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Bill takes aim at assaults on transit operators


(Canadian OH&S News) — A bill proposing to amend Canada’s Criminal Code to take violence against bus drivers and taxi drivers into consideration has reached its third reading in the Senate, which officially reopened on Sept. 15.

Introduced on May 8 by Senator Bob Runciman, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators), or Bill S-221, would amend section 269 of the code to read that courts imposing sentences for assaults against transit operators must “consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim of the offence was… a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duty.” It applies to drivers of buses, paratransit vehicles, taxis, subways, streetcars and ferries.

“I am optimistic that it’s going to be dealt with in a timely way, and hopefully before the end of October,” said Senator Runciman, a former Ontario opposition leader, referring to the current reading. “That would be my hope.”

If S-221 passes this reading, the bill will move on to the House of Commons for approval or dismissal. Members of Parliament have introduced similar bills in the House in the past, but none of these bills passed into law.

Runciman, a Conservative, expressed confidence that Liberals and NDP members in the Senate and House would also approve the bill. “I think we have essentially all-party support. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.”

An incident in Ottawa last year spurred Runciman to take action regarding violence against transit operators. A man assaulted an OC Transpo bus driver who was on the job, then dragged him out onto the street and continued beating him. Although the driver could not return to work for months because of his injuries, the perpetrator escaped jail time and got away with a suspended sentence, despite having 17 previous assault convictions.

Runciman said that this kind of incident could pose a broader public safety hazard — one that “not only jeopardizes the driver,” he said, but also “endangers the other passengers on the bus and people in cars who are driving by the bus and pedestrians on sidewalks, if they lose control of the bus.”

The bill was originally going to cover bus drivers only, Runciman added. But after consulting with others, he realized that people would be more likely to support it if it covered all public transit operators.

Unifor, a merger of the former Canadian Auto Workers and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions, has been a staunch advocate for S-221. Representatives of the union endorsed the bill before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in Ottawa on June 18. One of those reps, taxi union president and Local 1688 member Amrik Singh Dhami, expressed his support for S-221 to the media in mid-September.

Runciman isn’t the only politician who has tried to improve Canadian transit workers’ safety this year. In June, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre announced new policies for the city’s taxi industry, revealing plans to install security cameras, GPS locators and black boxes in cabs (COHSN, July 14). These measures were in response to the murder of cab driver Ziad Bouzid last November.

“I think that’s helpful,” Runciman said about the Montreal changes. But he noted that these measures may not necessarily prevent violent crimes.

“I think I’d leave that to municipal jurisdiction,” he said in regards to security equipment in vehicles. “Whatever they can do to improve safety, I’d be supportive of. But at the same time, they’ve got to do things that are practical, in terms of cost.”

More than 2,000 assaults against bus drivers occur across Canada every year, according to Unifor.

The text of Bill S-221 is available online at http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6580275&File=4.