OTTAWA — Transit union leaders from across Canada are again pushing the federal government to stiffen penalties for people convicted of assaulting bus drivers.
Thirty-one regional representatives from the Canadian Council of the Amalgamated Transit Union were to lobby politicians in Ottawa on Tuesday to resurrect a failed private member’s bill that would require judges to consider assaults on on-duty operators as an aggravating factor to be applied during sentencing.
Proposed Amendment :
Getting the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code back on the agenda is the priority for the director of the ATU’s Canadian Council, Mike Mahar, who took over the position in January. After meeting with about a dozen MPs in the past six weeks, he said Monday there is early support from some members of the Conservative majority government.
“It’s the biggest issue for us right now and has been for quite some time,” Mahar said. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in the severity of the assaults.”
He cited several specific attacks, including one in April on a Montreal transit driver who was severely beaten by three young men and hospitalized. Thanks to a surveillance video and tips from the public, three men have been arrested.
In Ottawa, police reported an assault in March in which a passenger sucker-punched an OC Transpo driver who reportedly questioned him about an expired transfer. Statistics from OC Transpo show 51 operators were assaulted in 2012. Fifty of those were Level 1 assaults with no or minor injuries. One report was a Level 2, a classification for those who suffer injuries. In 2011, three of 52 assaults were Level 2.
“These (assaults) happen daily (across Canada), and they’re only getting worse,” Mahar said.
Numbers collected by the Canadian Urban Transit Association and released by ATU this week shows 2,061 bus drivers from across the country reported being assaulted in 2011. The majority of those assaults included incidents in which people spit on the driver, which do not garner the public’s attention like the more vicious assaults.
A breakdown of CUTA data shows 47 per cent of the assaults did not cause bodily harm; six per cent of the attacks were with a weapon or causing bodily harm. Fewer than one per cent fell into the category of aggravated assault.
Mahar and his fellow union leaders were to spend Tuesday meeting with MPs, trying to find the support they need to resurrect the proposed bill that was introduced by Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber in 2011. The catalyst for that move was the well-documented assault on Edmonton transit driver Tom Bregg, who was beaten into a coma by a passenger in 2009.
The bill died when the last election was called and now the union leaders want to recapture the attention of their politicians. For Mahar, assaults on drivers will also continue to make bus driving an unattractive occupation.
“It’s going to be critical for the industry. As public transportation is growing, growing and growing in Canada, it becomes a staffing issue, it becomes a retention issue,” he said. If a bus driver is assaulted, “If they don’t come back, you’ve lost that experience and expertise. Then the general talk of the industry becomes, Do you want to get into that career?