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Parliament of Canada approves bill
to stem violence against transit drivers

On average, at least two TTC employees are assaulted every day. In Canada, as many as 2,000 transit workers are assaulted each year. The assaults range from punching, slapping and spitting, to threatening physical harm or death.

Hopefully, the assaults will decrease, as a private-members bill to protect public transit operators passed third reading in the House of Commons yesterday with unanimous support.

Because the bill originated in the Senate, it has now passed all steps of the legislative process and will become law after receiving royal assent.

“That this bill has gone through both Houses of Parliament in only nine months shows the power of a good idea,” said Senator Bob Runciman who first introduced the bill. He noted that it received unanimous approval in both the Senate and the House of Commons.

The bill amends the Criminal Code to make it an “aggravating circumstance” that judges must consider if the victim of an assault is a public transit operator. It also defines “public transit operator” to include drivers of not just city buses and streetcars, but also school buses and taxi drivers.

Runciman introduced the bill after examining several cases of serious assaults resulting in light sentences.

“The assault of a public transit operator is a serious public safety problem,” Runciman said. “These people are piloting large vehicles filled with passengers down busy city streets. They are not in a position to defend themselves. It’s not just them at risk, but also passengers, other motorists and pedestrians.”

Runciman said he hopes the legislation sends a clear message that the current sentences for these types of assault — often no jail time at all for assaults that result in months of time off work due to injury — are not adequate.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), both of which have been pushing for such legislation for some time, welcomed the passage of the bill.

“This new law will improve the safety of transit operators, passengers and other road users. It will contribute to increasing consistency and predictability in sentencing across the country for similar types of assaults,” said Michael Roschlau, President and Chief Executive Officer of CUTA.

“ATU Canada is very excited about the passing of Bill S-221 today. As a result… there will soon be protection for transit operators and the general public under Canada’s Criminal Code and law enforcement will have the tools they need to dole out tougher sentences,” said Mike Mahar, Director, ATU Canada.

The union that represents more than 10,000 transit workers in Toronto and York Region also praised Parliament for its unanimous passage yesterday of Bill S-221.

“It took over a decade of effort by our union to get recognition of this problem and we are grateful it has finally happened,” said Bob Kinnear, President of ATU Local 113.

“There are hundreds of assaults every year against TTC workers alone and many more across Canada,” said Kinnear.

“Our members have been punched, slapped, kicked, strangled, stabbed and shot at, usually over a fare dispute. We have had cases where bus drivers have been dragged out of their seats and viciously beaten, just for doing their jobs. Several of our members have been hurt so badly that they cannot return to work and are forced to live the rest of their lives on inadequate workers’ compensation payments. If there’s such a thing as injustice, this is it.”

Vehicle operators in Toronto and across Canada are also frequently spat on, threatened and have coffee and other liquids thrown at them.

Kinnear said that while Local 113 welcomes the change to the Criminal Code, he does not understand why employees who do not operate vehicles, such as station collectors, are not covered.

“It is disappointing that some transit workers are excluded from this additional protection,” he said. “Collectors have been threatened with guns and even shot and wounded. It was a Collector, Jimmy Trajceski, who was stabbed to death while on the job at Victoria Park Station in 1995. This exclusion is disappointing and we hope Parliament will revisit this oversight.”

“We hope the message gets out to the courts and would-be assaulters. We put ourselves out there to perform a public service and we deserve to be better protected on the job,” said Kinnear.

Bill S-221 was introduced in the Senate in May 2014 and in the House in September. Local 113 says its first efforts to change the Criminal Code began in 2004.

The TTC’s court advocates work with Crown attorneys and the courts to secure the stiffest penalties possible for those convicted of assaulting or threatening TTC employees. They continue to seek ways to restrict those convicted of these crimes from using public transit in Toronto.

From the Transit Toronto archives, read:

  • “Court sends man to jail for assaulting TTC employee”, here.
  • “Court sentences man to 120 days in jail for incidents on TTC property”, here.
  • “Jail time for men who assaulted two TTC drivers”, here.
  • “Jail time for assaulting TTC worker”, here.
  • “45 days in jail for threatening TTC employees”, here.


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