Winnipeg Transit drivers were told Thursday not to display messages on their buses in memory of a colleague murdered on the job exactly two years ago.
Transit officials issued a memo to drivers to not display “RIP #521” or similar messages on large electronic signs on the front of buses that can alternate between the route name and other notifications. The phrase is a reference to the badge number of Irvine Fraser, who was stabbed by a passenger on Feb. 14, 2017.
“It has upset all our membership very, very badly,” said Aleem Chaudhary, president of the bus drivers’ union local. “It took everybody by surprise this morning because … everybody was ready to be able to display the signs and to be able to mourn on this special day.”
Chaudhary said no explanation was given and pointed out the signs were allowed on the same day last year – the first anniversary of Fraser’s death.
Winnipeg Transit would only say the city already has a day set aside to commemorate municipal workers.
“As an organization, the City of Winnipeg marks the day of mourning on April 28, where we are able to acknowledge and remember every employee at the city who lost their life as a result of performing their work,” spokeswoman Alissa Clark wrote in an email.
“Our thoughts are with Mr. Fraser’s loved ones today. We are committed to supporting our employees and moving forward in a positive way.”
Mayor Brian Bowman also pointed to the official day of mourning and said his priority is increasing safety on buses.
“My primary focus is how can we build a safer transit system for our valued employees as well as for our valued riders.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a transit announcement earlier this week in Winnipeg, spoke about Fraser’s death and the need for transit improvements.
Fraser, 58, was stabbed multiple times during a fight with Brian Kyle Thomas, 22, who refused repeated demands to get off the bus at the end of a run to the University of Manitoba.
Security video showed Fraser grabbing Thomas by the neck of his sweater and bending him over backwards before shoving him off the bus. Thomas then appears to throw punches at Fraser. The Crown said Thomas spat on Fraser – the defence argued he spat out some gum – and Thomas began stabbing him.
Thomas was found guilty last month of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence with no parole eligibility for between 10 years and 25 years. His parole eligibility will be decided at a future court hearing.
The killing led to calls for increased protection for bus drivers. The city has approved measures including new safety shields for buses, pending a final budget vote.