Toronto police to increase presence on TTC to deal with rash of violence

To address a rash of violent attacks on the TTC, police will be increasing their presence on the transit system. Tina Yazdani reports, the announcement drew criticism from advocates who say more police won't address root causes of violence.

By John Marchesan and Michael Talbot

Toronto police say they will increase their daily presence on the TTC starting immediately as a direct response to public safety concerns over violence and criminal acts on the transit system.

Police Chief Myron Demkiw said in addition to the already-increasing patrols they are doing, the new initiative will use off-duty police officers in an overtime capacity throughout the day and into the evening.

Demkiw said the plan “aims to have upwards of 80 officers in place throughout the system every day” and that these additional resources will not affect frontline officers, who will be available to respond to priority calls.

He added that the plan is “dynamic and may change day-to-day.”

He said riders who use the TTC will immediately notice an increased police presence at stations, on buses, streetcars, and subways.

At the same time, Demkiw stressed that “we live in a safe city.”

“A million people travel our city every day using (TTC) subways, streetcars, and buses, safely,” he noted.

“We also have to be responsible for the recent events we have seen and do everything we can to make sure people are safe and feel safe, as well.”

The announcement comes following an escalation of violence on public transit in Toronto, which has put riders on high alert and prompted calls from union leaders who are asking for officials to take action immediately.

A list of shocking incidents on the TTC in 2022 has been followed by a surge in violent attacks to begin the new year, with more than a half dozen attacks occurring in the last week alone.

TTC CEO Rick Leary said he doesn’t know exactly what’s behind the recent violence but the underlying issues are complex and will require a coordinated response.

Leary said commuters will see an increased presence of special constables on the system and that the agency is adding and improving the camera systems within all of the stations and vehicles.

“Everyone should feel safe and be safe while taking the TTC,” said Leary. “We know the TTC really is a microcosm of what’s happening across the city right now, and we recognize that there is a bigger society and systemic issue at play here and that these issues are complex and the solutions aren’t always easy.”

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Toronto Mayor John Tory said there are several measures in the 2023 budget to assist the TTC, including the hiring of 50 special constables and a significant increase in the number of housing outreach workers on the system.

Tory said while there has been criticism of the increased investments in transit and policing, he said it is not an “either-or debate” when it comes to investing in community safety.

“The bottom line for all of us is clear – the TTC must be safe for everyone.”

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of the transit users advocacy group TTCRiders, said the expansion of police presence on and around Toronto’s transit system is a “bandage solution” that won’t help in addressing the issue of violence in the city.

“Police don’t address the root causes of violence … Police cause harm to Black, Indigenous and racialized people,” she said. “Some people will feel less safe when police are around.”

She said some homeless people are taking shelter on the transit system because they have nowhere else to go, and that makes them vulnerable and victims of violence.

Pizey-Allen said she takes the TTC almost every day, and she and other riders have been feeling more nervous recently.

“It’s not acceptable that transit workers and transit users are experiencing violence,” she said. “But we are not confident the solutions we’ve heard today will increase safety. Instead, they will decrease safety for some people in our city.”

Groups representing transit users, workers and other experts are set to hold a town hall event next month to explore what they say are proactive solutions to “what a safe, dignified, and accessible public transit system means to you.”

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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