An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to require a court to consider the fact that the victim of an assault is a public transit operator to be an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Oct. 29, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today at third reading, and to speak in support of Bill S-221, a bill that seeks to address, through explicit sentencing principles, the harm caused when public operators acting in the course of their duties are the target of violence.

At present, there is no specific offence or aggravating factor in the Criminal Code that uniquely targets acts of violence committed against public transit operators.

The proposed bill would amend the Criminal Code to create a new aggravating factor for the sentencing of offenders convicted of uttering threats, any of the three assault offences, and unlawfully causing bodily harm to transit operators.

I would first like to thank Senator Runciman and his staff for their hard work on this file, as well as all those in the transit community, such as the Canadian Urban Transit Association and the Amalgamated Transit Union, amongst others, who have spent countless hours educating both the public and government about the danger that violence against our transit operators presents, not only to themselves but to the general public. This is a very serious issue that must be addressed.

I would also like to extend my thanks to the other side of the aisle, to the members of the opposition parties who have done their part in making sure that Bill S-221 becomes law, and in particular to the member from Wascana. I know he has been working diligently on this matter for years. Hopefully today all of that hard work will finally be realized and result in meaningful and effective legislation.

I think I can say without any hesitation that everything we have heard in debates in both Houses during the recent months has absolutely confirmed our belief that Bill S-221 is both justified and necessary.

The proposed Bill S-221 would amend the Criminal Code to create a new aggravating factor for the sentencing of offenders convicted of uttering threats, any of the three assault offences, and unlawfully causing bodily harm to transit operators.

Transit operators play an absolutely critical role in the lives of our citizens and communities all over Canada. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our major cities, where public transit is relied upon to transport millions of passengers every day.

It would be no exaggeration to say that without the people who drive our buses, subways, trams, and taxis every day, our economy and our communities would be in peril. A 2010 report prepared by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, entitled "The Economic Impact of Transit Investment: A National Survey", offers the following key findings: transit reduces vehicle operating costs for Canadian households by approximately $5 billion annually, and it reduces vehicle accident costs by $2.4 billion annually.

While these statistics and figures are certainly fantastic, they come at a price, specifically to the well-being of our public transit operators. An analysis conducted by the Toronto Transit Commission showed that transit operators face daily violence. According to their analysis, during 2013, 39% of attacks were related to fare enforcement. Alarmingly, one in five attacks was recorded as being unprovoked, with no real rhyme or reason given. The motive was nothing more than pure malice, an attempt to harm the public transit operator just for the sake of it.

Unfortunately, these sorts of attacks run the risk of becoming more and more common, unless we as legislators take action to ensure these assaults are sanctioned adequately. The report is broken down as follows: expectorate, around 45%; physical—hands, feet—33%; foreign objects, 15%; liquid, 5%.

According to the Canadian Urban Transit Association, there were 2,061 reported assaults in 2011. That is over five reported instances of assault a day across this country. This is shameful.

Transit operators, due to the nature of their work and their inherent inability to defend themselves against aggressive acts while carrying out their duties, face a number of unusual and unpredictable threats in their workplace that most Canadians do not.

Transit workers are at a higher risk for violence than workers in many other occupations. Statistics Canada has reported that public transit operators are more than four and a half times more likely to be assaulted in the conduct of their duty than an average person is when walking down the street. While this in and of itself is a shocking statistic, there are other consequences that may not be immediately clear.

The most troubling of these is that a public transit operator is in charge of operating an incredibly large vehicle, which, more often than not, is in motion on crowded streets and highways. Any minute, a distraction may cause an immediate and very real danger, not only to the passengers charged in the operator's care, but to other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. This danger naturally increases when we have someone physically beating or spitting on the operator.

The issue of assaulting a public transit operator is not only being noticed here in Ottawa, but in other municipalities as well. A little over two weeks ago, Tom Hann, a councillor in St. John's, Newfoundland, had the following to say regarding tougher sentencing legislation:

[Public transit operators] should not have to put up with that kind of stuff, and I'm hoping legislation that will deal with stronger sentencing will make people think twice.

It pleases me to no end to see that Bill S-221has garnered support from municipalities as far away as St. John's.

On the other side of the nation, bus drivers in Vancouver have opted to begin a six-month, fleet-wide experiment with plexiglass barriers to protect themselves from would-be attackers. Last year, Hamilton saw a five-year high in assaults on their buses, which has prompted the transit director of the Hamilton Street Railway company to make a budget request for cameras to be installed in the fleet, and possibly even barriers. Grand River Transit of Kitchener and Waterloo has made a similar move.

It is a sad state of affairs when bus drivers feel so unsafe at work that they feel their only recourse is to attempt to remove and segregate themselves from the people they serve.

To echo Councillor Hann's sentiments, we need to make sure that these thugs think twice before assaulting a public transit operator, and we need to make bus drivers feel safe in their place of work. We need to ensure that the transit system operates effectively, that people feel safe when they use the transit system, and that those operating our public transit feel assured that if they are victimized on the job through acts of violence, the criminal justice system will effectively respond to such violence.

Attacks on transit operators can leave lasting physical and mental scars. With more than 300,000 members, Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector. At a 2014 gathering at Unifor's Canadian Council, transit drivers shared personal stories of assault, harassment, and degradation that left lasting trauma, and, in certain cases, permanent disability. Transit drivers should not have to go to work fearing that they will be hit, sexually assaulted, threatened with death, punched, kicked, spat on, or have a weapon pulled on them.

While much of the focus thus far has been on bus drivers, we must not forget another vulnerable and often forgotten group of individuals: taxi drivers. From 1997 to 2011, the homicide rate for taxi drivers was 3.2 per population of 100,000. This is nearly three times the murder rate among the general population. In that 15-year period, 23 tax drivers were murdered in cold blood.

We do not have statistics available to us on assaults, but one does not have to jump to conclusions to suggest that they would be as horrifically high as their counterparts in public transit.

