Jennifer Richardson and her 15-year-old daughter were riding the LRT in Edmonton on Friday when they say a man got on board with a knife.
Richardson said as the train rolled through the tunnels, the man’s behaviour got more erratic.
“He was stabbing the chair with the knife and screaming and yelling,” she said.
As a lifelong transit rider in Edmonton, she said this was the scariest thing she has experienced.
“I started shaking,” Richardson said.
“My daughter moved way close to me and she was terrified. She was shaking. She had tears in her eyes and she looked at me and said, ‘Mommy I don’t want to ever take the train again.'”
At the University of Alberta station, Richardson said the other passengers moved quickly.
“Everybody got off of that train,” she said.
“Everyone was terrified because he was freaking out.”
Richardson and her daughter rushed to find a transit security guard.
“She went up to the window, looked at the gentleman, turned around and said, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do,’ and she walked away,” Richardson said.
“She did not call it in. She did nothing. And the train left with that gentleman.”
That was not what Richardson expected.
“I wanted her to stop the train and call somebody. Because that’s not safe for anyone riding the train the rest of the way.”
Richardson decided to report the incident.
In a statement, the Edmonton Transit Service director of operations Ryan Birch wrote that the transit service “would have expected the guard to be empathic and understanding — to ask for relevant details and then relay information to ETS so that we can address things appropriately and immediately.”
“We have completed a review of the incident, including (the) security guard’s response, and have concluded the response was not in line with standards that have been established,” the statement reads.
“The contractor has confirmed the guard has been removed from this post and will not be used in the City of Edmonton’s contract.”
Richardson also emailed her city councillor, Aaron Paquette.
“I was upset,” Paquette said.
“I was angry. No one should ever have to experience that. That people are experiencing that on our transit system is frankly unacceptable.”
Paquette said security guards are acting as observers for transit system, but they do not intervene.
“Is it that we need eyes on transit? Or do we need action on transit?” he asked.
Paquette suggested something should potentially be changed.
“In my mind, that money could potentially be better spent by hiring more peace officers, people who are actually authorized to ensure the safety — through their actions — of our riders.”
Richardson agreed. She wants something to change — now.
“The people are sitting there fighting, lighting fires, inside, downstairs — and security? It just doesn’t phase them anymore,” she said. “They don’t do anything.”
She wants to see councillors get an inside look at the system that they are trying to increase ridership on.
“I really, honestly think that each city councillor and ETS needs to take individual rides. Do it for a week and see how comfortable they feel taking ETS.”
ETS said a four-year contract with the Commissionaires to provide security guards for transit was signed less than a year ago, in April 2021.
When asked about Paquette’s idea of replacing security guards with peace officers, administration said it would discuss the proposal if a motion comes forward from council.
“Since the deployment of security guards in late 2018, they have intervened to prevent potentially tragic situations when individuals have shown distressed behaviour near the tracks at LRT stations,” the administration said.
“Additionally, security guards have also helped mitigate a wide variety of other challenging situations by quickly reporting incidents such as deliberately-set fires, helping vulnerable Edmontonians who are not adequately clothed for cold winter weather, administering critical first aid and life-saving naloxone, and even helping to safely reunite a missing child with their family.”
The City of Edmonton has also recently approved funding for more peace officers and Bent Arrow support worker teams to patrol the transit system.
“They said we should be seeing results within a matter of weeks,” Paquette said.
“So I will be watching. All of Edmonton will be watching.”