Woman fears for life during incident on Winnipeg bus


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Donna Guspodarchuk feared for her life as a man who appeared to be on drugs or mentally unwell threatened her this week aboard a Winnipeg Transit bus.

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Donna Guspodarchuk feared for her life as a man who appeared to be on drugs or mentally unwell threatened her this week aboard a Winnipeg Transit bus.

It was the first time she had taken transit in more than two years, and the incident left her shaken.

“I was vibrating and trembling, with tears streaming down my face, and nobody said a word,” the 48-year-old said Thursday, sobbing as she recounted the incident which has left her unable to sleep or work for days.

Guspodarchuk boarded the No. 18 bus on Graham Avenue just before 5 p.m. Tuesday. A man, who she said was foaming at the mouth and rambling incoherently, told her he could see “a snake” wrapped around her neck.

“This is going to f—king hurt,” he said multiple times, staring directly at her.

The man approached Guspodarchuk with his pants around his ankles. At one point, he made a motion as if he was reaching for a weapon. She burst into tears and the man began mocking her, she said.

She did not see him holding a weapon and he did not physically assault her, but she feared for her life, Guspodarchuk said.

A rider near the front of the bus called for the man to leave Guspodarchuk alone, and a woman consoled her after the incident, but nobody intervened, she said.

The man got off the bus shortly after, near Redwood Avenue and Main Street.

“I felt so alone. I thought I was going to be killed,” she said. “I want to speak up for public safety because nobody should have to go through what I went through.”

On Thursday, Guspodarchuk reported the incident to police.

Const. Jay Murray confirmed the Winnipeg Police Service had received the report and would be sending officers to take a statement. Police cannot yet comment on whether the incident is considered criminal, he said.

“We are concerned about public safety in any avenue,” Murray wrote in an email. “We do not recommend anyone intervening if it potentially puts them in danger. If the individual or passengers feel that the situation is unsafe, we encourage that police are contacted.”

Guspodarchuk said she understands why other passengers would not want to get involved, adding her voice to the demand for improved safety measures on Winnipeg Transit.

Alissa Clark, a communications manager with the City of Winnipeg, said Transit routinely co-operates with WPS investigations of incidents, including sharing video footage. Transit drivers receive specialized training on assault prevention, self-defence and de-escalation, and the city has introduced numerous safety measures in recent years.

Since 2017, the city has made a $9.6-million investment in Transit safety initiatives, which have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, Clark said.

In 2018, Transit hired nine new inspectors, equipping them with body armour and training to recognize and address citizens under the influence of methamphetamine. All Transit buses are equipped with safety shields and emergency signals.

The Transit advisory committee is also developing a long-term safety plan, but it is too early to discuss details or potential outcomes, Clark said.

Transit safety is a near-constant concern for riders and operators, said Chris Scott, who took over as president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 on Jan. 1.

Addressing concerns will require collaboration from all levels of government, he added.

“It’s not just boots on the ground — additional police or security… You also have to deal with the systemic issues that may contribute. There needs to be better investment in mental-health supports, drug-abuse treatments and housing,” he said. “We should be lifting people up. Empowering them.”

Union representatives have sent numerous letters to the offices of Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen asking them to discuss Transit improvements, Scott said. “To my knowledge, those requests have not been followed through on.”

NDP MLA and justice critic Nahanni Fontaine chastised the Tory government for its reluctance to meet with the union.

Guspodarchuk called Fontaine’s office to help her report the incident shortly after it happened.

Her staff receive similar calls concerning crime and safety multiple times a week, Fontaine said Thursday. “There are consequences when governments make cuts to save pennies, and we are now seeing those consequences.”

Winnipeg Transit is projecting a $17.2-million deficit.

Last month, the province announced a $34-million commitment (including federal contributions) to fund transit shortfalls in five Manitoba centres, including Winnipeg. It is unclear whether a portion of that money can be used to improve safety measures.

The province of Manitoba did not respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.


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