Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, April 30, 2013 --- A Black senior citizen, who was charged last year by two Montreal Transit Authority (MTA) inspectors for riding a bus without paying her fare, has filed a civil rights complaint against the agency.

In June 2012, at around 11:00 pm, Ms. Yvonne Sam, a retired nurse and volunteer contributor to Community Contact , a local Black newspaper, took the MTA bus from the Casino to Jean Drapeau metro station to go home. She normally drives but decided to take public transit that evening to go to the Casino.

Other than the bus driver who was Black, she was the only Black person on the bus with a dozen other riders. When the bus let people off in front of the subway station, Ms. Sam was the last person to step out of the vehicle and was walking towards the station when she stopped by a young white male MTA inspector who asked for her proof of fare payment. No other riders were stopped.

She produced her Opus card, which she used to board the bus. The inspector scanned her card, and then accused her of not paying the bus fare. Although she told him that she had earlier filled her card and that there were 13 tickets on it, the inspector told her loudly that he would charge her with the offense of riding the bus without payment. When she told him to check with the bus driver, since in her mind, she would not be allowed on the bus had she not paid the fare, the inspector told her that “the driver is new and he does not know everything.” He added that it was not the driver’s job to ensure proper scanning of Opus cards.

Despite being told by another passenger who was on the bus with Ms. Sam that she was indeed scanned her Opus card and got on the bus without any problem, the inspector and another inspector, who arrived during the exchange, ended up charging her with the offense of riding without paying her fare, and gave her a $217 fine.

Unhappy with the way she was singled out and fined, Ms. Sam went the next day to the Lionel-Groulx metro station to check her Opus card, and was told that the chip on the card was slightly damaged, which could result in the inaccurate reading of the card, hence the inspector’s fine. She was given a replacement card and a courtesy ticket.

In April 2013, Ms. Sam went to the Municipal Court to defend herself against the charge. After explaining the facts to a MTA representative, before the hearing, she was told that she was free to go. The charge was withdrawn.

“Was it a strange coincidence that of all the passengers who got off the bus that night, I happened the only person stopped and checked, that I happened to be the only Black passenger, that the inspector dismissed the driver who happened to be Black as being new and knowing nothing, and that I was publicly treated like a criminal despite my age?”, asked Ms. Sam.

“It is clear that for some people, Black people know nothing, cheat and deserve to be charged with an offense, regardless of the reasons or circumstances. Is there an institutionalized mindset in the MTA that profiles and penalizes Black people?” she added. “I never thought that at my age, I had to live under the shadow of shame, stress and a penal record during an entire year.”

With CRARR’s help, Ms. Sam is claiming moral and punitive damages in the civil rights complaint as well as a review of the MTA practices of fare inspection and penalization of riders. She no longer uses public transit to go to the Casino as a result of this experience.