Assaults Against Public Transit Operators

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-221, a bill that comes to us from the Senate, and to follow up on the remarks from my colleague, the member of Parliament for Pickering—Scarborough East, who introduced the subject to the House.

This is a bill to create as an aggravating factor in sentencing, threats of harm or violence toward public transit workers who get assaulted or threatened in the course of their employment. This would bring in considerations for the court to consider when sentencing an offender who has assaulted or put into a situation of harm someone in the course of doing a job that is a public service.

This would apply to five specific Criminal Code offences and the sentencing that comes out of convictions under those charges. The first would be uttering threats under section 264.1 of the Criminal Code; assault, section 266; assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, section 267; aggravated assault, section 268; and unlawfully causing bodily harm, section 269.

The maximum penalties in sentencing for these violations of the code range from five to 14 years when proceeding by way of indictment. At the sentencing level, it is clear there is discretion for the court in that range and some of the considerations should be brought to the court’s attention when sentencing those offenders.

The aggravating factor would apply when the victim of one of the five Criminal Code offences I outlined was a public transit operator in the course of his or her duties, a duty that is a public service, from the B.C. ferries right through to buses in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is good public policy in that these are already Criminal Code provisions. These are harms our society agrees upon, and agrees that people should be responsible for their conduct and that there should be a penalty. The penalty should consider these aggravating factors in the fact that this is someone performing their duties.

We should remember that transit workers, whether they be TTC in my area, or Durham Region Transit, cab drivers, and others, often work late shifts. In some cases they are 24-hour shifts. Rick, from Clarington Taxi, picked me up at 4:45 this morning, a time when there is potential for harm.

In some areas of the country we have seen that harm inflicted. In fact, between 2005 and 2011, Winnipeg, a city I had the pleasure of living in while I was in the air force, saw a 300% increase in violence inflicted on their transit workers in that city in just those six years.

A cursory review of newspapers just in the last few years would show that this is a national problem. In 2013, there was a very high-profile closed circuit TV assault of a transit operator in Calgary, where the vicious assault could be seen. I think a paramedic was harmed in the same incident. Just this April, in Surrey, British Columbia, a driver was punched in the face when someone was trying to run off on a fare. In Toronto, there was a quite well-known incident at Yonge and Bloor where passengers had to come to the aid of the driver, who was being assaulted.

This is a real issue that has unfortunately been on the rise at a time when we are encouraging people to take public transit. We have to support the men and women who are providing this service to make sure they can do so in a way that is professional and that provides the public good that transit provides.

They know that we, as a government, are saying there should be a harsher sentence when there is violence perpetrated toward these people for no reason other than the fact that they are doing their job.

Senator Runciman, I think, rightly expressed the need for this when he said:

This is a bill that balances Parliament’s right to provide direction to the courts in defined circumstances with judicial discretion at sentencing.

As a lawyer, I think it is important for us to talk about these sentencing decisions in a professional way. Courts will arrive at a just decision in terms of innocence or guilt of a crime, and at the sentencing stage, when they are addressing punishment for that crime, they will consider a number of factors—some aggravating factors, some mitigating factors—in determining what type of punishment our society will give, through the court, to the person who commits a crime.

This should be very seriously considered when it is a crime that infringes upon the rights and the personal well-being of another Canadian, particularly someone who has been tasked with a public service role.

I would remind the members of this House that in the early debate, it is clear there is a lot of support for the bill coming to us from the Senate, and my colleague, the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, has outlined some very good cases to show why this bill is in the public good. I would also point members of this place to the Criminal Code, section 718, which outlines the purposes of sentencing. It is important, particularly for some of my friends on the other side, to remember some of the factors in this aspect.

Denunciation of unlawful conduct is a purpose and a principle of sentencing. The promotion of responsibility and acknowledging of harms to victims and their community is also a principle and a purpose of sentencing that the Criminal Code requires consideration of when someone judged to be guilty of an offence under the Criminal Code is sentenced.

One of the other purposes is rehabilitation of the offender. That should always be part of the mix, but in recent years there has been far too much consideration of just that and not enough consideration of the denunciation of conduct that goes against our community and against the public service aspects of the role of a transit worker.

This measure would apply broadly. Having lived and worked in Toronto, I have commuted by TTC and by the 501 streetcar, the famous longest-run single-run streetcar in the world, I believe, along Queen, when I lived in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. This measure would not apply just to your typical driver of a bus, subway, or car. It would also include, specifically, school bus operators.

Further, the bill is very smart in that it would apply to vehicles that are not just typical modes of transport. They would also include paratransit vehicles, licensed taxis, trams, and ferries. That is not an exhaustive list. It would incorporate a number of people who perform these duties.

It is a way that Parliament, in entering into that dialogue with our courts, can show that the public, through Canada’s Parliament—which includes the Senate, where the bill comes from, and the House of Commons—denounces this type of crime perpetrated against people we charge with something we consider a public good, public transit. It shows that we denounce that conduct and that we are also trying to deter such conduct. Deterrence is also part of sentencing, as I mentioned, and it is a consideration that should be present any time an offender is sentenced.

I am focusing on denunciation and deterrence as purposes of sentencing because the deterrence aspect can actually help to lead to less crime. It is not the only factor, but it is an important factor, and it is society’s way, and Canada’s way, to try to discourage and deter crime by imposing a stiffer penalty for such conduct.

What a great way to wrap up before the Thanksgiving break, hearing general all-party support for this important bill. It has been my pleasure to rise today in the House to speak on it, and to particularly thank the transit workers in Durham and the greater Toronto area for the work they do. This is a way we are trying to make sure they know their work is appreciated and they are kept safe.

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