Random TTC attacks causing ‘irreparable harm,’ unions calling for harsher penalties

A disturbing rash of random TTC attacks is calling into question the safety of Toronto’s transit system. As Tina Yazdani reports, the union representing transit workers says the incidents are causing irreparable harm.

By Michael Ranger and John Marchesan

The president of a major Canadian transit union says the time for talk is over when it comes to tackling increasing transit violence that is threatening both riders, and workers.

The call for action comes after two TTC attacks this week that saw a woman stabbed on a downtown streetcar and a pair of transit workers assaulted on a Scarborough bus. The recent incidents follow a spate of violence on the transit system over the past several months.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada national president John Di Nino wants to convene a national task force as violent attacks on public transit reach what he calls “crisis levels.” He says all levels of government and transit agencies must consider whether de-escalation training, harsher penalties, increased mental health funding, better housing supports, and greater police presence could help prevent violence on transit.

“Far to often, we sit and listen to all of the kind words that come from CEOs and transit agencies and politicians saying ‘our hearts and best wishes go out to all of those victims, but it’s a one-off and our systems are safe,'” says Di Nino.

“What we’re seeing today is that our systems are not safe, and we need to ensure that the riding public has safe, reliable and affordable transit.”

Di Nino adds this is not just an issue in Toronto, but nationwide, saying upwards of 3,000 operator and transit worker assaults are being reported annually across the country. In Edmonton police have reported 35 violent occurrences on Edmonton Transit property as well as nine weapon-related reports since the beginning of 2023.

“Today as we’re seeing the increase in violence and becoming more and more problematic – the swarmings, the unprovoked stabbings, today’s incident of someone running around with a syringe. It’s only a matter of time before these injuries become catastrophic and start to take lives.”

The head of the ATU Local 113 in Toronto tells CityNews the disturbing rash of attacks are causing irreparable harm. The local union is also calling for more punishment for anyone who commits acts of violence on public transit.

“These acts of violence are unacceptable and they keep happening,” says union president Marvin Alfred. “I know the mayor and other people are calling them isolated incidents, that’s not true. These incidents are happening far too frequently.”

TTC stabbing

Police cars surround a TTC streetcar on Spadina Avenue on Jan. 24, 2023. Police say a person was stabbed multiple times on a Toronto streetcar. They say the victim was sent to hospital and a suspect was arrested at the scene. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

Two uniformed TTC employees were swarmed and injured aboard a bus in Scarborough on Monday. The two workers suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

A TTC bus driver was shot with a BB gun over the weekend while waiting to take over a bus on Saturday evening. The driver was hit in the head and abdomen but did not suffer any serious injuries, according to police.

In both incidents, the employees were not even on the job yet and were taking transit to work. It’s believed they were targeted due to their uniforms.

“Transit workers should not be incurring violence for just simply being on the job,” Alfred says. “That’s extremely disturbing.”

He says he is hearing from several union members who are expressing anger over the risk of suffering harm while at work. The union says some form of accountability is necessary to make members feel safe on the job again.

“You should not be able to abuse a transit worker and then be on the system the next day,” Alfred says.


TTC spokesperson Stuart Green acknowledged the recent violence is both upsetting and unprecedented.

“I’ve been at the TTC for just over six years, I don’t recall it being like this before,” he says. “When we see things like this happening it’s of great concern to us.”

He says the TTC staff who were attacked are taking as much time off as they need to recover. The TTC has also met with police, the mayor, and union members to address the violence.

The TTC says work is being done to identify the root cause of the attacks and there has been some consideration into putting more mental health supports into the transit system.

“We have additional resourcing for special constables, but for the first time we are budgeting for outreach workers,” says Green.

The union contends that additional funding is needed to make any necessary and impactful safety changes. Alfred specifically called on Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and TTC CEO Rick Leary, to prioritize “safety over savings.”

“It’s not just the physical harm that is happening right now, there is a psychological impact of those that directly feel these acts of violence,” Alfred says.

Di Nino says while they’re never going to totally eliminate these types of incidents, there is an opportunity to mitigate and minimize the risk, not just to transit workers, but to riders as well.

“They’re not just targeting bus drivers, they’re actually going after passengers,” he says. “Why it’s happening, I don’t know but one can only look at things like mental health. The economy has changed significantly, people are struggling …society itself since the pandemic has changed substantially.”

“At the moment, increased visibility and vigilance on our transit system from police officers, enforcement officers and being out on the front lines making sure that people see them there may deter some of those assailants and some of those swarmings. Those are things we can do right now.”

On Tuesday, Toronto police arrested and charged four 13-year-old boys with the assault of the two TTC workers aboard the Scarborough bus.

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.”

Earlier in the month, police said they were trying to locate and speak with people who were swarmed and assaulted by a group of girls at several subway stations on Dec. 17, 2022.

With files from CityNews reporter Tina Yazdani and The Canadian Press

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