Violent attacks on public transit have reached “crisis levels,” the president of a major Canadian transit union said Wednesday, as he called for a national transit safety task force.
The task force must include transit agencies from across the country and representatives from all levels of government, said Amalgamated Transit Union Canada national president John Di Nino.
“These attacks, not only at the (Toronto Transit Commission) but right across the country, are really at a crisis level,” Di Nino said in an interview Wednesday.
“We’re seeing operator assaults, violence against transit workers, and now our riders at an alarming rate across this country.”
A task force should consider whether de-escalation training, harsher penalties, increased mental health funding, better housing supports and greater police presence could help prevent violence on transit, Di Nino said.
The call for a task force comes after a number of violent attacks targeting workers and riders on the Toronto Transit Commission.
In recent days, police have said a woman was stabbed on a streetcar, two uniformed TTC workers were assaulted on their way to work, a TTC driver was shot with a BB gun, and a person wearing a religious head covering was hit at a subway station in what police allege was a hate-motivated assault.
Last month, a woman was stabbed to death and another was injured in a random attack on a Toronto subway train.
Transit agencies need to be transparent about the extent of the safety issue, Di Nino said, calling for transparent reporting of violent incidents.
“We can ill afford to keep saying ‘our thoughts and prayers’ and ‘our best wishes go’ and ‘this is a one-off.’ That time has passed,” Di Nino said. “We need to have these discussions now.”
When asked about transit safety on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will continue to work with provinces and cities to ensure Canadians are safe.
“If there is a role for the federal government to step up, we will no doubt step up,” he said. “It’s something we are happy to partner with provinces and municipalities on.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory was set to meet with TTC, police and union leaders later this week to discuss transit safety, his press secretary said Tuesday.
“The mayor has been clear: We have to put an end to these acts of violence and disrespect against transit workers,” Taylor Deasley wrote in a statement when asked about recent calls for Tory to bring in transit safety changes.
In addition to the cases in Toronto, Di Nino also pointed to recent reports in Edmonton of bus drivers threatened at gunpoint.
In that city, police have reported 35 violent occurrences on Edmonton Transit property as well as nine weapon-related reports since the beginning of 2023.
The City of Edmonton initiated a downtown core and transit system safety plan in May in response to increased violence, homelessness and drug use in the area. It implemented new bylaws for passengers, temporary restrooms and more police presence. It also put $860,000 towards addressing homeless encampments.
Meanwhile, RCMP have said five youths were accused of sexually assaulting three others on a Halifax Transit bus in October.
– with files from Angela Amato.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.