Winnipeg Transit riders struggled to see and breathe after they were blasted with pepper spray on a downtown bus Tuesday morning.
The attack happened around 8:30 a.m. on the No. 11 bus. Winnipeg police confirmed the incident occurred, but wouldn't comment beyond saying it is under investigation and no arrests have been made.
"It was typical morning going to work," said a 23-year-old office worker, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. She was one of the passengers when a man boarded the bus on Henderson Highway in Elmwood.
He stumbled while walking toward the back, before sitting quietly in the last row with other passengers, she said.
Near the corner of Logan Avenue and Martha Street, he got up to exit the bus.
"As he got to the back door, he pulled something out of his black hoodie — it scared me," the witness said. "I thought it was a weapon."
It was: the man unloaded a can of pepper spray on unsuspecting passengers at the back of the bus without uttering a word.
"It was so scary. It was totally unprovoked," said the woman who had been sitting in a sideways seat at the rear of the Transit vehicle. "All these people were just trying to get to work and he did this for no reason at all.
"I tried to use the collar of my jacket to protect my face... There were probably six or eight of us who really got hit. Everyone panicked. It was so hard to breathe. Everyone got off the bus."
She praised the Transit operator's response.
"She was a great bus driver... She reacted immediately. She called 911, the police and paramedics," the passenger said.
First responders treated the victims at the scene. "Pretty much everyone who was at the back needed saline solution. People were coughing. They needed water. It was burning our eyes."
She later gave the police a description of the assailant: a man in his 20s, wearing a hoodie and sweatpants with tattoos on his face ("Some kind of script written over his eyebrow").
"It is kind of scary," the woman said. "It makes me leery to take the bus. It was unsettling. It could happen to anyone, anytime."
Winnipeg Transit spokeswoman Alissa Clark declined to comment on the attack because there is "an ongoing police investigation."
The union representing Winnipeg Transit workers has called for tougher security measures on buses to better protect drivers and passengers.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary said he was trying to reach the shift supervisor for more information before commenting on the incident.
The witness said she isn't sure if anything could've stopped such an attack.
"If there had been some kind of patrol on the bus, I don't know if that would've prevented it — it happened so fast and it seemed so random."
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