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.