Support for this bill extends far and wide. Transit unions, transit police, bus and tax drivers, the Ottawa Transit Commission, the Toronto Transit Commission, and many others have spoken in strong support of this bill. We now have the opportunity with Bill S-221 to work together and unanimously pass into law meaningful changes that would appropriately address the violence committed against transit operators.

I strongly support this bill, and I hope that the sentiment is echoed on all sides of the House. Let us finally put an end to this wrong and pass Bill S-221 today.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in support of Bill S-221. In fact, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party had a similar private member's bill. Our caucus, and I am sure all members, recognizes the valuable role of transit drivers in all regions of our country.

I had the good fortune, through John Callahan of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Winnipeg, to have a tour of the facility and the opportunity to participate in a bus ride-along, which I would highly recommend to members. One can learn a lot when riding on a bus and talking to some of the drivers. One gets a better sense of some of the things they have to go through day in and day out. When that door opens, transit drivers do not know what is coming in.

There is a need for this legislation. The number of verbal and physical assaults is very high. I think the public would be quite surprised by how many occurrences there are every year.

My question is fairly specific. Would the member not agree that as parliamentarians we can also work with municipalities to see how we can make the working environment of our transit drivers better, such as by potentially having patrols on buses and so forth?

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of this long overdue legislation.

I would like to start off by praising our public transportation workers across the country. Every day, thousands of women and men across this country basically ensure the safety and security of our loved ones in getting to work, to school, or to a wide variety of places. Their job is to ensure that our loved ones make it to work, school, shopping, and any other circumstance as safely as possible. Tragically, we are seeing that increasingly, their safety and security is in jeopardy because of an epidemic of attacks, and there is no other way to put it, against public transit operators and public transportation workers.

Today we are seeing across the country thousands of transit workers who are making sure, even in adverse weather conditions, that our loved ones get to work or school safely. Yet today, an average day in Canada, four, five, or six of those transit operators and public transportation workers may be assaulted in the line of duty. As they are doing their work of ensuring the safety and security of our loved ones, their safety and security is often put into question because of a growing number of tragic assaults against these workers.

This did not start happening yesterday. It has developed over a number of years. That is why the NDP over the past number of years has put forward legislation to combat this epidemic of attacks on public transportation workers and drivers across this country.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who members will remember, first put forward a bill. I myself put forward a bill a number of years ago. We encouraged the government at the time to put in place these measures. My colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River also put forward legislation.

Bill S-221 is currently on the docket in the House of Commons. It would increase penalties for anyone who assaults or abuses a public transportation worker. By putting this legislation in place, we would be sending a message to people right across the country that this is unacceptable. The safety and security of our public transportation workers should not be put into question because of the growing likelihood that they may be assaulted in the line of duty.

Imagine driving a bus and trying to maintain the safety and security of perhaps dozens of passengers, and someone gets on the bus who feels that he or she has free rein to assault the driver. While the driver is trying to protect members of the travelling public, his or her own safety is in question.

That is why it is important to send an inescapable message to all Canadians that assault or abuse is simply not acceptable. That is why we support the bill. That is why we have called for tougher penalties, as well.

Part of the reason this is an important step and the reason the NDP has put forward legislation over the past few years a number of times is the public education that can come from it. Saying that it is a case of aggravated assault, as we have said in the NDP bill, or an aggravating circumstance, as in the bill before us today, is something the public transportation companies and private taxi companies can use to ensure that the public is aware that when they try to abuse or assault a taxi driver or transit operator, it is a serious crime.

There is no doubt that this is something that would help to address this tragic epidemic of attacks on transit workers. In many cases, we are talking about serious assaults. These are assaults that have resulted in serious, permanent disability. We are talking about situations where the bus driver or transit operator has been unable to return to work. We are not talking about minor assaults here. In many cases, we are talking about tragic, serious assaults.

That is why we have been bringing this forward in the House of Commons for so many years. We need to change the public perception that somehow it is okay to attack a transit operator, a bus driver, or a taxi driver.

The bill today is long overdue. We would have liked the government to have adopted the NDP legislation we have been pushing forward in the House years ago. It will nonetheless make a difference, particularly when the public transportation companies are able to put forward the very clear message that this is unacceptable.

The bus drivers and transit operators in my riding are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Unifor, as well, formerly the CAW transit operators. We also have the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has also been a phenomenal force in campaigning for this change.

The Société de transport de Montréal drivers' association also played a major role.

With Unifor, CUPE, ATU, and the STM we have a real consensus among bus drivers and transit operators across the country that it is time for a change. It is time to send an unmistakable message to all Canadians that to assault a transit operator or a bus driver is a serious offence. Those bus drivers and transit drivers get up every day in the morning with one thought in mind, which is to make sure that our loved ones get to their workplaces, their schools, or wherever they are going safely. We have a responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure their safety, to ensure that they go to a safe workplace and can come home and know that they have provided that service to Canadians, that there are no scars to show for it, and that they have been able to work in a safe environment.

I would like to conclude by saying that this is long overdue legislation. We support it. In fact, the NDP has been the impetus behind the legislation, and we are happy to see that it is finally coming forward on the floor of the House of Commons.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill S-221, an act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators).

I would like to note that the bill was introduced in the other place by Senator Bob Runciman, the senator for Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes who happens to be from my area of Ontario.

The bill aims to protect transit workers who play a critical role in serving the public at large. Public transit is differentiated from other occupations by the fact that those who play a role in providing this service work with a broad spectrum of customers and are often alone with them late at night. Due to this, they are vulnerable and, by virtue of the fact that they are operating a vehicle, will often be defenceless against attacks.

The statistics on assaults have been mentioned in previous debates and in committee by numerous people. I would like to emphasize two particular statistic that summarize the unsafe work environment that these transit workers have to work in.

According to the Amalgamated Transit Union, 40%, or four out of ten, of all public transit operators are assaulted on the job at some point in their career. The Canadian Urban Transit Association reports approximately 2,000 assaults per year, which is an average of around 5 assaults per day.

