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Calgary mayor urges immediate action to address transit violence

Click to play video: 'Brawl at CTrain station raises more concerns over transit safety'
Brawl at CTrain station raises more concerns over transit safety
WATCH: There are calls to address safety on Calgary’s transit system after a stabbing and brawl at a CTrain station. As Adam MacVicar reports, officials say transit safety isn’t just an issue in Calgary. – Mar 29, 2023

Mayor Jyoti Gondek is calling on city administration to take immediate action to tackle violence on Calgary’s public transit system, a day after a woman was critically stabbed at the Lions Park LRT station.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Gondek said the pandemic had a major impact on Calgary’s transit system as illegal activity on the system rose because of lower ridership numbers. She noted that increased ridership alone will not stem the violence.

“Whether it is workers returning to the office, students heading to school or seniors travelling to a medical appointment, all Calgarians deserve a safe and dependable transit service,” Gondek’s statement read.

“Transit is an essential service at the core of any major city and people should not have to think twice before using it.”

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Gondek’s statement comes after a woman was critically stabbed during a fight at Lions Park LRT station in northwest Calgary.

The Calgary Police Service said the altercation happened around 8 p.m. at the Lions Park LRT Station beside North Hill Shopping Centre near the Hounsfield Heights neighbourhood.

There was a fight involving five or six people on one of the platforms. Police said two people were stabbed and one of them, a woman, was taken to hospital in critical condition.

Click to play video: 'Trees removed around northwest Calgary train stations to discourage camping and drug use'
Trees removed around northwest Calgary train stations to discourage camping and drug use

Police later said two other people were also in hospital — one with a head wound and another with a stab wound.

Calgary resident Lana Coles frequently takes the CTrain at the Lions Park station as part of her commute to university. She told Global News that the station is less safe since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.

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“I think there are a lot of addictions issues in the city, especially after the shutdown of safe consumption sites downtown,” Coles said.

The Alberta government announced in 2021 that the supervised consumption site at Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre downtown will close and two new overdose prevention sites will open in Calgary to take its place. However, it is unknown when the current site will close and when the two new facilities will be opened.

Cecile Pelletier, another Calgary resident, said she has seen a lot of problems at the Lions Park station during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Quite often I see the police trying to pull people out of the shelter because they’re sleeping in there,” she said. “It’s just something you’ve got to live with (if you take transit).”

Crime at LRT stations has also increased across Calgary.

According to data from the CPS, the number of total crime occurrences in Q3 2022 went up by 45 per cent compared to the same period in 2021.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police say they’re seeing an increase in summer crimes'
Calgary police say they’re seeing an increase in summer crimes

Police said the northeast and south lines had the most criminal occurrences in the first nine months of last year. The top stations for total calls for police service in 2022 were City Hall, Marlborough, Chinook, Lions Park and Westbrook stations.

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“Police, transit and bylaw (officers) have focused efforts to address the crime and disorder issues associated to the LRT,” CPS said in their report.

“We continue to work with partner agencies to address homelessness, mental health and addiction issues.”

Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583, said drivers and operators are also affected by social disorder and crime on public transit.

He said he acknowledges the City of Calgary’s efforts to make transit safer for riders but they’re not accomplishing that.

“Unfortunately because of the decisions politicians have made and businesses have had to make, the only place that is open is public transit,” Mahar said.

“It’s easy access and you can run about freely.

“The criminal element flows out the other door (of a CTrain). When the peace officers clear out a station the criminal network flows back into the train … It’s not practical to ask for security at every station.”

Click to play video: 'More Albertans feel unsafe on transit compared to rest of country: IPSOS poll'
More Albertans feel unsafe on transit compared to rest of country: IPSOS poll

Mahar said the municipal, provincial and federal governments need to work together to address crime on the public transit network.

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He said he is calling on the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to penalize assault against transit operators, who are front-line workers.

He is also calling on the federal government to establish a national task force to address crime and social disorder on public transit systems across Canada.

The increase in crime has also affected the ability of Calgary Transit to hire and retain operators and staff, Mahar said.

“(Assaults) need to be a social deterrent,” he said. “They need to make (transit) attractive and a place where you can go to work, feel safe and go home just like everybody else.”

In a statement to Global News, Calgary Transit said it has been making “several safety improvements,” including hiring additional transit peace officers and adding security guards at several CTrain stations.

A Calgary Transit spokesperson also told Global News that transit ambassadors and the company’s community outreach program also assist with patrolling the system and connecting people with appropriate resources.

“All our riders deserve to feel safe on the transit system,” the spokesperson said.

“This proactive work not only assists the individual in the moment, but it also reduces the load on emergency services resources and increases public safety.”

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— with files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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