Saunders aims to change ‘culture of safety’ with TTC security plan

The former police chief provided his own TTC safety plan as part of his platform in the race for Toronto mayor. Candidate Josh Matlow also announced a tenant support program. Mark McAllister with the latest from the campaign trail.

By Mark McAllister and John Marchesan

Safety on the TTC has been top of mind for several candidates currently running for Toronto mayor. On Wednesday, former police chief Mark Saunders released his plan and it takes a much harder stance than others when it comes to combating violence.

In January, Toronto police boosted patrols on the transit system in response to safety concerns following several high-profile attacks. Officials said officers made 314 arrests during their two months of added patrols while the TTC said safety incidents were down in February following the increased police presence. The TTC says it is also adding 50 contract security guards and 20 outreach workers to the system as an interim response.

Saunders says as mayor he plans to increase the number of Special Constables to at least 200, taking them “out from behind the desk and on patrol” so they will be more visible on subways and platforms. He would also transfer responsibility for the Special Constables program from under the TTC to the Toronto Police Service for what he calls “better coordination.” As well, all Special Constables would be equipped with body-worn cameras and have access to mental health training.

Saunders says he would also add new “assist buttons” on subways, buses and streetcars to help identify incidents and complement the existing emergency strips. He would also establish a minimum lighting standard at all streetcar and bus stops while over the long term, installing live high-quality camera feeds on all subways, buses and streetcar stops.

“My plan is different because it’s actionable right away. It has the ability to use existing resources. It has the ability to put Toronto Police Service in charge of security of TTC,” said Saunders.

“We are going to change the culture of safety on the TTC. We will have the latest technology and the best-trained special constables and enforce the rules that exist to protect people.”

Saunders says more details of his mental health plan that will complement his TTC safety plan will be released in the coming weeks.

Saunders has been criticized for not taking his share of responsibility for the increased violence on the TTC, and elsewhere when he was the police chief. Saunders says everyone bears responsibility.

“As I stated right from the start, the government is responsible for the basic responsibility of keeping communities safe – government. It is part of the whole, it is law enforcement. It is social entities.”

Among the other mayoral candidates who have released TTC safety plans, Brad Bradford is also in favour of adding more special constables and police officers along with subway platform barriers. Ana Bailao says more security cameras and cell service are key. Mitzie Hunter has suggested creating “community ambassadors” while Josh Matlow wants to establish a $115 million “Community Health and Safety Fund.”

‘Fraud squad’ to crack down on bad landlords

Meanwhile, Matlow released a plan on Wednesday which calls for cracking down on bad landlords through the use of a “fraud squad.”

“It will request police investigations of landlord fraud. Whether it be renovictions, key money, dishonest landlord use, excuses, simply to kick out a tenant and raise the rent,” he said.

Matlow’s plan would also see a team of investigators created to look into building permits as well as introducing colour-coded signs for buildings to ensure maintenance is kept up, similar to the city’s DineSafe program.

Matlow also wants to establish rent control for all buildings that receive city funding and would push the province to do the same.

“Given the fact that Premier Ford has scrapped rent control on all units being built in Ontario, there is no reason why the City of Toronto can’t ensure that there’s rent control on any building that we either subsidize or build ourselves.”

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