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.

Public TransportationOral Questions

March 24th, 2015 / 3 p.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his hard work in this place.

Thanks to a private member's bill that passed with the backing of our Conservative government, public transit operators, including taxi cab drivers, now have added legal protection from assaults. With the passing of Bill S-221, a court will have to consider it an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing if the victim of an assault is a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duties. This means that finally those who commit threats or assaults on our transit operators will face a penalty that matches the seriousness of the crime.

Canadians can trust our government to hold criminals to account and to stand up for hard-working Canadians.

February 25th, 2015 / 3:15 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

February 25, 2015

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 25th day of February, 2015, at 10:02 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace,

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bills assented to were Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators)—Chapter 1, and Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and agri-food—Chapter 2.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

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

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
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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 / 11:30 a.m.
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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 / 11:15 a.m.
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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 / 11:15 a.m.
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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 / 11:05 a.m.
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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.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

December 9th, 2014 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mike Wallace

Thank you very much for those questions.

Thank you to our witnesses.

We're going to suspend in one moment, but before we do, we have budget requests for Bill S-2 and Bill S-221.

Those budgets have been moved.

(Motions agreed to)

Thank you very much.

We will suspend for a few minutes as we switch over to the next panel.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

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

December 2nd, 2014 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

I was reading the English definition, which seems pretty broad in a sense, when you talk about who operates a vehicle “used in the provision of passenger transportation services to the public”, and then it describes a bunch of things.

I do agree with you that it could perhaps be more specific, but I think the idea right now is to send the message. Perhaps we'll be reviewing this in two or three years, but I think the message is pretty clear right now, and the message we want to send about those types of infractions is clear.

How it's going to apply, from the discussion we're having between ex-policemen, lawyers, and so on, we can bet that a lot of discussions will happen in court, although I haven't heard of many rickshaw people being attacked as much as those on the bus. I think initially that is mostly what was targeted, and it got widened. I'm happy with Bill S-221 because it got widened, but perhaps not wide enough. We'll see down the road if we covered enough with that.

December 2nd, 2014 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Thank you all for being here.

We all read what transpired in the Senate. I think you have brought support around this table also.

First of all, I would like to recognize the work that operators do. Senator Runciman, I am pleased to see that your definition is quite broad. It covers a wide range of operators of all kinds of public transit vehicles, and that is excellent.

I also recognize the people from the Société de transport de l'Outaouais, who do extraordinary work, as do those working everywhere. We know that the work is by no means easy.

One question often comes up, and you addressed it. Why create this clause rather than add an aggravating factor to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the part dealing with sentencing? I am not sure I fully understood the distinction you are making between adding the new subsection 269.01(1) and those that follow in Bill S-221 and adding an aggravating factor.

If I understood correctly, the point is about the impact that this will have on the public, but could that not have been done by means of section 718? That is my only question about the bill. Are all four of you reasonably confident that this will solve the problem? Should there not be something else in order to ensure the safety of public transit operators and passengers? Should the bill include an awareness campaign indicating zero tolerance for actions of this kind? I do not know. I am not sure that this will necessarily solve all the problems, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

December 2nd, 2014 / 3:40 p.m.
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Chief Neil Dubord Chief, Metro Vancouver Transit Police

Mr. Chair, honourable members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and Senator Runciman, thank you for the privilege of being able to be a witness today in what promises to be an important debate in providing safety, security, and confidence to transit operators, their passengers, and all with whom they share the road.

I've been a police officer for 28 years, and I was the deputy chief of the Edmonton Police Service prior to becoming the chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police.

My objective today is just to answer three questions for you in your study of Bill S-221, which is of course an act to amend the Criminal Code that requires courts to consider it an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing if a victim of an assault is a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his duty.

The first question I will answer is: why is Bill S-221 necessary? Let's walk through four very compelling reasons.

The first reason is for the protection of our public transit operators. No one deserves to come to work to be assaulted. Public transit operators face this reality. There is an assault to a public transit operator every day in the metropolitan Toronto area. This is unacceptable. In all my years of policing, I've never had to worry about being assaulted as a police officer.

The second reason is for public safety. Public safety is two-pronged: the public safety of the passengers who are on the bus, and the public safety of the people outside of the bus who are using the road. Be they pedestrians, cyclists, or individuals in other motor vehicles, they are at greater risk when an operator who's driving a large vehicle is being assaulted.

The third reason is the trust and confidence of the passenger who's using public transportation. When an operator is assaulted, the other passengers who witness the assault feel uncomfortable, anxious, and lose confidence in that system. Municipalities across Canada are encouraging the use of public transportation for economic and environmental benefits. Without the confidence and trust of the passengers, public transportation will not continue to grow.

The fourth reason is for recruitment and retention of competent operators. We know the job of the public transit operator is difficult and requires individuals who have excellent customer service and communication skills, as they are the face of the community. If we do not create a safe environment for these operators to work in, we will not be able recruit and retain competent and talented individuals.

The second question I intend to answer is: what makes a public transit operator different from any other workers, such as nurses, doctors, and teachers, that they need Bill S-221?

As previously mentioned, in Toronto a public transit operator is assaulted each day. In metropolitan Vancouver, until the end of November, we have investigated 233 reports of assault or threats towards an operator. What other kind of workplace experiences an assault of one of their employees each day? I suggest if any other type of occupation, such as a doctor, a nurse, or a teacher faced these types of numbers, it would be considered a crisis.

Public transit is differentiated from other occupations by the very reason 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 opportunities for operators to disengage or extricate themselves from a potentially violent situation doesn't exist. They cannot walk away or withdraw from the incident when they are locked in the driver's seat with the windshield in front of them, a steel panel behind them, the side window of their bus on their left, a mobile data terminal on their right, and a seatbelt across their waist. All this is in addition to driving a six to ten tonne vehicle on some of the busiest roads in North America.

