‘Crisis levels’: SkyTrain workers union wants help dealing with violence on system

Click to play video: 'Growing calls for more police resources to improve transit safety'
Growing calls for more police resources to improve transit safety
The chorus of calls pleading for more police resources on the public transit system keeps on growing. As Christa Dao reports, this weekend the union representing skytrain workers joined the mayor of surrey asking for those increased measures -- following three stabbings on surrey transit in just two weeks – Apr 16, 2023

The union that represents Metro Vancouver SkyTrain workers is calling on both municipal and provincial governments for help, amid a recent rash of violent incidents.

“As transit workers, we are deeply disturbed by the horrific events that have occurred in our Lower Mainland transit system recently, and our hearts go out to all the families and victims of the violence,” said Tony Rebelo, CUPE 7000’s president.

“The increase in violence on public transit is reaching crisis levels, and our members do not have the training and tools to deal with violent offenders.”

On Saturday, a man was sent to hospital after he was stabbed in the stomach area at Surrey Central’s SkyTrain Station. Last Sunday, a man was arrested in Burnaby after reportedly assaulting and attempting to slash people with a knife.

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There were also two stabbing incidents recently on Surrey transit buses, one of which led to the death of 17-year-old Ethan Bespflug.

“We continue to work with SkyTrain management on actions to protect our members and the travelling public, but we can’t do it alone,” Rebelo said.

“I am imploring local and provincial governments to create a plan to deter and mitigate these senseless acts of violence and keep our members and the public safe.”

On Sunday, Surrey’s Mayor Brenda Locke issued a statement regarding the recent string of transit violence.

She said the City of Surrey is working with the RCMP and Metro Vancouver Transit Police to find ways to mitigate the concerning violence.

“We are looking at a range of sustainable, long-term solutions to ensure everyone in transit is safe. This includes the high-visibility police patrols occurring now, however, that is only part of the solution,” Locke said.

“We need to look at all potential tools at our disposal, including better use of technology, safety education, and outreach, all forming part of a comprehensive approach.”

On Friday, the head of TransLink held a press conference saying he will not stand for the recent violence and vowed to take action with the police and government.

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CEO Kevin Quinn offered his condolences to the family Bespflug, the teen who was stabbed to death on a Surrey bus on Tuesday, and noted that his own two children take public transit every day.

“I’m angry. We’re really angry. We’re very frustrated,” he said. “The fact is that we will not stand for these types of incidents on our system. We will not allow criminals or those who want to commit crimes to come on to our system. This is our system.”

Metro Vancouver Transit Police have increased their presence on buses and SkyTrains and assigned officers normally tasked with other duties to patrol the routes as well.

Another 24 community safety police officers will be added to the patrol roster as well, Quinn said. They will be trained in how to de-escalate mental health incidents, he added.

“You have my assurance that we are doing everything we can, in coordinating with our local, our municipal, our provincial authorities to make our systems safe, and will continue to explore ways to make our systems safe,” Quinn said.

At the RapidBus announcement, B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the “sad and unacceptable” events of the past week are not a reflection of the transit system, but of the “unacceptable levels of violence in society.”

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“This is a bigger issue that governments like ours and governments across the country are trying to address through a variety of interventions around mental health, addictions, a more effective public safety system,” he said.

“We’re working with Ottawa right now on the sentencing gap that has allowed too many repeat offenders to be out, in some cases within hours of being charged with quite serious and significant crimes.”

Fleming said he is working with several unions representing public transit workers in B.C. and has made  a commitment to taking “additional steps.” He did not elaborate on what those steps are.

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