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Not ‘isolated incidents’: Recent Canadian transit attacks reflect larger issues, says union

By Olivia Bowden, Producer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — Representatives from the largest transit workers union in Canada say recent violent attacks are emblematic of larger issues at play.

“We’ve never been exposed to this kind of violence before. We can’t keep calling them isolated incidents, if they keep happening,” said Marvin Alfred, the president of the Local 113 branch of the Amalgamated Transit Union. The union represents more than 34,000 workers across the country.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) said in a news release Tuesday that violence on public transit across Canada is “on the rise” and there has been an “alarming increase of unprovoked attacks.”

The ATU’s statement comes after multiple attacks were reported on Toronto public transit, including on a streetcar and the subway. As well, reports of attacks on buses in Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg have the union concerned.

In the news release, the union stated that it has repeatedly called for both transit agencies and municipalities to implement “greater security measures.” Now, it is urging that a national task force be created, supported by all levels of government, to address violence on public transit.

John Di Nino, the president of the ATU, told CTV’s Your Morning Thursday that the union wants to sit down with all stakeholders and levels of government to discuss safety practices not only to protect their members, but the public.

“Our vision is that we would help spearhead this taskforce, and try to identify some of the root causes… We know that thousands of assaults go unreported, and we want to quantify what that looks like across the country,” he said.

The ATU would then work with transit agencies to discuss whether safety barriers should be implemented, or whether more funding is needed, said Di Nino.

In terms of the root causes, Di Nino said the impact of the pandemic on mental health, and the crunch of interest rates and skyrocketing cost of living have people feeling pressured, and struggling.

“Transit isn’t cheap anymore for the riders. We need to look at competitive and fair ticket prices for people to get on them. It’s just becoming so unaffordable to live in our cities, and people are frustrated,” he said.

When transit agencies increase fares, when transit services are cut, and when the economy takes a tumble, workers who are easily identifiable in uniform become targets, he said.

In the past few days, police said a woman was stabbed on a Toronto streetcar, two Toronto Transit Commission workers were assaulted heading to work, a TTC worker was shot with a BB gun and a person wearing a religious head covering was hit at a subway station in what police say was a hate-motivated assault.

On Tuesday, the press secretary for Toronto Mayor John Tory said he plans to meet with TTC, police and union leaders later this week to discuss safety.

In Edmonton, police have reported 35 violence incidents on transit property, including nine weapon-related reports since the start of 2023. WHY ARE THESE ATTACKS OCCURRING?

The December swarming death of a homeless man in Toronto, in which eight teenaged girls were charged, along with a recent swarming attack of a TTC bus driver, are indications of how social media could potentially help organize these kinds of attacks, said Tracy Vaillancourt, the Canada research chair in School-Based Mental Health and Violence Prevention.

“In a sense you feel anonymous and you feel invincible and you do things that you normally wouldn’t do in a smaller group…the larger the group gets, the more problematic the behaviour is,” she said in an interview with CTV National News.

Additionally, Kelly Sundberg, a criminologist and associate professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told CTV National News that transit systems are where unhoused people go for shelter, especially in the winter months—indicating a lack of social safety net for those in need.

It’s important that those people have a warm place and security can’t push them out, but transit also needs to be safe, he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also asked about the transit safety concerns on Tuesday. He said the federal government will continue to work with provinces to ensure public transportation is safe.

“If there is a role for the federal government to step up, we will no doubt step up,” he said at a news conference. “It’s something we are happy to partner with provinces and municipalities on.”

With files from CTV News Toronto and CTV National News.

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