A pilot would never allow a passenger to freely walk into the cockpit of his plane. A ferry captain would not allow anyone onto the bridge of his ship. 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.

The third and final question I will answer is: why do we need Bill S-221 when judges already have the tools necessary to sentence offenders depending on the circumstances of the case?

The description of the working environment and potential risks faced when a public transit operator is assaulted is often not articulated to the judge for consideration of sentencing. The vulnerable and defenceless nature of a public transit operator and the significant impact of any mistakes they make while driving are not regularly communicated to prosecutors. This results in sentencing that is inconsistent. For example, every public transit operator I've ever spoken to has indicated they would rather be a victim of a minor physical assault than be spit upon. The psychological impact, the disrespect, the embarrassment, and the contempt of a spit is seldom considered in sentencing. Often, cases of expectorate receive relatively minor sentences, yet they have significant impact on the public transit operator.

In conclusion, of the 223 cases of operator assaults or threats investigated by Metro Vancouver Transit Police in 2014, over 100 met the threshold of criminal assault. Metro Vancouver experienced a 9% increase in assault in 2013 over 2012. Of the 134 assaults, 68 were physical assaults, 56 involved expectorant, and 19 of those were spits in the face.

I have provided for your consideration the answer to three very compelling questions in support of what is the most important piece missing in reducing public transit operator assaults, that being a strong public deterrent. Despite years of increased efforts by the transit industry to reduce the number of assaults through training, real-time supports, and the installation of cameras, the attacks continue.

Today I have given you four reasons why Bill S-221 is critical to the safety of the public transit operators and the travelling public. In addition, I have answered two common questions that have been known to be barriers in prior failed attempts at legislative change. You possess the power and authority to take action. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has a reputation for being able to get things done. As Victor Hugo said, “Every good idea has its time” and the time is now for Bill S-221.

Thank you.

December 2nd, 2014 / 3:35 p.m.
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Michael Roschlau President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Urban Transit Association

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Distinguished members of the committee, my remarks will be equally brief.

First of all, I would like to thank you for this invitation to appear before you. We are grateful for the opportunity to express our opinion on Bill S-221, the aim of which is to have assaults against public transit operators considered as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

CUTA, as some of you may know, is the collective voice of public transportation across Canada, dedicated to being at the centre of urban mobility issues with all orders of government. We represent public transit systems, suppliers, government agencies, individuals, and related organizations across the country.

I'd like to make it clear that the Canadian Urban Transit Association and its members unequivocally support Bill S-221. We've previously addressed the Senate's constitutional and legal affairs committee on this bill, and my comments today will be a direct reflection of those made at the Senate committee.

Every day transit operators across the country drive thousands of people to work, to school, to recreation, to health care, and to community services. Among their many tasks and responsibilities operators must drive large heavy-duty vehicles, often in stressful weather and traffic conditions, respect the schedule, collect fares, provide customer service, and most important, ensure the safety of their passengers.

On this last point, it's critical to understand that operators are solely responsible for the safety of all passengers boarding the vehicles. While they deliver what we call essential mobility services to our communities, making our cities vibrant and prosperous, they don't necessarily benefit from a safe work environment, as our annual data demonstrates. Every year, as the senator mentioned, there are some 2,000 assaults against transit operators and many more go unreported. That's an average of five assaults every day.

Transit employees have responsibility for the safety of their passengers, which makes these types of assaults dangerous for the greater public. There's a recent case that comes to mind that illustrates the gravity of such assaults.

In March of this year, in Vancouver, a passenger punched a bus driver in the face. At the time of the attack the bus was travelling at about 30 kilometres per hour and carrying 30 passengers. The driver suffered a broken nose, broken bones in his face, continuing vision impairment in one eye, and loosened teeth. Despite all of this, the driver, whose first concern was the safety and well-being of his passengers, managed to safely bring the bus to a complete stop and open the door so the attacker could leave and the other passengers would remain safe. Thanks to the conscientious actions of the driver, no passengers were injured in this case, but you can only imagine how the safety of the passengers, pedestrians, and other road users could have been put at serious risk.

As the senator mentioned, our statistics show that, in 2012, almost 80% of the crimes committed on public transit system property were committed on our vehicles, such as buses. We just have to multiply the number of incidents by an average of 30 passengers on board to see the level of danger and potential danger for the general public that an assault on an operator represents.

It's worth noting that CUTA and its members are already working diligently to put in place other preventive security measures such as closed-circuit television, protective shields, additional employee training in dealing with difficult and dangerous situations, and the hiring of dedicated security personnel. These initiatives are certainly improving the safety and security of transit operators, but they must be supported by legal measures such as the proposed legislative change in Bill S-221.

CUTA urges the committee to approve this bill for House of Commons consideration, as it will provide transit systems with an additional tool to ensure they're appropriately equipped to prosecute offenders. CUTA and the Metro Vancouver Transit Police are currently working on gathering data in the sentencing of subjects charged and convicted of assaulting bus operators across Canada. Preliminary findings reveal a lack of consistency in sentencing across the country for similar types of assaults.

To sum up, we believe this legislative change is necessary for three reasons. One, it will provide one more level of protection for transit vehicle operators, who face nearly 2,000 assaults a year. Two, it will improve public safety by enhancing the safety of passengers and other road users. Three, it will contribute to increasing consistency and predictability in sentencing across the country for similar types of assaults.

As you know, Bill S-221 has received approval from the Senate and unanimous consent at second reading in the House of Commons. I speak for all members of CUTA when I ask this committee to approve this bill for final consideration in the House, the final push required to ensure this piece of legislation becomes an effective, informed, and necessary law.

Thank you very much. Encore, merci.