In addition to the detrimental effects on the victim, such attacks also threaten the safety of the general public as transit operators have responsibility for the safety of their passengers and, of course, others who are on the road. Further, these attacks have a negative impact on the transit industry financially in terms of compensation for victims and employees missing days at work. The attacks also make it difficult to recruit and retain qualified operators.

This bill would affirm the preventative purpose of criminal law through the threat of enhanced punishment and would contribute to enhanced public safety, while also having a favourable impact on the transit industry generally.

Bill S-221 would create a new aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing. The aggravating factor would only apply in respect of the following offences in the Criminal Code: uttering threats, section 264.1; assault, section 266; assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, section 267; aggravated assault, section 268; and, unlawfully causing bodily harm, section 269.

If the victim of any one of these offences is a public transit operator engaged in the execution of his or her duties, the court must consider this an aggravating factor at sentencing.

The bill includes a definition of “public transit operator”. A “public transit operator” is an individual who operates a vehicle used in the provision of passenger transportation services to the public and also includes an individual who operates a school bus. This definition, coupled with the definition of “vehicle” will capture a wide variety of circumstances.

The bill advances two fundamental sentencing objectives: deterrence and denunciation. It sends a strong message by requiring the courts to consider increased sentencing consequences for those convicted of crimes of violence committed against public transit operators while engaged in the execution of their duties. The bill states that we as a society do not tolerate such violence and that those who choose to engage in such crime will be punished in a way that properly reflects the harm they have caused.

During its study of the bill, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights examined the impact it would have in practice. Two particular issues arose are worth mentioning.

The first issue is related to the proposed definition of vehicle. The bill proposes a non-exhaustive definition of “vehicle”, for the purpose of the proposed aggravating factor, as including “a bus, paratransit vehicle, licensed taxi cab, train, subway, tram and ferry”. One committee member questioned why not simply amend the definition of “motor vehicle” in section 2 of the Criminal Code to avoid the potential confusion that may be caused by having two definitions, one for “vehicle” and one for “motor vehicle”.

The evidence given before the committee confirmed that there should be no confusion created by the proposed definition of “vehicle” found in the bill. First, the definition would only apply to the proposed section 269.01. Second, the provision would be clear and unambiguous. It would not cause any difficulty for the courts to interpret “vehicle” as including devices that were not propelled by a motor, such as a bike-taxi or rickshaw operator. If the intent of the sponsor was to limit the application of this section to motor powered vehicles, I believe he would have said it.

The second issue that was raised during the committee's study of the bill concerned the meaning of “engaged in the performance of his or her duty”. Let us recall that the proposed aggravating factor would apply where the victim was a public transit operator who, at the time of the commission of the offence, was engaged in the performance of his or her duty. The notion of being engaged in one's duties exists in other parts of the Criminal Code though the exact words can vary. For example, the murder of a police officer acting in the course of his or her duties is automatically first degree murder. Similarly, it is an offence to assault a peace officer engaged in the execution of his or her duty.

Existing jurisprudence interpreting these phrases would likely inform how the courts would interpret this new aggravating factor. This jurisprudence tells us that the individual must be lawfully engaged in his or her duties. In addition, one cannot simply be on duty, such that transit operators who are assaulted after signing in for their shifts prior to commencing their duties would not likely receive the benefit of the new aggravating factor. However, it is also likely that the new factor would not be limited to situations involving the driving of the vehicle. For example, it would likely apply to situations where drivers were inspecting their vehicles prior to bringing them into service.

At the end of the day, these questions of interpretation would be addressed by the courts. Regardless of how the new provision would be interpreted, it is important to remember that the courts will retain broad discretion to determine whether any particular fact aggravates or mitigates the sentence imposed in any given case.

I would like to conclude by reiterating the importance of protecting public transit workers. Operators who encounter these harmful attacks during the performance of their duties are simply trying to do their job of delivering an essential mobility service to the public. This bill is intended to deter violent attacks on public transit operators and to increase overall safety for persons using transit services.

Due to the critical importance of public transit to our communities from coast to coast to coast, as well as to our economy, I encourage all members to support Bill S-221. I am encouraged that members from all sides of the House have risen to show their support. I encourage members to pass the bill as quickly as possible into law in order to protect transit operators.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill S-221, a bill to amend the Criminal Code to require a court to consider as an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing the fact that the victim of an assault is a public transit operator.

Public transit operators play a significant role in our daily life. Their contribution might go unnoticed, but their service is surely invaluable. In small and big cities, Canadians count on the service of all those men and women who strive to provide the best service possible, while ensuring the well-being of passengers, pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists.

Because of the nature of the work they do, public transit operators are easy targets for acts of violence that can take many forms, including everything from verbal intimidation to physical abuse.

Stéphane Lachance of the Syndicat des chauffeurs, opérateurs et employés des services connexes, which is part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said and I quote, “Unfortunately, being a bus driver also means being a victim of violence.”

I have some facts to present that clearly illustrate the scope of the problem and the need to take concrete, effective measures to contain it.

In 2010, within the organizations that form the Association du transport urbain du Québec, 14.2% of workplace accidents covered by the CSST were the result of assault and acts of violence. Also in 2010, 65 drivers from the Réseau de transport de la Capitale and 56 from the Société de transport de Laval were attacked, and in Vancouver, 150 assaults on bus drivers were reported.

In 2011, 2,061 operators were assaulted in Canada. Assaults included everything from getting spit on, being hit over the head and having boiling water thrown at them to being threatened with a knife and even sexually assaulted. In July 2014 in Cambridge, a driver was even threatened by a young man carrying a samurai sword. That speaks volumes about the kind of problem we are dealing with.

In Ottawa in 2012, OC Transpo reported 62 incidents of violence committed against its operators. Also in 2012, 66 acts of violence against bus drivers were reported in Montreal. According to health and safety experts, only 25% of violent acts are reported. In 2013 in Kelowna, a woman stabbed an operator with a syringe, so now that driver will have to be tested for hepatitis C for the rest of his life.

