Man, woman arrested in separate transit driver, supervisor assaults
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Two Winnipeg Transit drivers and a supervisor may have been the latest victims of assault while doing their jobs, but there are signs the city is driving towards safety measures for workers and passengers.
One man has been charged with assault and uttering threats and a woman is facing a charge of assault with a weapon in the Thursday incidents.
However, the head of the union representing bus drivers is hopeful, after years of pushing for more safety measures, the city’s new mayor, some councillors and the province’s justice minister are making moves to put them in place.
“I’m really glad the police have got involved in these arrests — and not just these two, there have been others,” Romeo Ignacio, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said Friday.
“We will never stop these assaults if we don’t do something about it. I’m hoping this is the beginning of the city addressing these safety issues… If you feel safe riding transit, you feel safe about the city.”
The first incident began at about 2:45 p.m., when a passenger began yelling and screaming while on board a bus. Police said the driver stopped at Notre Dame Avenue and Sherwin Road and tried unsuccessfully to calm the man.
A supervisor called to the scene asked the man to exit the bus. As he was leaving, the man spit on the driver and tore the windshield wiper off the supervisor’s vehicle, police said.
The same man later jumped on a bus without paying at 5:45 p.m., and, after he began to act belligerently, the driver stopped at Vaughn Street and Portage Avenue and told him to leave, police said.
While exiting, the man spit at the driver.
Police arrested a suspect at a nearby bus shelter. He was taken by officers to hospital for a medical assessment, during which he allegedly threatened to kill one of the Transit employees involved.
A 52-year-old Winnipeg man has been charged with two counts of assault, uttering threats, and mischief under $5,000.
On Thursday at about 8:30 p.m, an impaired woman was taken into custody at Main Street and Pioneer Avenue after causing a disturbance on a bus, police said.
Officers reported the woman had been involved in an earlier disturbance at about 3:15 p.m. that led a bus driver to stop his route at the Garden City terminal and call a supervisor. Police said the suspect threw numerous things at the Transit employee, including unused syringes and a backpack, hitting the supervisor twice in the face before fleeing.
A 35-year-old woman faces charges of assault with a weapon.
Ignacio said one of the drivers was off work Friday.
“I don’t know when he is going to come back to work,” he said. “It’s not easy when you have been in that situation.
“I was assaulted eight years ago, and I said at the time: I don’t want to go back to drive. I don’t want to risk my life. It took me a year before I went back.”
Ignacio said, as of Friday, there have been 123 violent incidents against bus drivers reported this year — up from 92 in 2021, and 90 in 2020.
He said the union wants all buses the City of Winnipeg buys in the future to be equipped with wider safety shields for drivers.
Mayor Scott Gillingham said he understand the union’s concerns.
“We really need to have a transit system the public is confident in,” he said Friday. “We need to continue to make sure people know our transit system is safe and it needs to be a safe work place.”
Gillingham said he supports obtaining wider safety shields and recently spoke to Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen about allowing the city to be able to hire Transit crime prevention officers (something that would require the province to change legislation).
“There are too many incidents on the buses,” the mayor said. “That’s concerning, but the vast majority of Transit rides are without incident.”
Coun. Janice Lukes, public works committee chairwoman, said she hopes new safety improvements will be able to be put in place in the coming months.
“Ensuring safety for both drivers and passengers is a priority of mine,” Lukes said. “What currently is in place clearly isn’t providing the level of safety we all want. We need to, and will, make changes to improve safety.”
St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, who takes the bus to and from his ward to city hall, said he has seen the issues firsthand.
“What has happened recently is reprehensible. I wish this kind of thing didn’t happen in Winnipeg,” Allard said, adding he wants to see measures taken to address homelessness and drug addictions in order to reduce crime overall.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Friday, November 25, 2022 6:10 PM CST: Full write thru with extra info, quotes