More shocking acts of violence on Toronto’s transit system have renewed calls at City Hall to address the issue, both from sitting politicians and several candidates in the upcoming mayoral by-election.
Saturday’s fatal stabbing of a teenager at Keele subway station is just the latest in a string of senseless violence throughout the city. The prevalence of unprovoked attacks on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) have led many to abandon the system, citing safety concerns.
The issue is coming at a crucial crossroads for the city as it tries to get people back on the transit system following years of pandemic-related ridership decline.
Intervention programs have been attempted, most recently with new mental health outreach workers deploying to the transit system thanks to new money approved in the city’s recent budget. But some remain skeptical of the city’s efforts, including Ward 13 Toronto Centre Coun. Chris Moise, who is also a member of the TTC board and thinks more needs to be done.
“I think we are at a boiling point,” he told Global News. “We have been for some time.”
Moise said all levels of government need to immediately come to the table to address the issue, or else the problems will increase.
“All hands need to come on deck, to address this very real issue. Because if we don’t address it now, we’ll see more of these types of thing happen,” he said. “And we’re starting to see more and more of it happening already.”
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Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher is calling for an emergency TTC board meeting, to draw all stakeholders together and demand immediate action.
“We put 80 police officer out, obviously that hasn’t stopped it,” said Fletcher. “We need people in the stations and on the TTC to deal with the problem that has developed during the pandemic. There’s no quick answer but we have to start today.”
Public safety always factors into Toronto elections and with the upcoming mayoral byelection on June 26, it’s quickly establishing itself as a defining theme of the early campaign with several candidates pointing to the transit safety as a key priority.
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, who is expected to resign her post at Queen’s Park to kick off her campaign, said on Monday the TTC should be prioritizing a safety blitz.
“We can certainly utilize the existing capacity within the TTC, we can do marketing, we could do messaging, we could let people know where to get responses,” said Hunter.
But Ward 12 Toronto–St. Pauls Coun. Josh Matlow, who has already announced his run, said there’s a more immediate need to focus on investing money to address root causes of violence to curb it before intervention is actually needed.
He said it’s easy to see too many people who are unwell throughout the city and only by getting them support will the TTC, schools, and neighbourhoods become safer.
“Whether it be on the streets of Toronto, I see them every day, or on the platforms of our subways who have the potential for violence, who we need to get to early to make sure they are well and our neighbourhoods and our TTC are safe,” said Matlow.
Former Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who was already running on a public safety-dominated ticket prior to Saturday’s attack, said the city needs to do better when it comes to directing the resources it has at the issue.
“We have to prioritize it; that’s where leadership comes in — prioritizing the things that are critical to keeping the city safe. A safe city is a vibrant city,” said Saunders.
When asked whether the city needs more funding assistance from the province to address social programs, Saunders said he would only know for sure after looking at the city’s books.
Former city councillor Ana Bailão, who is also in the race, said the Toronto police need to immediately reinstate officers on the TTC, following the decision to modify the presence of uniformed officers on the transit line. She’s also calling for the Ford government to step in with more assistance.
“We need to work with the province to see how we can get the 200 new officers funded in the 2023 City budget onto our street as soon as possible,” Bailão said in a statement, “and in the long-term we need to tackle root causes with community and mental health supports.”