I could list of all the attempted murders and assaults with a weapon, which unfortunately have become all too common for bus drivers. Furthermore, subway and taxi operators also face the same risks. I am glad that the member opposite included taxi drivers in this bill.

Marc-André Coulombe, president of Taxi Québec, said:

Not a week goes by that I do not hear about an attack or a scuffle. However, most drivers do not report it.

This is a big problem. As a Liberal member was saying, taxi and bus drivers confirm that this is a reality of their job. This is what Robin West, International Vice President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said during his testimony to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs:

It is a sad reality that most public transit operators have experienced the indignity of being spat on, have been punched in the head, or they know a colleague who has been subjected to a knife attack, been stomped upon or sexually assaulted...many suffer physical and emotional injuries that are life-threatening and career-ending.

That was the case for Mr. Bouzid, an Algerian engineer, Montreal taxi driver and father of three, who was killed in cold blood while on the job.

I would like to take a moment to note that many taxi drivers in my riding and elsewhere are from an immigrant minority and have excellent qualifications from their homelands, but cannot pursue a career in their field because they cannot get their credentials recognized here.

These highly qualified, university-trained immigrants have a very hard time integrating into the labour market. I would like to take this opportunity to call on the appropriate authorities to correct this problem, which affects a large part of the immigrant population and remains a major hindrance to their emancipation. These taxi and bus drivers are facing problems on the job.

Mr. Bouzid's murder may be an extreme case, but attacks in taxis are not so rare. This is a recurring problem. To deal with this type of appalling crime, it is essential that judges be equipped with the right tools so that they can hand down appropriate sentences and deterrents are strengthened.

Unions and associations that represent bus and taxi drivers have been calling for better protection for their members for many years. The government needs to always be listening to the professionals in this sector and has a duty to ensure the safety of everyone employed in this area and to protect them when they are working.

By making the assault on a public transit operator an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing, we will be sending a strong and unequivocal message that such crimes are not tolerated. These measures will help reduce the number of assaults on public transit operators and will curb the increase in this very disturbing phenomenon, which is of particular concern to transit professionals.

New Democrats believe that Canada must invest in the well-being of all public transit operators, and this will only be possible if we can ensure a safe and secure environment in their workplace. Indeed, protecting mass transit operators has always been a priority for the NDP, a duty that is incumbent upon us to uphold as much as possible.

In this regard, the NDP has already tabled many private members' bills that sought to extend further protections to public transit operators by imposing greater punishment for the offence of aggravated assault when public transportation workers were the victims.

Even though the bill under examination was tabled by another political party, we are ready to take a constructive approach to allow for the necessary changes to be implemented in order to help these workers significantly. This is because the NDP has the public transit operators' interests at heart.

I would like to point out that these new provisions have been favourably received by a number of unions in this sector, including the Syndicat de la STM, which represents bus drivers. I would just like to quote Stéphane Lachance, the union spokesperson:

We applaud the initiative and will work with partners who want...increased protection for transit workers. We hope that the deterrent effect of such a law will be felt quickly and that we will see a significant decrease in assaults in our network.

NDP members are proud to support the demands of the associations and unions that represent public transit workers because the NDP has made the needs and interests of public transit workers one of its top priorities. Therefore, I join my colleagues in supporting this bill, and I hope that it will be passed and written into law as soon as possible.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, many people have put countless hours of hard work into this file. I cannot possibly convey my thanks to them all in a short five minutes; however, there are a few I would like to mention in the time I have.

Once again I would like to thank Senator Runciman and his staff for all their hard work on Bill S-221. I want to express thanks as well for the support that we have received from not only the opposition across the way but also from the various transit organizations across the country, some of whom are looking on here today. They have been very supportive and integral in getting this piece of sound legislation passed.

Bill S-221 would amend the Criminal Code to create a new aggravating factor for the sentencing of offenders convicted of uttering threats, any of the three assault offences, or unlawfully causing bodily harm to transit operators.

This would cause those who would do harm to our public transit operators to think twice before they engage in the reckless and dangerous assault of our bus drivers, subway conductors, taxi drivers, et cetera.

Ensuring these PTOs are safe is the first step in ensuring that the public using these methods of transport are also safe, as well as those on our streets, bike lanes, and sidewalks.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage all hon. members to pass the bill as soon as possible, and if possible today.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

December 3rd, 2014 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts.

The committee has studied the bill and has decided, unanimously, to report the bill back to this House with amendments.

Mr. Speaker, I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators).

The committee has studied the bill and has decided, unanimously, to report the bill back to this House without amendments.

I hope the House leaders move quickly on both these items.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 2014 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

moved that Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today and to speak in strong support of Bill S-221, a bill that seeks to acknowledge, through explicit sentencing principles, the harm caused when public transit operators acting in the course of their duties experience violence.

I urge all members to vote collaboratively to ensure that the bill is passed into law as quickly as possible.

I would like to start by first thanking Senator Runciman for his diligent work on this file in the other place. I would also like to mention the work of the member for Leeds—Grenville in this matter.

Transit operators play an absolutely critical role in the lives of our citizens and our communities all over Canada. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our major cities, where public transit is relied upon to transport millions of passengers every day.

It would be no exaggeration to say that without the people who drive our buses, trains, subways, trams, and taxis every day, our economy and our communities would be in peril.

A 2010 report prepared by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, entitled “The Economic Impact of Transit Investment: A National Survey”, offers the following key findings: transit reduces vehicle operating costs for Canadian households by approximately $5 billion annually, and it reduces vehicle accident costs by $2.4 billion annually.

We need to ensure that the transit system operates effectively, that people feel safe when they use the transit system, and that those operating our public transit feel assured that if they are victimized on the job through acts of violence, the criminal justice system will effectively respond to such violence.

