Are bystanders culpable in Montreal subway death?

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Quebeckers are legally required to help another person in peril, but try telling that to the 40 or so people who ignored a man dying on a Montreal subway platform last month.

In January, a Montreal subway train struck 59-year-old Radil Hebrich, leaving him mortally wounded on the platform. Coroner Jacques Ramsay issued his dismayed report last week, which took aim at idle bystanders for their lack of action.

“At the end of the day, there are not many positive things to write about this rescue attempt,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “The indifference of the passengers says a lot about the apathy of the citizens.”

Hebrich was apparently very drunk when he stumbled across the yellow warning line at Langelier station on January 14 and was struck in the head by a train. Ramsay’s report says Henrich lay bleeding and unconscious for nearly 20 minutes while three trains and dozens of passengers passed by. 

Quebec’s civil code actually imposes a duty to help someone in peril as long as it doesn’t threaten your own safety or that of a third party.

That law is an unusual one. Most provinces and territories, except New Brunswick and Nunavut, have so-called “Good Samaritan” laws on the books that protect a rescuer from legal liability. They’re meant to encourage people to help by removing any worries about potentially causing greater harm to an accident victim.

Ramsay’s report sent shockwaves through Montreal and has made international headlines. Some attributed passenger reactions to the “Bystander Effect,” the sociological phenomenon wherein witnesses to a crime or accident don’t take action because they assume someone else must be. Perhaps the best-known example is the 1968 murder of New York City woman Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, who died after a 30-minute assault during which approximately 40 neighbours remained inactive while she called for help.

Since he can’t change human nature, Ramsay only made one recommendation in his report: that Montreal’s transit system review safety protocols.



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