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Violence on Toronto’s transit system reaches ‘crisis level’

Police chief says 80 officers will be immediately dispatched to subways and stations as attacks reach crisis point.

Platform view of Bloor-Yonge station in Toronto. Credit - wctaiwan, CC SA 4.0.
Platform view of Bloor-Yonge station in Toronto. Credit - wctaiwan, CC SA 4.0.

Police chief Myron Demkiw says 80 officers will be immediately dispatched to subways and stations as attacks reach a crisis point.

Additionally, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) management staff will be “highly visible” across the system and the deployment includes staff rotating through the subway network during peak service times, the transit agency announced late Friday, according to CBC Canada.

Management will also be conducting system cleanings and health and safety audits the TTC said in a statement. The move is the result of ongoing discussions between the agency, its union representatives, Toronto police, and mayor John Tory.

The Guardian is reporting that on Friday, police arrested one person following reports of teens shooting at a passenger with a BB gun, just one of the seven reported incidents of violence occurring in the last seven days.

This includes a woman who was stabbed multiple times by a stranger on one of Toronto’s iconic streetcars. The next day, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in the torso on a bus.

In another incident, according to The BBC, a bus operator was shot with a BB gun by two teenagers. Four days later, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) said two other employees were chased by a person with a syringe at a subway station.

“Every time I’m on the subway, I literally need to hide,” said one Toronto woman in a TikTok posted on Thursday. “It’s definitely scary, I’m concerned for my safety and (that of) others as well,” said another in an interview with local news outlet BlogTo.

The spate of violence on the transit system comes with the city still on edge after a group of teens girls allegedly stabbed a man to death in an apparently random “swarming” attack. Police suspect the group was also involved in a series of assaults at downtown subway stations before the killing.

Recent reports show that this issue is not unique to Toronto. A similar surge of violence on transport systems has been observed throughout 2022 in cities across North America, including New York City, Chicago, and Washington DC.

In December, The Toronto Star reported that violent incidents on the city’s transit system have gone up, even while ridership remains lower than pre-pandemic levels.

According to the Star, in 2021, there were 734 reported instances of violence against customers, including assault, sexual assault, robbery, and harassment – a 10 percent increase from 2019.

A 300B Bloor-Danforth bus at Pearson Airport. Credit – Toronto501, CC SA 4.0.

In the first half of 2022, the TTC reported 451 instances of violence, putting the year on track for a higher rate of violence than in 2021.

This same issue has been observed in other cities like Edmonton and Vancouver, prompting the national union of transit workers to call for a task force to tackle violence against its members.

The increase in violent attacks, in Canada and the United States have the experts baffled. They can’t say what is definitively behind this rise in violence, as each incident is unique. But the difficulties following the Covid-19 pandemic may play a role.

“Transit is a microcosm of the city, and we know that the pandemic shook something loose,” Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto, told the BBC.

Whatever the response may be, Mr. Siemiatycki said it is vital for cities to act on this issue. “Transit is the lifeblood of a big city,” he said, connecting people to their homes, jobs, and the broader community.

“Anything that puts transit at risk and causes riders to have second thoughts about using it, is really a risk to the systems themselves and the broader city as a whole.”

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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