’s face it, cops are rude, and that’s one of the main reasons that many of us dislike them. Respect goes both ways, sure, but when you’re paid tax money to protect people, you have to expect bullshit and deal with it maturely. Cops do things to retaliate against people who gave them a hard time and that’s not okay. The law’s the law, and saying “fuck you pig” shouldn’t earn someone arrested additional legal trouble. It’s called freedom of speech, bitches.

    That’s all I got for now… take all this with a grain of salt, it’s just my opinion, but one thing is sure, our police force is sick and needs healing.

  6. That’s just ridiculous – even if she talked back to the policeman, she should have been given a warning at the most or explained the importance of the rails in terms of security… such a waste of time.

  7. Donc si je comprends bien, quelqu’un qui est seul avec 2 enfants ne peut pas prendre le métro car il n’a pas assez de mains???

  8. The problem is the recruiting. When was it the last time you heard that someone you know and respect decided to join the force? You don’t. So the people who get the job are the same losers and bullies who barely finished high school. And once enough of these individuals infiltrate the group their actions and bad behavior spreads like cancer. The department never takes any corrective measures and thus reinforces the negative behavior. If they did they wouldn’t have enough cops on the force so they let things slide.

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