City says it will take immediate steps to improve TTC safety in wake of violence

·5 min read
Police cars surround a TTC streetcar on Spadina Avenue in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023 after a stabbing incident.  (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Police cars surround a TTC streetcar on Spadina Avenue in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023 after a stabbing incident. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The city says it will take immediate steps this week to improve safety on the TTC after a string of assaults and stabbings left riders injured in recent weeks.

In a news release on Monday, the city says it will add more than 20 community safety ambassadors and more than 50 security guards to the transit system.

Community safety ambassadors will work with people experiencing homelessness and with Streets to Homes workers to provide outreach services. Security guards, meanwhile, have "daily experience dealing with underhoused people in crisis," the city said.

The guards also have training in mental health first aid, overdose prevention and non-violent crisis intervention.

With help from the city, the TTC will ensure its supervisors have de-escalation training to help them support station staff, the city added. The TTC said it has also increased employee presence in hotspots in the system and during peak times.

"The TTC must be safe for everyone," Mayor John Tory said in the release.

"At my urging, City officials have been working with the TTC to provide any required support to help keep our transit system safe," Tory added.

In the news release, the city said it will be "working closely with the TTC to support and assist vulnerable people on the transit system get connected to services. This may include finding shelter and permanent housing for people and providing mental health services."

Mark Bochsler/CBC
Mark Bochsler/CBC

Last week, Toronto police increased the "daily presence" of officers within the transit system, with upwards of 80 police officers in place throughout the transit system every day.

Police Chief Myron Demkiw told reporters that the presence of officers would enhance public safety and prevent "crimes of opportunity."

"Our officers will be on, in and around the transit system across the city throughout the day and late into the evening, each and every day," he said.

Demkiw said the officers who are patrolling the TTC are doing so on an overtime capacity, as to not compromise efforts to improve response times for police calls across the city.

For its part, the TTC said it would add more special constables, outreach workers, supervisors and uniform employees to the system, as well as adding to and improving security camera systems.

Experts, community workers and advocates have called the police on the TTC a "bandage solution" and warned more police could negatively affect Black, Indigenous and racialized TTC riders, as well as criminalize people experiencing homelessness and using transit for safety, shelter or warmth from the cold.

Tory has called for a national summit to tackle mental health issues. The summit would see mayors, ministers, premiers and the prime minister discuss how better to support people living with mental health and addictions challenges.

John Di Nino, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Canada, which represents 35,000 transit workers, has called for a national task force involving all levels of government to tackle violence against workers and riders on public transit systems across the country.

Michael Charles Cole/CBC
Michael Charles Cole/CBC

Recent violent incidents on the TTC include the following:

  • On Saturday, Jan. 28, a male was reportedly robbed at gunpoint by two other males at Yorkdale subway station. No one has been arrested.

  • Earlier on Jan. 28, a man reportedly assaulted three people on the Queen streetcar on Queen Street East at Victoria Street. No one has been arrested.

  • On Friday, Jan. 27, a man was allegedly assaulted and robbed by a group of young people at Pape subway station. Around the same time, a man was assaulted by a group of young people on a bus in the area of Pape and Cosburn avenues. The second man suffered minor injuries.

  • On Thursday, Jan. 26, a group of teens reportedly used a "replica firearm" to shoot at a passenger on a train at York University subway station. Three teen boys and one girl were arrested.

  • On Wednesday, Jan. 25, a person with a syringe chased two TTC employees near Yonge Street and Dundas Street. The person was arrested at the scene.

  • Also on Jan. 25, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed on a bus at Bloor Street West and Old Mill Trail. He suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Police have released security camera images of the suspect and a detailed description. A man is wanted for aggravated assault.

  • On Tuesday, Jan. 24, a woman, 23, was stabbed on the Spadina streetcar in the area of Sussex Avenue. Police said she suffered "life-altering" injuries. Another woman, 43, has been arrested and charged with attempted murder, among other charges.

  • On Monday, Jan. 23, a man allegedly robbed a woman of a purse at Broadview subway station and caused her to fall down the stairs. A man, 44, has been arrested and charged.

  • Also on Jan. 23, a group of young people allegedly assaulted two TTC employees on a bus in the area of Kennedy and Merrian roads. The bus driver was traumatized. Four boys, all 13, have been arrested and charged.

  • On Saturday, Jan. 21, people in a car used a BB gun to shoot at a TTC bus driver waiting at a bus shelter at Markham Road and Progress Avenue. The suspects fled.

Alexandra Stoeckle, 24, the TTC bus driver shot at by the BB gun in the chest, face and arms, said in a letter to Tory and TTC CEO Rick Leary: "Employees and passengers alike are unsafe when riding, driving and waiting for the TTC."

She added: "I ask a committee be made, available to the public to address this; I ask for actions."