A man is facing numerous charges, including two counts of assault, after allegedly repeatedly coughing on an Edmonton bus driver and transit peace officers before disclosing he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“EPS has charged a 38-year-old Edmonton man under the Public Health Act for allegedly attempting to infect another individual with the COVID-19 virus,” police spokesperson Scott Pattison said Monday.
Southwest patrol members responded to a reported assault involving a passenger on an Edmonton Transit bus parked near Southgate mall at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Police were told that transit peace officers were trying to arrest a suspect who was involved in a physical altercation with another passenger on the bus.
“There was an altercation that ensued.”
The driver pulled over after seeing the fight break out, EPS said.
“At that point, it is alleged that the accused entered the bus driver’s enclosure and repeatedly coughed on the bus driver,” EPS said in a news release.
“Police were also told that the accused coughed on the transit peace officers during their arrest, before acknowledging he had tested positive for COVID-19.”
The president of the Edmonton chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union said as shocking as the incident is, they’re not surprised it happened.
“We’ve seen it coming,” Steve Bradshaw said Monday.
“We’ve had more and more aggressive behaviour from the vulnerable population riding around the system ever since we stopped collecting fares and front-door boarding. The situation on the bus has been getting worse.
“We were expecting something to happen.”
Bradshaw said the union has been supporting the driver.
“She’s very upset. She’s very worried for her own health,” he said. “Our hearts go out to her and our support is behind her and her family.”
Bradshaw said every bus on the road right now is equipped with an operator security shield, which provides some protection to drivers.
“It absolutely helps. It’s not a perfect solution but it does most certainly help. The operator is protected from direct physical contact inside the operator’s compartment, and the door is not openable from the outside,” he explained.
“Things could be thrown over or around the front of the shield… But for the most part, operators have some measure of protection.”
Bradshaw hopes more security for drivers can be in place soon. It’s challenging, he said, because a number of transit peace officers are off in isolation or for other reasons.
“Some other peace officers from other areas who are underutilized might be redeployed to work with our transit peace officers,” he explained.
“These are front-line workers, they’re essential workers. They have to be respected and they have to be protected.”
Bradshaw said he was very pleased to see charges were laid.
“It’s a crime and this person should be dealt with very strictly.”
Daniel Black, 38, has been charged with two counts of assault, assault of a peace officer, and contravening an order of the chief medical officer under the Public Health Act.
Black is scheduled to appear in court on June 16.
Investigators are still trying to determine if he really had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’re still trying to confirm that,” Pattison said. “But as a result of this individual’s claims, we now have a bus driver and two peace officers who are at home isolating and off the job. Thankfully, the police officers who responded were wearing PPE so they’re still on the job at this time.
“It’s an extremely irresponsible thing to do. Regardless, the intent of harm is there.”
Last week, police and peace officers across the province were given the go-ahead from the Alberta government to enforce public health orders in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This means people and businesses who do not adhere to the Public Health Act orders in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus could face hefty fines — anywhere from $1,000 to $500,000, depending on the circumstances.
“It’s the first time we’ve laid charges, as far as I know,” Pattison said Monday.
“We’re still trying to educate the public and looking for their co-operation in trying to cease the spread of this virus.”
Edmonton police stressed that people should stay home and adhere to pandemic protocols if they are showing symptoms and/or have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Citizens found in contravention of these orders can be charged.
“We’re going to hold people to account,” Pattison said. “It’s not a time for irresponsible behaviour such as this. Any such incidents will be dealt with charges under the Public Health Act. Our society and other cities around the world are facing extreme challenges at this time and there’s a lot of anxiety out there. And it’s certainly not the time for this sort of irresponsible behaviour.”
Public complaints about non-compliance with any of the chief medical officer of health’s orders should be made online; not to 911, which is for emergency situations only.
The city said it’s supporting the bus driver and two transit officers through the “unfortunate” and “challenging situation.”
All affected staff were removed from their duties immediately after the incident and told to call 811, report what happened and self-isolate until they connected with Alberta Health Services.
“They continue to be in self-isolation,” city spokesperson Alice Leung said. “We have reached out directly to offer support to our staff and, as you can imagine, this continues to be a challenging situation for them and their families. They will continue to follow the direction of AHS.”
The bus involved and the patrol car driven by the transit officers were put out of service immediately, and “thoroughly disinfected using our enhanced sanitization procedures.”