On February 25, 2015, Bill S-221 became law after unanimous all-party support in the House of Commons. The bill is designed to allow judges to issue stronger sentences when transit operators are assaulted. The new law covers drivers of public and school buses, trains, subways, streetcars, taxis and ferries.
At least two thousand assaults against transit operators are reported every year, and many more are not reported according to unions representing transit workers.
The human cost of these assaults is extremely high as this video produced by Unifor 111 demonstrates. Local 111 represent over 3700 Metro Vancouver transit workers.
The problem of violence against transit operators is not new for workers dealing with the public, especially in public services where tensions can run high. For example, recent reports show that there is a shocking level of assaults against hospital workers.
But as workers and unions will tell you, these problems of violence are not helped and in many cases aggravated by short-staffing, cuts to services, and increases in user fees. Governments are quick to attack transit and other front line workers as lazy and overpaid when they exercise their right to strike. The media is happy to heap abuse on transit workers who might fall asleep on the job from fatigue or medical conditions.
This is why collaboration between public sector unions and service users is so crucial in not only reducing violence against workers, but improving services for all.
Here is Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union speaking in spring 2014 about the challenges confronting transit workers and their unions, and the need to bring together transit workers and transit users to fight for better public services. His audience and examples are American, but the realities are not that far off from Canada.