At present, there is no specific offence or aggravating factor in the Criminal Code that uniquely targets acts of violence committed against public transit operators. The proposed bill would amend the Criminal Code to create a new aggravating factor for the sentencing of offenders convicted of uttering threats, any of the three assault offences, and unlawfully causing bodily harm to transit operators.

This would send a strong message that Parliament believes that such crimes must be treated more seriously because of the fact that those victimized are vulnerable, given the role they occupy, and because of the potential for broader harm to passengers and the public.

The amendments align with the preventative purpose of criminal law. That is, the bill proposes a criminal law response that seeks to prevent harm from occurring in the first place by deterring the commission of such crimes through explicit sentencing principles. It further responds to acts of criminality that can have a significant effect not only on the individual victim but more broadly on the safety of the general public.

These amendments would make Canada's criminal law approach to violence against public transit operators comparable to the approach taken in other jurisdictions, including a number of U.S. states and Australia's New South Wales. While the approach taken is not identical in all cases, these jurisdictions have all taken steps to explicitly address violence committed against transit operators.

More serious incidents of violence toward transit workers are occurring across the country. Every day, transit operators face the real risk of being assaulted on the job. Their physical exposure and frequent customer interactions leave them vulnerable to being molested, struck, or spat on and to becoming the targets of verbal abuse, threats, and thrown objects.

Transit operators, due to the nature of their work and their inherent inability to defend themselves against aggressive acts while carrying out their duties, face a number of unusual and unpredictable threats in their workplace that most Canadians do not.

Transit operators face most of the known risk factors for workplace violence: interacting directly with the public, working alone or in isolated areas, having a mobile workplace, working late at night or early in the morning, providing services to people who may be experiencing frustration, having a workplace where access is uncontrolled, handling monies or fares, and having inadequate escape routes. Relying on this, transit workers are at higher risk for violence than are workers in many other occupations.

Members need not solely listen to me to understand why we are singling out public transit operators in this bill. Let us hear testimonials from people directly involved in this matter.

On June 12, 2014, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs heard from Neil Dubord, the chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police. In his own words, he explained why public transit operators need to be granted additional protection by the law. He said:

Public transit is differentiated from other occupations by the very nature that they serve a broad spectrum of customers including the working poor, homeless, addicted and those suffering from mental illness. As with other occupations, the opportunity for operators to disengage and extricate themselves from potentially violent situations does not exist. They cannot walk away or withdraw from the incident because they are locked in the driver's seat and operating a large vehicle. A pilot would never allow a passenger to freely walk into the cockpit of a plane.... Public transit operators do not have the luxury of restricting access; their occupation is unique and the hazards they face are not experienced by other occupations. This is why they require the protection of Bill S-221.

Passing Bill S-221 would provide Canadian public transit operators and taxi drivers with an extra legal safeguard to deter assaults committed against them.

My riding of Pickering—Scarborough East contains two separate municipalities and, in turn, two separate transit authorities, Durham Region Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission.

In the area serviced by Durham Region Transit, there were four relevant instances of assault on transit operators in 2013 alone. The TTC states that there is an assault on a public transit operator in their system at least once a day.

For example, on July 20, 2011, a woman boarded a TTC bus and became involved in a fare dispute. She proceeded to hurl racial slurs at the TTC employee. The situation quickly escalated, and the woman pepper-sprayed not only the bus driver but three passengers who bravely came to the aid of the victim. Her penalty? Forty-six days of jail time for four charges of assault with a weapon.

As horrible as such cases are, they pale in comparison to the ordeals that other public transit operators have had to endure across the nation. A bus driver in the Maritimes received 14 stab wounds to his face, neck, and arm. He lost over half of his blood and nearly died in the process, all because he would not deviate from his route. In Edmonton, a driver was hospitalized in intensive care after he was subjected to a vicious and unprovoked beating from a passenger. The list goes on and on, and tragically, it lengthens each and every day.

These attacks not only take a personal toll on the victims but can also have a significant financial impact on the transit systems in terms of lost work hours, medical claims, employee absenteeism, and lawsuits.

According to the Canadian Urban Transit Association, there were 2,061 reported assaults in 2011. That is over five reported instances of assault a day across this country.

StatsCan reports that the average public transit operator is more than four and a half times more likely to be assaulted while operating their vehicle than the average person walking on the street.

Of course, the need for quick passage of the bill is not based merely on the fact that public transit operators are more likely to get assaulted; quick passage is also needed because of the consequences of the assault on the public in both the immediate and long term.

Public vehicles are, by their very nature, transporting members from the public. An assault on a public transit operator can happen quite literally at any time, whether it is in a school zone, on a highway, in a side street, or parked at a station. The transit operator is tasked with an incredible amount of responsibility for the individuals that they are servicing.

Should an assault happen while an operator is driving their vehicle, we suddenly have not only the driver at risk of serious injury but every other person on the bus as well. In addition to the passengers, every single pedestrian, cyclist, and driver in the immediate vicinity also becomes a potential victim.

While being physically assaulted is of course horrendous, being witness to such a destructive act can have its own effect. Members of the general public using transit need to be reassured that their safety is protected at all times, and the best way to do that on our transit systems is to protect our operators. Every single Canadian should have a right to both be safe and feel safe at work.

I appreciate the hard work that many associations and organizations such as the Canadian Urban Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union are doing in committing themselves to making sure that the workplace of public transit operators is as secure as possible.

In addition to shaking the confidence of the general public, assaults on public transit operators have a more direct effect on the industry, namely in the recruitment and retention of competent operators.

Bill S-221 is intended to serve as a deterrent to violent acts against public transit service operators and to increase overall safety on public transit. Having legislation like Bill S-221 in place would give judges the grounds to hand down harsher sentences than if the victim were not a transit operator or a taxi driver.

If I may, I would like to briefly touch on the reasoning behind including licensed taxi drivers in this bill. Much like the assault of a bus driver poses an immediate threat not only to the driver but to his passengers and the people around them, so too does the assault of a taxi cab driver. The similarities do not end there. Cabbies often find themselves working alone at late hours, dealing with fares, being restricted in their seats, having a mobile workplace, etcetera. That much is very straightforward.

