TORONTO – People convicted of assaulting transit drivers may soon face longer sentences under a new amendment to Canada’s criminal code.
Bill S-221 sailed through both houses of Parliament in less than a year, passing unanimously in the House of Commons Monday. The law requires judges to consider assault on a transit driver an aggravating factor when passing sentence. It covers not only drivers of buses and streetcars, but also school buses and taxis.
The bill is unusual in that it was introduced by Senator Bob Runciman, a former Ontario Solicitor General, rather than the government. He said approximately 2,000 transit drivers are assaulted every year in Canada and he felt recent sentences were too light.
“If a transit operator is assaulted while the bus is moving it not only jeopardizes his or her safety but the broader public, the people who are driving cars on the other lane or pedestrians on the side walk,” Runciman said.
The head of the Amalgamated Transit Union local that represents TTC workers, Bob Kinnear, hailed the passage of the bill.
“I believe if the courts begin to hand out severe sentences, sentences that send a message that it’s not acceptable I do believe that there’ll be a reduction in the number of assaults,” he said.
Kinnear estimated there are about 200 physical assaults on TTC employees every year, with verbal abuse or even spitting an almost daily occurrence. He said many victims are left traumatized by the experience and unable to work for long periods.
TTC workers staged a half-day walkout in 2006, upset with what they felt was management’s slow progress towards improving security.
In the wake of the job action, the commission installed security cameras in 2007 and plexiglas barriers around the drivers in 2009. Kinnear said the measures have improved safety but assaults continue to happen, particularly after fare increases come into effect.
Bill S-221 could be proclaimed into law within weeks.