KOSOIAN v. SOCIETE DE TRANSPORT DE MONTREAL, 2019 SCC 59

Damages/Compensation shall be granted in cases of unreasonable or unlawful arrests

The police officers arrested the plaintiff (Bela Kosoian) at a subway station in Montreal. She was accused of disobeying the pictogram that cautions the travellers to hold the handrail while using the escalator and subsequently hindering the police in performing their duties. The municipal court ordered her acquittal since there was nothing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that obeying the pictogram was obligatory.

Later, the plaintiff sued the police officers and STM for unlawful and unreasonable arrest arguing that the pictogram was a mere warning and there were no obligations to hold the handrail. Her action was dismissed by the trial court, but SCC found that indeed there was no obligation to follow pictogram since it was just a warning.

Consequently, the police officers were made liable for unlawful arrest. Their contention that STM taught them that following the pictogram is a legal obligation was held invalid alleging that no reasonable officers will believe that holding the handrail is a legal obligation.

The city of Montreal was also held liable by the principle of Vicarious Liability, pursuant to articles 1463 and 1464 C.C.Q since the act committed by the police officers were made in the performance of their duties and the relation between them is of principal and agent.

STM was also held liable for the fault of the police officers by reason that the police officer was the subway inspector and the relation between them creates a vicarious liability. When a police officer commits any error of law while enforcing the statue, bye-laws or regulation, the public authority is also held liable for those acts. Moreover, STM was directly held liable for training the police officers that there is a legal obligation to follow the pictogram pursuant to art. 1457 C.C.Q.

The plaintiff suffered moral damage and a minor bodily injury. The trial court didn’t grant her with any damages. The Quebec Court of Appeal too by majority refused to provide her any damages by following Mustapha v. Culligan according to which, the law of torts doesn’t compensate for minor injuries. However, SCC followed the dissenting opinion of the Court of Appeal and granted her $20,000 for moral injury.

The court commenting on the compensation/damages in cases of unreasonable or unlawful arrests observed that the unjustified intrusion of state shall not be accepted in an independent and democratic society. Restricting the right to movement and detention for unlawful reasons must not be accepted by society. In the case at hand, unlawful detention, handcuffing, search and seizure of the plaintiff caused significant psychological agony. Thus, compensation shall necessarily be made in such cases.