The need to include taxi drivers is only emphasized when we look at the staggering rates of violence against this group of individuals. From 1997 to 2011, the homicide rate for taxi drivers was 3.2 per population of 100,000. In that 15-year period, 23 taxi drivers were murdered in cold blood. Unfortunately, we do not have official statistics on assaults on cab drivers, but one can only shudder when thinking about how high they must be.

The very last point I would like to speak to concerns a recent court decision here in Ottawa. I feel that it perfectly illustrates the actual issue Bill S-221 would address.

A man was charged and pleaded guilty to assaulting a bus driver. The crown requested that the judge consider the fact that the victim was a bus driver in rendering the sentence. When handing down his decision, the judge said:

Does his status as a bus driver alter the severity of the sentence I am to impose? I do not believe the law supports the notion that bus driver assaults per se attract higher sentences than other assaults....

That bus drivers are exposed to the risk of assault is supported not only by periodic media reports of driver assaults but by common sense. Bus drivers encounter thousands of individuals during their work, many of them impaired or simply intent on mischief...

While all of this is true, I am aware of no settled body of authority holding that an assault on a bus driver is per se more serious than assaults on anyone else who has the misfortune of being victimized, and no authority was advanced by the Crown. To be sure, the Criminal Code of Canada does contain principles aggravating the seriousness of an offence for vulnerable groups including those prone to hate-based abuse, the mental or physically disabled, children, and those who the offender owes a duty of trust to. Bus drivers are not, however, enumerated.

This is not the first time we have debated criminal law reform to address this reprehensible activity. There have been several private members' bills on the subject, from members from all political parties, but unfortunately, they were not passed.

Support for this bill extends far and wide. Transit unions, transit police, bus and taxi drivers, the Ottawa Transit Commission , the TTC, and many others have spoken in strong support of this bill. We now have the opportunity with Bill S-221 to work together and unanimously pass into law meaningful changes that will appropriately address the violence committed against transit operators.

We owe it to these hard-working men and women to ensure that the law properly responds to the harm they experience. Bill S-221 would assist in this regard, and I strongly support the bill.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 2014 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned there were several bills that unfortunately did not pass for various other reasons. However, Bill S-221 would make it an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing if the victim of an assault were a public transit operator.

How would this bill accomplish this? The bill would add subsection 269.01 to subsection 269 of the Criminal Code, which would state that when a court imposed a sentence for an offence referred to in any of sections 266 to 269, common assault, assault with a weapon, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm, it shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim of the offence was, at the time of the commission of the offence, a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duty and shall give primary consideration to the objectives of the legislation and the tenets of the conduct that formed the basis of the offence.

This bill concentrates on one of the sections of the Criminal Code that deals with aggravated assaults. Therefore, it has a certain purpose, and that is to provide clarity in the Criminal Code.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 2014 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I am very happy to speak to Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators). I would like to begin by saying that I will be pleased to support this bill at second reading.

This bill contains two important elements that I would like to focus on today. First, it amends the Criminal Code to consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim was, at the time of the commission of the offence, a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duty.

I am hardly a Canadian Criminal Code expert, unlike many of my colleagues on both sides of the House who can claim to be. I had no idea what an aggravating circumstance was, so I decided to do a little research to learn more about this.

Here is what Jean-Paul Doucet wrote in Dictionnaire de droit criminal:

An aggravating circumstance is a circumstance attending the commission of a crime or a characteristic of the offender or the victim of the crime. Aggravating circumstances make the crime more dangerous to society and therefore deserving of stronger sanctions.

Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada addresses sentencing and aggravating circumstances as follows:

A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(a) a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender...

In this example, the various legislators ordinarily distinguish between the aggravating circumstances associated with the offence and those unique to each offender.

There is a lot of good news in these definitions of aggravating circumstances. First of all, this addition to the Criminal Code ensures that the court dealing with the offences committed against public transit operators will take into account the fact that the victim was performing his or her duties at the time of the offence. This is a major win for the workers covered by this bill.

To illustrate the extreme importance of this aspect, I will provide an example directly related to taxi drivers.

In its 2009 report entitled “Homicide in Canada”, Statistics Canada shows that those most at risk of being killed on the job are police officers and taxi drivers. I will read an excerpt:

On average, 13 victims have been killed each year since 1999 while "on the-job", including 11 in 2009. A recent report concludes that taxi drivers and police officers have the highest rates of homicide per 100,000 persons in their occupation. In 2009, there were three taxi drivers and one police officer killed as a direct result of their profession.

In Canada, 23 taxi drivers were murdered between 1997 and 2011. In Montreal, 68% of nighttime taxi drivers feel that their job is not very safe or not at all safe. That is not even to mention other public transit operators, who are also the target of violence during their shifts.

Next, what I like about the definition of “aggravating circumstances” is that the court must take this new factor into consideration when ruling on an offence, but judges also have the freedom to decide how harsh a sentence to impose. As mentioned in the legislation, every case is different. It is up to our judges to rule on each case.

It is very refreshing to see that people still have confidence in our justice system and that this addition to the Criminal Code does not involve a minimum sentence, which is something the Conservatives unfortunately often include.

I would like to point out another aspect of Bill S-221, which is the scope of the definition of “public transit operator”. I would like to quote clause 2 of the bill:

The following definitions apply in this section.

“public transit operator” means an individual who operates a vehicle used in the provision of passenger transportation services to the public, and includes an individual who operates a school bus.

“vehicle” includes a bus, paratransit vehicle, licensed taxi cab, train, subway, tram and ferry.

The bill covers several different types of jobs that all involve workers who deal directly with the public and who, in some circumstances, can become victims of crime during their work day.

The New Democratic Party has always made it a priority to protect public transit operators. We support the demands made by the associations and unions that represent these operators. For years, they have been calling for better protection for their members.

