Man faces barrage of hate after pointing out logical flaw in Calgary Transit system

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article includes language that many may consider offensive.

A Calgary man thinks Calgary Transit bus drivers should accept tickets issued in French by the public transit service, but when a news outlet ran his story, a barrage of hate, including slurs and death threats, ensued.

He hopes it can be an opportunity to improve discourse.

"All that I expect them to do is communicate to their employees that French tickets are valid," Rob Maciak told CBC News.

The classical musician and instructor at Mount Royal University and the Banff Centre is bilingual, and like a majority of English-speaking Canadian parents under 35, he thinks that's important.

For personal and professional reasons, he doesn't want to lose his ability to speak French, so when there are easy ways to exercise it — like selecting the French option on his Royal Bank card — it's a no-brainer.

Drivers thought ticket was forged

When he buys a Calgary Transit ticket from the vending machines at LRT stations, however, the machines force him to choose the French option to align with his bank card. The tickets are then printed in French.

"Several transit operators have failed to recognize it as a valid ticket," Maciak said.

"Four times over the last few months, they have refused me a ride due to their speculation that I forged the ticket."

Rob Maciak

He said a call to the complaints line went nowhere, so just a few days ago, he tweeted when it happened a fourth time.

"Please teach your staff what 'journée' means. I was just refused a ride and accused of forgery for the second time!!!" he wrote in a tweet.

That was as far as he wanted to go. He said he's not an activist.

Then a Calgary news outlet called him and published a story. And that's when the hate began.

Death threats, slurs

The response so far has been six abusive phone calls, too many Twitter reactions to list and 24 expletive-filled emails — including numerous gay slurs — with one message stating Maciak should leave town or have his head ripped off.

"This is just the kind of b&llshit that one should expect from a pinko hippie leftie entitled faggot artist like you.… You best hope I never see your pouting smug little victim face … if I do, then you will get a big lesson in humility comin," read another message.

"I will happily curb stomp you out of your misery if I every (sic) happen to come across your sorry sight," was yet another message.

And those weren't the worst of the messages, Maciak said. He didn't share them initially, but CBC News felt they provided necessary context.

Calgary Transit acknowledged the gap in process that led to this incident and said it's a work in progress.

"The customer did provide us some insight in terms of how we can improve," communications lead Stephen Tauro told CBC News in a Thursday interview.

"It's a great suggestion. He suggested we send out a notice to remind the operators our ticket vending machines do print in English and in French. We are going to be rolling that out next week for all operators as a reminder."

But letting drivers know that is not part of formal orientation.

"It is not particularly part of the training," Tauro said.

He said responding to customer feedback drives improvements for the transit authority.

"It will take us some time to go through the video and audio, but based on the findings, we will deal with it appropriately.

"If there are gaps, we need to address those. Anything that helps the customer experience, we are willing to put that forward."

Rob Maciak

A political analyst counts this overall incident and outcome as a win-win-win, but conditionally.

"It's a great example of the internet and traditional media working together to create the story, and Calgary Transit is moving quickly to address the question," said David Taras, a Mount Royal University professor of communication studies.

"The reaction of the public when this individual, in exercising rights as a Canadian and citizen, gets all kinds of hate, vitriol and poison — that's the part that disturbs me."

Meanwhile, Maciak said, it was not his intention to elevate this incident beyond the tweet, but the response has made him think.

Tourism costs?

What if a French-speaking tourist experienced this gap in communication?

"If they take transit to explore the city and there's an option to buy a French ticket, if they are booted off the bus, they aren't going to have a good impression of the city," said Maciak.

But perhaps more importantly, what does it say about our political culture when pointing out a legitimate process flaw attracts slurs and death threats?

"Typical of the current attention span," Maciak said.

"People are jumping to conclusions very quickly and failing to acknowledge there is more than meets the eye."