People convicted of assaulting public transit operators could face stiffer punishment as a result of recent amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada
Bill S-221—An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators)
received royal assent and became law on February 25, 2015. Judges are now required to consider, as an aggravating circumstance, the fact the victim of the offence was a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duty, when sentencing.
The new law covers drivers of public and school buses, trains, subways, trams, taxis and ferries.
Worker representatives and others concerned with the risk faced by public transit operators have been campaigning for these changes and other protective measures including training and public awareness.
“There are hundreds of assaults every year against Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers alone and many more across Canada,” said Bob Kinnear, president, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 that represents more than 10,000 transit workers in Toronto and York region.
“Our members have been punched, slapped, kicked, strangled, stabbed and shot at, usually over a fare dispute.” Kinnear said. “Several of our members have been hurt so badly that they cannot return to work and are forced to live the rest of their lives on inadequate workers’ compensation payments.”
Across Canada more than 2,000 public transit operators report being assaulted each year. According to UNIFOR, which also represents public transit operators, most incidents of violence, intimidation and harassment are never reported. Another troubling statistic shows taxi drivers to have the highest rate of work-related homicides (2011 statistics).
In a statement responding to the new law, UNIFOR said the adoption of this Bill is an important step towards protecting front-line transit operators. “Everybody should be safe at work,” said Jerry Dias, national president of UNIFOR. “Bus and taxi drivers provide a very valuable public service and they shouldn’t have to face violence in their workplace.”
UNIFOR went on to explain these changes will not eliminate workplace assaults though could offer a strong deterrent to would-be offenders. They also cited the importance of workplace violent incident prevention programs and further emphasized the role of workers in shaping workplace prevention policies.
Kinnear added that while his union welcomed the legislation, he was troubled it did not cover other transit employees. "Collectors have been threatened with guns and even shot and wounded. It was a Collector, Jimmy Trajceski, who was stabbed to death while on the job at Victoria Park Station in 1995. This exclusion is disappointing and we hope Parliament will revisit this oversight."
In terms of violence prevention here in Ontario, employers have significant legal obligations under the Occupational Health & Safety Act
. Chief among these obligations is the requirement to develop and implement workplace violence and harassment prevention policies and program(s). To this end the employer must also provide all workers with information and instruction on the content of the workplace policies and the hazard control measures and other procedures outlined in the programs designed to implement the policies.
The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) can help.
The WHSC offers a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention
training program designed to help prepare workplaces to better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying and to fully comply with the workplace prevention obligations required under the Act
. The WHSC also offers compliance checklists for both employers and workers and fact sheets on workplace violence, harassment and bullying.
Want to read Bill S-221?
Want to access additional workplace violence resources from the WHSC?
For additional information contact the WHSC and ask to speak with a training services representative.