Unfortunately, several times a year we hear stories about assaults on public transit operators in the media. For example, in April 2013, a thirtysomething bus driver with the Société de transport de Montréal was savagely beaten by three men on his bus while he was driving down Saint-Laurent Boulevard. In November of that same year, we heard of the sad story of Ziad Bouzid, a 45-year-old taxi driver and father of three from Montreal.

Mr. Bouzid, who had driven a taxi for more than a dozen years, was savagely shot to death in the middle of the night, during his shift. These assaults on these workers must stop. As parliamentarians, it is our duty to do everything we possibly can to help them and ensure that these kinds of things do not happen again. That is why the NDP already introduced a number of private members' bills that were similar to the bill we are studying today.

However, I am disappointed to see how the Conservative government goes about addressing an issue as important as workers' safety.

In 2010, the justice minister at the time, now the Minister of National Defence, said that the Criminal Code already adequately protected transit operators from all forms of assault. However, the Amalgamated Transit Union had long been calling for a bill similar to the one before us today.

The Conservatives have not done anything to resolve the problem since they came to power in 2006. Instead of helping workers, they have introduced bills that deny workers the rights they fought so hard to win.

This government has attacked the Labour Code many times. For example, I am thinking about how the definition of the word “danger” is going to be changed because of the Conservatives. This will have a negative impact on many workers, particularly those who have jobs on the front line, such as our correctional officers. It is shameful that the government is seeking to make women and men in uniform more vulnerable.

Like the current government, the former Liberal government did not propose any measures to help public transit operators. It is time for that to change.

This is an issue that is very important to me. For my generation, a job with a public transit company, such as the one in Laval or Montreal, is a promising career opportunity. I am thinking, for example, of my friend Nicolas, who started working for the Société de transport de Montréal a few years ago. He loves his job. He is a happy guy who loves working with people. He has a good, well-paid job with good working conditions. However, his safety can sometimes be compromised by individuals with bad intentions. Nicolas is a young father, and we would be very remiss if we, as parliamentarians, did not do everything we can to protect him better as he carries out his duties at the STM.

The taxi industry is flourishing in cities like Laval and Montreal, and making the work of taxi drivers safer is also very important to my constituents, especially those who live in Saint-François in Laval.

Members may be surprised to learn that many taxi drivers work in Montreal but live in Saint-François, which is in my riding. Saint-François is a lively neighbourhood where more than forty cultural communities live in great harmony.

If you pass by Marcel-Villeneuve Avenue in the morning, you will see taxis leaving Saint-François to take the Pie IX Bridge or Highway 25 to go to Montreal. The drivers will only return late at night after a long day. These men and women work very hard to give their children the best possible future.

I also think of all the school bus drivers in Laval and across Canada. I am sure that they have to deal with all sorts of things over the year. They do an excellent job. I would like to thank them for safely driving our children every day.

It is time for us to take action and I sincerely hope that this bill is passed as quickly as possible.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 2014 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased as well to speak to Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators).

I am supportive of the bill which, in summary, would amend the Criminal Code to require a court to consider the fact that the victim of an assault, as a public transport operator, to be an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing.

The key points related to the bill are that Canadians rely on public transport to get around, yet everyday five bus operators are assaulted. That is simply unacceptable. In this city, as we come into work each morning and go home each night, we see buses rolling along. It cannot be pleasant to go to work if one is worried about being assaulted or even shouted at, as many of them are.

We understand that 2,061 bus drivers were assaulted in 2011, with attacks ranging from being spit on and punched in the head to knife attacks and sexual assaults. That is entirely unacceptable, and this bill would go some distance toward addressing that.

The nature of their work certainly puts bus drivers at heightened risk, so we have an opportunity as parliamentarians to reduce that danger to bus drivers and take action to protect them.

By making it explicit that assaulting a bus driver is a criminal offence with serious consequences, this should, although it would not in all cases, deter these crimes. I would suggest as well that there be some education and notice, whether on buses or in bus terminals, that this is an offence. Maybe it would give people second thought as to whether they would treat bus drivers in an unacceptable fashion.

The Liberals support the bill in general. It is a private member's bill, but we have had discussions on it and there seems to be fairly widespread support in the House for Bill S-221.

I want to name a couple of my colleagues who have done fairly extensive work on addressing the difficulties that bus drivers face when they go to work everyday.

The member for Winnipeg North has spent a lot of time examining public transport in his city and holding discussions with drivers. He even did a ride along. It was truly an eye-opening experience to be with the bus driver and see what drivers faced over quite a number of hours. It is not like getting on the bus and getting off four or five stops down the road. The member for Winnipeg North certainly got a feel for what it was like to be in that workplace on a continuing basis.

Then there is the Liberal long-term member for Wascana, who introduced Bill C-533. The bill would make the nature of a victim's employment as an on-duty transit operator an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes in relation to all Criminal Code offences. I will talk a bit more about the views of the member for Wascana on this matter.

As well, there have been others who have introduced private members' bills related to this issue. There is Bill C-402, which comes an NDP member, and Bill C-637, which comes from an independent member.

Many members in this place are concerned about the issue and have put forward various proposals.

As I said earlier, the member for Wascana put out a blog today. He wrote:

With the support of transit employees, their unions, municipalities and other transit operators, police officers, the Canadian Urban Transit Association and others, I have spent the past year promoting legislation to better protect bus drivers and other transportation workers.

That bill was Bill C-533. Some aspects of that bill are related to and referenced in this piece of legislation.

As he stated in his article today:

These people provide vital services to the general public in all sorts of locations in all weather conditions and at all hours of the day and night. They are often on duty alone, operating powerful vehicles on public streets and thoroughfares. By the nature of their employment, they assume serious responsibilities for public service and safety, and put themselves in a vulnerable position.

He went on to say:

“Bill C-533 had earned broad public support, but remains on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. Such Private Member's Business is selected for debate and a vote by the luck of a draw. Other MPs from all other Parties have also advanced similar proposals from time to time. This is not a partisan issue that divides along political lines”.

