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Canadian Council of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Supports Senators Bill to Toughen the Criminal Code for Assaults on On-Duty Transit Operators

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 04/25/14 -- Yesterday in Ottawa Senator Bob Runciman announced that he will soon introduce a bill in the Senate that would amend the Criminal Code to make it an aggravating circumstance that must be considered by the judge if the victim of an assault is a public transit operator, which includes not just city buses, but motor coach, ferries, school buses and taxi cabs.

Runciman is a former Solicitor General for the Province of Ontario and Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. He announced the initiative at a news conference at Ottawa City Hall, hosted by Councillor Diane Deans, Chair of the Ottawa Transit Commission, and attended by Robin West, ATU Acting National Director, and Suzanne Burgess, an OC Transpo driver who was assaulted last February, as well as Hanif Patni, President and CEO of Coventry Connections, the largest taxi operation in eastern Ontario.

In his comments Robin West said: "The ATU believes the most important piece missing in reducing these vicious assaults is a public deterrent. A recent decision by a Judge here in Ottawa is a perfect example of why this change is needed. In his decision in Her Majesty the Queen v. Patrick Guitard the Judge wrote and I quote: "I do not believe the law supports the notion that bus driver assaults per se attract higher sentences than other assaults." He goes on to write: "I will not, however, consider the assault to be aggravated simply because the victim was a bus driver."

This is an example of why I appreciate the opportunity to be standing here today with Senator Runciman as he states his intention to introduce this bill into the Senate."

The ATU is supported in its campaign to make this Criminal Code change by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, a large number of municipalities from across Canada, Police Associations, and numerous Members of Parliament and Senators from all Parties.

Mr. West observes that transit operators frequently work alone, and during all hours of the day and night. They work in a compartment with no escape route, and many times are in complete or near isolation. All of this leaves operators far more vulnerable than the average worker.

Despite years of increased efforts by the transit industry to reduce the number of assaults through training, real time support and the installation of cameras, the attacks continue to rise. The assaults range from being spat on, to being punched, to knife attacks and sexual assault. Many of these injuries are life-threatening and career-ending. All of them are degrading and criminal.

It is accepted by the industry that many of these crimes go unreported. As well the following statistics do not include the many high profile assaults that take place in the motor coach sector. Of the 2061 crime incidents reported in 2011 by those properties that participate in reporting through the Canadian Urban Transit Association, over 80% took place in the vehicle. Aside from the right to work in a safe environment, there is an additional concern for public safety when operators are being assaulted while operating a 20 ton vehicle intermingling with traffic and pedestrians.

"The assaults on our members cannot be tolerated," says West. "At a time when public transit needs to grow to support commerce across the country, many are leaving the industry because of these threats -and many are choosing not to enter it."

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