The STM’s Fines Aren’t Just Annoying, They’re a Human Rights Violation

For over a decade, the primary focus of the Montreal Transit System (STM)’s security efforts has been to catch and fine fare dodgers. Yesterday, one of their main tactics was ruled to be a human rights violation.

You may have seen them. Groups of security guards trying their best to come across as a paramilitary unit standing in Metro stations.

They’re not doing that to stop harrassment of women passengers, assault or other real crimes that happen in the metro. Sure, they can do something if any of those situations occur, but the STM’s track record on those issues isn’t that great. Ask yourself: do you feel safer knowing that the person next to you on the Metro platform isn’t some violent creep or that they paid $3.25 to get to where they are standing?

The main reason the guards are there isn’t for passenger security. It isn’t even for the STM’s financial security. They’re not trying to catch fare jumpers in the act. They want to catch them when they leave the train and fine them for not having a proof of payment (some form of active buspass in an Opus card or a ticket).

This isn’t to prevent fare jumping, it’s to capitalize off of it. STM Security is no longer primarily a security force, they’ve become a revenue-generating collection agency. Is it any wonder these so-called security stops occur frequently in Metro stations that serve poorer neighbourhoods?

They board busses, too, checking everyone’s receipt (I guess we can call it that, they do). It’s supposed to be random, but I’ve experienced it twice on the same bus route, the 129 heading east from the Cote-St-Catherine area. I’ve never experienced it on the 24 just having passed through Westmount.

Recently, the STM implemented the “honour system” as a pilot project on the 121 route which travels along Côte-Vertu. All the bus doors open (these are long accordion buses) and you can get on without pinging your pass or ticket. While this is a good idea, how long do you think it will be before this honour system route becomes the main recipient of STM “Security” inspections (if it isn’t already)?

Violation of Human Rights

For me, and probably for many other transit users who did pay, proving your payment to “security” is annoying, especially if there is a risk of missing a connecting bus or metro because of the delay. It’s also a little bit intimidating. For those who did pay, but neglected to keep their ticket/receipt because they simply didn’t know the system, they could end up paying $100 or more.

For Municipal Court Judge Randall Richmond, it’s also a human rights violation as it doesn’t allow for the presumption of innocence. The judge ruled yesterday that the STM’s practice violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The STM’s lawyers had argued that this was similar to preventative arrests of drunk drivers, which is considered a justifiable violation of the Charter “in a free and democratic society”. Judge Richmond didn’t agree that drunk driving and fare jumping were equivalent offenses. Because they’re fucking not!

The STM is appealing the decision. Because, of course. This is the same organization that thinks skipping out on a three dollar fare or paying it but forgetting to keep that little piece of paper they give you is the same as risking the lives of people on the road. This is the same organization that thinks revenue generation is security.

A New Vision for the STM?

The STM has made some advances recently. I did enjoy my ride on the new Azur train and even experienced air conditioning on a bus. I understand that they need money to function, but their approach to getting that money is all wrong, in fact, their view of what they are is all wrong.

A public transit system is a public service. It can and should offer its riders nice things. It is not a for-profit business and should not be treated as such.

If public money is paying for the STM, the return on investment for us should not be in the form of more revenues going into public coffers. It should be in the form of better busses and metros, accessible to all, meeting the needs of the population, ideally free of charge for the rider, though that last part may take a while.

For the moment, I’d be happy with an approach to security that was focused on all passengers feeling and being safe, regardless of whether or not they paid. What we’ve got for now is only designed to make us feel on edge.

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