A few months ago, a Conservative Senator (Bob Runciman) brought forward his own proposed “bus driver” legislation (Bill S-221).

That is the bill we are dealing with today.

It differs in detail, but is similar to mine in principle. The procedure applying to Senate Bills has allowed S-221 to move more quickly.

That might be something we need to consider here.

It has passed the Senate and is coming before the House of Commons today.

That is what we are debating. I and other members of my party encourage the House to support this piece of legislation.

Bill S-221 is not as broad in proposal as is Bill C-533. As the member for Wascana pointed out:

It applies only to certain specific offences in the Criminal Code, not every offence. And it doesn’t make any reference to persons coming to the aid of a bus driver under attack. On the positive side, it does include a useful definition of “transportation employee” that covers certain others like taxi drivers too.

From the outset, I do not believe many of us consider this legislation to be a partisan proposal or a partisan position. It is useful legislation and should be moved forward through this chamber quickly.

The member for Wascana continued:

Once it becomes law, transit operators need to launch prominent communications campaigns,

—as I said a moment ago—

informing the public that offences against people like bus drivers are serious criminal matters carrying serious penalties. And offenders will be prosecuted.

To come back to where I began, bus driver assaults in any fashion, whether it is language, spitting, or actual assaults, are a serious matter. These people provide a public service. They deserve a safe and secure workplace, and the bill should show that Parliament supports them in their workplace in having a safe environment to work in.

I am certainly pleased to support this legislation.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 2014 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

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.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 2014 / 2 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of this bill, as many of my colleagues are doing. I think everyone in this House is behind this particular legislation.

I want to share a couple of stories. Suzanne Burgess went to work one day. She was taking a layover break, as they call it, in between her runs. She saw a person going across the way, in a precarious and dangerous way. She opened the window to tell her it was too dangerous to be there.

Unfortunately, what ensued was something that should never have happened. This person barged onto the bus, threatening Suzanne with vulgar language. Suzanne immediately radioed for assistance, and when she hung up she was assaulted by the person grabbing and scraping her face and neck and trying to drag her to the floor.

It took 17 minutes before security could reach her. She mentioned that she was so grateful that another driver heard her screams and came to her assistance.

In testimony she said, “I want to help people, not be afraid of them”. She was basically pleading for us to do our job here to protect her in her workplace.

I will share another example of someone who went to work and was exposed to a horrific scenario, something that should never happen in any workplace.

John Karagiannis went to work as an OC Transpo bus driver. He was threatened by a passenger. He was dragged out onto the sidewalk on Bank Street here. He was beaten up. He had a broken rib. His knees and back were bruised. He had cuts and bruises, as well. He was off work for a long time.

No one should go to work in the kind of environment where they feel threatened. It is important that we understand this.

I am happy to see the Amalgamated Transit Union bringing this issue up. They are the ones who represent their membership, the workers. They have done a good job of documenting this through health and safety committees; they have heard from their bus drivers. They are basically doing what unions should do.

Sometimes the government likes to beat up on unions, for whatever reason, but in this case we should have a sober reflection on the good work that unions do. Unions are there to represent their membership. It is important that we listen to these stories, and to the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has been carrying the flag for this cause. It is saying that no one should go to work feeling threatened or be in a dangerous work environment. It is a basic health and safety issue.

It is about people having the ability to go to work without being threatened. I want to underline that point. This is something that the Amalgamated Transit Union has done good work on. I want to give credit to them, as well as other members of Parliament, who have brought forward private members' bills. In fact, it was back in 2010, when Judy Wasylycia-Leis, my colleague from Winnipeg, brought forward a private member's bill on this, followed by my colleague, our House leader, and presently we have my colleague, the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, who has a private member's bill on this issue.

It is not from a lack of trying to bring this forward, but at last we are here. I hope that we do get this passed as soon as possible. What most people would note, and my colleague from Durham enumerated, is that this is not just bus drivers. It is about taxi drivers, people who work on trains, ferries, etcetera, all of those public transportation systems that people rely on.

It is very important because this affects numerous people. When a bus driver is being threatened, it affects the safety of everyone. I have taken the bus many times in Ottawa. Passengers trust that the bus driver is going to keep things calm and is going to ensure the bus is a place of safety.

When the driver's safety is threatened, it actually means everyone else is threatened. I think we have all experienced times when there has been some chaos or commotion on a bus. People look to the bus driver or the transit operator to bring calm to the situation.

Bill S-221 is simply saying that we support those workers who are actually providing that service, and not just for getting us from A to B but for making sure it is done in a civil way. Therefore, I am fully supportive of the bill. It is not overstepping in terms of the parameters for judges in sentencing. It is a rational, smart thing to do.

I will finish by saying that I hope the bill is passed for the Susans and Johns who went through such horrific experiences, which has had an effect on them not just physically but emotionally. As one can appreciate, when something like this happens, there are emotional scars that have to heal. They will be the people we look to as examples of what we hope to never see happen in the future.

What we are trying to do is make sure that workers who go to work every day will not be threatened. After all, if the bus driver, train conductor, cab driver, or the person conducting the ferry does not feel secure, then there is insecurity for the public.

I am delighted to get behind the bill, as are many of my colleagues. I look forward to it passing as speedily as possible. To that end, I thank all those who have brought this to our attention. I really want to cite the Amalgamated Transit Union here in Ottawa for doing great work.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsRoutine Proceedings

September 29th, 2014 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators).

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to introduce Bill S-221 in the House for first reading. I would first like to thank and recognize the recent hard and diligent work on Bill S-221 and the carriage of this bill by Senator Runciman in the other place.

This bill aims to address the far too frequent abuse and mistreatment of our public transit operators by implementing stricter penalties for those who aim to harm these people while they are carrying out their duties. This bill would act as a deterrent against violent incidents upon public transit operators in our communities and would increase overall safety on public transit.

(Motions deemed adopted and bill read the first time)