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Private member's bills aim to protect bus drivers from assault

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OTTAWA — Two opposition MPs are pushing Parliament to take a harder stand against people who assault transit drivers.

The bills came one day before the City of Winnipeg will release a report looking at possible ways to stem assaults on bus drivers based on a study of experiences elsewhere.

Assault reports on Winnipeg Transit drivers

2000: 10
2001: 10
2002: 18
2003: 17
2004: 19
2005: 17
2006: 30
2007: 45
2008: 40
2009: 71 *first year threats and spitting were included
2010: 56
2011: 63
2012: 52

- City of Winnipeg

NDP MP John Rafferty and Liberal MP Ralph Goodale both introduced private member’s bills Wednesday that would make the fact a victim was operating a bus or subway or any other form of public transit when assaulted a factor for the judge to consider.

Rafferty’s bill amends the Criminal Code to give judges the ability to increase a charge from common assault to aggravated assault. Common assault is considered the lowest-level violent offence in the Criminal Code and brings a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. It could also bring a conditional sentence.

Aggravated assault has a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison and conditional sentences are not allowed.

"It gives judges more discretion," he said.

Goodale’s bill amends the Criminal Code to make the fact a victim was a transit operator an aggravating factor when a judge is considering sentencing, regardless of the original charge. He said that makes his bill more comprehensive because the charge could be anything from common assault all the way to sexual assault and murder.

Goodale said he thinks most MPs have been approached by transit unions and workers seeking help for the growing number of assaults, and hopes the government will back his bill and help move it up the agenda.

The union representing Winnipeg Transit workers has been pushing for changes to crack down on bus driver assaults.

Goodale says there are more than 2,000 transit operators assaulted each year, ranging from more minor incidents such as spitting or uttering threats to punching, stabbing and sexual assault. Winnipeg statistics show 63 assaults on Winnipeg Transit operators in 2011 and 52 in 2012. As many as 40 per cent of those assaults arise when a rider doesn’t pay the full fare.

Winnipeg city councillor Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said a report on transit safety options he asked for from Winnipeg police and the head of Winnipeg Transit will be made public Thursday.

He said amendments to the Criminal Code to increase penalties for assaulting a transit operator might help deter people from doing it.

Bus drivers are often assaulted because they’re easy targets and are often alone, Mayes said.

Mayes wouldn’t say what is in the report but said he’s pleased with it.

"It’s a good first step."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 7:26 PM CDT: fixes headline.

10:54 PM: corrects typo.

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