‘There is a crisis’: Peace officers on transit buses discussed between Winnipeg mayor, justice minister

Winnipeg’s mayor and the provincial government are talking about putting security officers on buses.

Mayor Scott Gillingham raised the idea with Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen, who said he’s open to the idea. It comes as the transit union says assaults on drivers and passengers are at a crisis level.

Dawn Baker relies on the bus to get around, but she doesn’t feel safe on board.

“A lot of times there’s people arguing and yelling,” Baker said.

She says it’s not just passengers who have to be careful – drivers are targets too.

“I’m worried about them all the time. Even with that shield you know they still get attacked,” she said.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 (ATU 1505) said assaults on bus drivers are up, reporting 90 assaults in 2020, and 92 assaults in 2021.

And as of early October 2022, the union said there have been 107 assaults.

“At this point, you have to call it what it is, there is a crisis,” said Romeo Ignacio, the president of the union.

Ignacio said in the last couple of years 150 drivers have quit, most of them due to safety issues. The union is calling on the mayor and council to improve safety. It says the city needs a transit security force.

“We do, although I would say it is out of desperation,” he said.

Gillingham said he’d like to see peace officers patrolling buses and says he’s already discussed the idea with Manitoba’s justice minister.

“That’s a group that could go a long way to making transit safer both on the buses and around the transit stops,” he said.

Over the weekend, Winnipeg police said a woman waiting at a stop on the BRT Line was sexually assaulted by a suspect with a knife.

“There are certain routes that are more problematic than others,” said Janice Lukes, the city’s public works chair. “I’d like to start off with routes that we’ve seen more incidents on.”

Goertzen said the province is open to this.

“We know that there’s a concern with safety,” he said.

The justice minister said the introduction of transit security officers could require legislative changes and training.

“We need to find out what exactly the mayor envisions for what this unit looks like, what powers he thinks they should have, and then we can come together and have broader discussions,” Goertzen said.

Both the minister and the mayor say who would fund what would also have to be ironed out.

For Baker, she says putting money into a bus security force would be money well spent.

“I live on EIA and I would be very willing to spend a little more to be safe on the bus,” she said.

A meeting is also being set up between Gillingham and Lukes, who chairs the committee which oversees transit, and the transit union to discuss safety initiatives.

Gillingham has talked about the potential for call buttons on buses as well as video cameras. The union has also called in the past for improvements to the safety shields that protect drivers. 

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