Toronto mayoral candidates, labour leaders and Ontario’s Opposition NDP all urged various solutions Wednesday to a wave of violence on transit, including more operational funding, a task force, social supports, and physical barriers on platforms.
Amalgamated Transit Union Canada president John Di Nino said at a news conference with the NDP that his union is renewing its calls for a national task force led by the provinces, adding it should be a priority for the Ontario government.
“Front-line transit workers are getting assaulted with deadly weapons. Passengers are getting murdered on platforms and subway cars. And the provincial government just doesn’t give a damn,” said Di Nino.
The union initially called for a national transit safety task force in late January, and said it must include transit agencies from across Canada and representatives from all levels of government.
Di Nino said transit safety issues are “a national crisis” that is particularly impacting cities like Toronto and increased policing is not the only solution.
“The failure to deal with … critical social issues is forcing distressed, dangerous individuals into no-destination riders, and into a collision course with the riding public and with our members, the workers,” he said.
“It’s all contributing to a cycle of violence. … This is not an individual issue in most circumstances, but rather a failure of society and government.”
Bhutila Karpoche, the NDP’s critic for Toronto-area issues, said she is urging the province to invest immediately in public services to improve safety.
“I urge Premier (Doug) Ford to…make the immediate investments needed in housing and mental health services, to work with the city of Toronto and transit workers to ensure safety for everyone, and to restore confidence in our transit system,” said Karpoche.
The call comes in the wake of the death of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes, who was fatally stabbed in late March in an apparently unprovoked attack at a subway station in Toronto. A 22-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.
“This should be a wake-up call for the Ford Conservative government that urgent action is needed,” said Karpoche.
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the government has provided more than $1 billion to the Toronto Transit Commission over the past few years including, in the last year, almost $350 million to the TTC and over $180 million through gas tax funding.
“These are dollars that go directly to the TTC to spend in any way they need to, whether it is on operational issues or on safety issues,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Solicitor General’s office said the province’s investments for police services include $185 million in previous funding and $13.4 million in the budget introduced last month, to fight gunâ€ and gangâ€related crime.
“In addition, we have invested over $300 million combined in grants and transfer payments to municipal police, First Nations police, and OPP-policed municipalities and additional hundreds of millions of dollars in the Community Safety and Policing Grant and other funding supports,” said Hunter Kell.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in late March that the issue of increasing violence on public transit in the city needs to be addressed with mental health supports, more police and federal bail reform.
The issue of transit violence has also dominated Toronto’s mayoral byelection campaign so far, with candidates vowing to pursue safety measures and direct funds toward community health and safety.
Mitzie Hunter, who currently represents an east Toronto riding for the Liberals in the provincial legislature, said she would install sliding glass doors on platforms to both prevent people from being pushed onto the tracks and suicides, as well as pair social workers with transit officers and launch a community ambassadors’ program for subway platforms.
Hunter is also vowing more open communication with TTC staff and transit riders, as well as better data collection regarding those who use the transit system and crime statistics.
City councillor Brad Bradford has also promised sliding doors on subway platforms, and has said he’d boost security and safety patrols for the TTC and cell reception across the subway system if elected.
He is also promising to create a new agency that would hire 100 mental health and crisis outreach workers for people in need.
City councillor Josh Matlow said in a news conference Wednesday morning that he would create a $115-million community health and safety fund to address the root causes of violent crime.
This would include expanding mental health crisis teams on the TTC and across Toronto, more shelter beds, services for unhoused residents and eviction prevention, he said.