By Jordan Omstead in Toronto
Violence against transit workers is unacceptable and needs to be addressed by multiple levels of government, the president of the union representing Toronto transit employees said Tuesday following two attacks on uniformed staff less than 48 hours apart.
Police are searching for up to 15 youth who allegedly attacked two uniformed Toronto Transit Commission employees on their way to work by bus Monday afternoon. That came after police said a TTC bus driver was shot with a BB gun while waiting to take over a bus on Saturday evening, with the suspects described as possibly teenagers.
“Transit workers should not feel at risk just simply coming to work and waiting for their vehicle, or riding to their vehicle, or simply just wearing a uniform in public,” ATU Local 113 president Marvin Alfred said in an interview Tuesday.
“These are not isolated incidents. There is a problem right now in transit. There is an issue regarding safety in transit and this needs to be addressed actively. The TTC, the province, the city itself needs to address these concerns.”
Toronto police said officers responded to the city’s east end Monday afternoon where a group of 10 to 15 youths, all male, allegedly assaulted two TTC employees.
Police described the employees’ injuries as minor, noting the initial report noted no obvious signs of injury. They said no arrests had been made as of Tuesday and no suspect descriptions have been released.
The TTC called the attack a “despicable” swarming and assault.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s shooting of a bus driver with a BB gun did not result in injuries, police said, with the suspects described as possibly male teenagers.
Alfred, the union president, said while there has been an increase in the number of violent acts targeting transit workers in recent months, he has no information to suggest more young people are involved.
“We just want it to stop, period. Regardless of who the assailants are, these acts of violence need to stop,” he said.
Youth and transit violence has captured public attention after a number of high-profile incidents.
Eight teen girls are facing second-degree murder charges after they allegedly swarmed and stabbed 59-year-old Ken Lee in mid-December in downtown Toronto.
That same month, a woman was stabbed to death and another was wounded in a random attack on a Toronto subway train. Last week, a person wearing a religious head covering was struck by a man in an alleged hate-motivated assault, police said.
Carlos Ortiz, a retired TTC bus driver, said assaults against transit operators have taken place for years.
The 55-year-old, who worked as a bus driver between 1988 and 2018, said he was physically assaulted at least three times throughout his career, including being slapped on the face at a transit station after telling a man he needed to pay his fare.
“The person just turns around and slaps me in the face and keeps walking,” he recalled.
Ortiz said that incident wasn’t reported to police.
“The person’s gone into the subway station … I’m not injured, so it’s not a priority call. So those are those are incidents that are never reported,” he said.
“That particular slap was witnessed by other employees, and they went, ‘Are you OK? Someone should do something about it.’ And I said what’s the point? The guy is already gone.”
Ortiz said he learned over his career that avoiding confrontation was the best way to stay safe while driving a transit bus.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has said acts of violence and disrespect against transit workers need to end.
He also said he was very concerned about what he called the “increasing number of criminal acts involving young people.”
“I strongly believe this is something all governments have to work together to urgently address with social and mental health experts,” he wrote in a statement Monday.
Anyone with information on Monday’s case is being asked to contact police.
– with files from Maan Alhmidi.
Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.