(Canadian OH&S News)
Bus drivers from Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec joined Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale for a roundtable meeting about violence against public transit employees on Aug. 20 at Parliament Hill.
The event was part of a nationwide effort to support Goodale’s Bill C-533, a private member’s bill that proposes an amendment to the Criminal Code that takes a victim’s employment as a transit driver into account when sentencing an offender for assault. The Ottawa meeting featured OC Transpo bus drivers who told their own stories of passengers assaulting or threatening them during their work shifts.
“I’m holding these roundtables across the country to talk with bus drivers, union representatives and anyone else interested in the subject,” Goodale, who represents Saskatchewan’s Wascana riding (including part of Regina), said in late August.
“I’ve met with bus drivers and union representatives wherever I go across the country, trying to underline the importance of this particular issue, the volatile nature of a bus driver’s employment and the need for the Criminal Code to be clear and effective in dealing with offences against bus drivers.”
Also attending the roundtable was Michael Mahar, the director of the Amalgamated Transit Union’s Canadian Council (ATU Canada). “There was a lot of discussion,” Mahar said. “Mr. Goodale’s well aware of the types of assaults that are taking place, and the frequency, and the impact it’s having on the industry.”
Goodale proposed Bill C-533 after speaking earlier this year with two Saskatchewan bus drivers, who “made a very compelling case for why the law should be changed,” he explained. The drivers met with a few dozen other MPs, and Goodale added, “I’m told that they got a good, strong public reaction everywhere they went.”
As a private member’s bill, C-533 has slimmer chances of getting passed; it needs to be picked from a lottery even to reach the debate stage. But Goodale wrote an open letter to Justice Minister and Attorney General Peter MacKay on Aug. 21, a letter requesting MacKay’s support for the bill while stressing that the issue was not a partisan matter.
“Measures like this have been introduced by Conservatives, by Liberals, by New Democrats,” Goodale said. “It really goes right across all party lines. So I’m encouraging him to pick up this idea as a standalone measure and have the government introduce it. We could get agreement in the house to deal with this by unanimous consent in just a day or two.”
According to the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), 2,061 offences were committed against Canadian public transportation operators in 2011. These range from minor offenses, like spitting, to physical or sexual assault.
Mahar is aware of the statistics. “There were over 2,000 in 2010, and the numbers were up just a little bit in 2011,” he pointed out. “We’re waiting for 2012’s stats. We don’t anticipate any drop.”
ATU Canada, which has been pushing for change for years, fully supports Bill C-533. “We think it’s a good tool to have,” said Mahar. “Originally when we started lobbying, employers were reluctant to admit there was even a problem.” But now, he added, transit employers and politicians are listening.
“These assaults, some of them are extremely severe,” Mahar added. “They’re career-ending assaults, some of them for emotional reasons, some of them for physical reasons. Head injuries, loss of sight, emotional trauma and all of those things. There’s a heavy cost on the industry.”
James Babe, manager of OC Transpo’s transit safety and enforcement services branch, said that the transit authority initiated a 10-point safety plan in July to improve the security on Ottawa buses and commuter trains. “OC Transpo takes the safety and security of our passengers and staff very seriously,” he said. “We have zero tolerance for actions that compromise the safety and security of our passengers and our staff.
“OC Transpo looks forward to continuing working with all community partners on safety and security initiatives,” Babe added, “to ensure that passengers and staff can ride our system with confidence and a genuine sense of personal safety and security.”
Goodale said that his campaign had received support from such organizations as CUTA, ATU Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Auto Workers, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association. “So it has very strong, broad public support,” he said.
“It’s not something where there’s any partisan axe to grind. It’s just a good thing to do.”