IN THE NEWS ~ MPP wants crackdown on transit violence

DATE: 2009.02.25
DUPLICATES: The London Free Press, The North Bay Nugget

MPP wants crackdown on transit violence

An Ontario Liberal backbencher is calling on the federal and provincial governments to pass stricter laws to prevent violence on public transit after a string of incidents involving Toronto's bus and subway system.

Mike Colle is proposing a bill that would impose a fine of up to $50,000 for anyone carrying a weapon onto a public transit vehicle.

He's also asking for a two-year sentence for anyone who commits an act of violence against a transit employee or passenger.

Colle said recent incidents such as Monday's shooting of a 17-year-old boy on a Toronto transit bus show the violence is spiralling out of control. Also this month, a man pushed two teens onto subway tracks at a station.

"We're sending a message to anyone that cares to listen that this is a serious, very, very unfortunate trend that is happening," Colle said.

"We hope that we can stop this trend by at least sending out this warning to people that there will be serious fines, there will be serious repercussions."

Current guidelines call for up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for anyone who assaults a transit officer in Toronto -but Colle said those penalties aren't stiff enough.

He wants the federal government to pass similar legislation through an amendment to the Criminal Code.

B. C. NDP MP Peter Julian has been trying to bring in similar measures nationwide. He wants the law to provide more protection for public transit workers by creating a separate first-degree murder offence, and increasing the punishment for aggravated assault when the victim is a transit worker. The Toronto Transit Commission union strongly supports the bill and said it will work to help Colle advance it.

"In recent years there have been several shootings of passengers on the TTC subway and buses, including an 11-year-old girl," said Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 113.

"It wasn't that long ago that an operator, one of our members, was shot in the face and lost his eye and his occupation." Kinnear also wants more police presence on the city's buses, streetcars and subways, and plastic shields for operators to deploy when needed.

Ontario NDP critic Peter Kormos said he is open to discussing the bill, but didn't think it would do much to stop the violence. "The sort of people who push teenagers onto subway tracks, who engage in gunfight in broad daylight on an occupied bus, have no interest whatsoever in the penal consequences of their behaviour," Kormos said.