House of Commons Hansard #172 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rcmp.


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.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


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

11:10 a.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reassure my colleague immediately that we feel exactly the same way.

I would like to point out that members of my party have introduced a number of similar bills, and as I recall, though I was not here, during the previous Parliament, Bill C-333 dealt with exactly this problem.

My question is this: why has the government been dragging its feet on this issue since 2006? Can the sponsor tell me what happened to make this measure, which we will support, a priority?

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. It is a very good question.

I know that several bills on this subject have been introduced in the House. This bill has a specific provision that would also include taxi drivers, who were not included in the other bills.

I think this is a novelty, and it shows that our government would take care of a larger range of public transit operators, as the bill also includes taxi drivers.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


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

11:15 a.m.


Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, to work with municipalities, we need to have legislation in place. This bill would give the opportunity to municipalities to move forward in the deterrence of violence and to take action against violence against public operators and taxi drivers.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my follow-up question is in regard to the taxi drivers the member made reference to. Again, this is a very important industry.

When they allow people in, it is not like taxi drivers will say no. They feel vulnerable. There is a need for safety shields and cameras. There is a higher sense of need for security in our taxis than there ever has been over the last decade plus.

Could the member provide some comment on our role in terms of making sure that there is a safe working environment?

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important that, through this legislation, we provide the tools to educate the users of public transit and taxis not to resort to violent acts and so on, and if they do resort to these acts, they will be punished accordingly, with the force of the law.

This is not necessarily punitive legislation; it would provide the tools to have deterrence and not just a reaction to violence. This is in line with the Canadian way of thinking.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


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

11:25 a.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that the Liberal Party will vote in favour of this bill.

My colleague from Wascana once introduced a similar bill, though his was a little more vigorous than the one we are talking about today. We are therefore very happy to support this bill.

Far be it from me to predict the voting decisions of hon. members on a private member's bill, but I will not be surprised if this bill receives the unanimous support of the House. We shall see later if this is the case.

In effect, it would be difficult to oppose this proposition. Bus drivers and other public transit operators provide a valuable service for all Canadians every day. The statistics show that they are subject to much more abuse than one might expect, and certainly much more abuse than they deserve. Therefore, it is incumbent on Parliament to take measures to help protect them. It is true that all three major parties of the House have, at one time or another, presented similar legislation in this regard. Therefore, I would be astounded if the bill did not receive overwhelming, if not unanimous, support.

To provide a few of the statistics, 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 assault. It is partly because of the nature of their work that they are at greater risk than most because they are subject, willy-nilly, to whoever should enter their buses, taxis, ferries, or whatever means of transit. They have no control over who enters and are much more susceptible than most to this kind of attack. This is why they deserve a level of protection that is higher than that provided for most Canadians in other walks of life.

It is important to indicate what exactly the bill would do. I know the member has done so, but it would make the nature of a victim's employment as a public transit operator an aggravating circumstance which must be taken into account when a judge sentences an accused after conviction on specific Criminal Code charges. These include bodily harm, assault, aggravated assault and causing bodily harm. The definition of “public transit operator” includes not only bus drivers but also those operating taxis, trains, subways, trams and ferries.

We are happy to support this proposed law. As I indicated, the bill put forward by my colleague, the member for Wascana, was a little stronger in the sense that the fact of being a bus driver was to be an aggravating circumstance in sentencing for any crime against a bus driver no matter what the specific charge. However, that, in a sense, is a fairly small detail and the two laws are in the same spirit. We therefore are very happy to support it.

As my colleague from Winnipeg North pointed out, passing this law should not be the end of our pursuit of greater fairness for bus drivers and other public transit operators. There is scope for further actions, and a lot of those actions would probably involve more of the provincial and municipal governments than they would the federal government. At the federal level, we clearly have jurisdiction in the area of criminal law and can take this action, but also in the future the federal government could, and should, work with other levels of government to produce other measures and policy initiatives to enhance the safety and security of bus drivers.

I do not think there is controversy on this, so I will not go on any longer. The Liberal Party will enthusiastically support the bill.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


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

11:40 a.m.


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.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I invite the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East to exercise his right of reply. He has up to five minutes.

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


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

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Assaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Suspension of SittingAssaults Against Public Transit OperatorsPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 11:52 a.m., the House will stand suspended until noon. We will pick up government orders at that time.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:52 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders



Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON


That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, a bill in the name of the Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, entitled An Act to provide for the resumption of rail service operations, shall be disposed of as follows:

(a) the said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting;

(b) not more than two hours shall be allotted for the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, following the adoption of this Order;

(c) when the bill has been read a second time, it shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole;

(d) any division requested in the Committee shall be deferred until the end of the Committee’s consideration of the bill;

(e) not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole stage of the said bill;

(f) not more than one half-hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech;

(g) at the expiry of the time provided for in this Order, any proceedings before the House or the Committee of the Whole shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the stage then under consideration, of the said bill shall be put and disposed of forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, and no division shall be deferred;

(h) when the Speaker has, for the purposes of this Order, interrupted any proceeding for the purpose of putting forthwith the question on any business then before the House, the bells to call in the Members shall be sounded for not more than thirty minutes;

(i) commencing when the said bill is read a first time and concluding when the said bill is read a third time, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown;

(j) no motion to adjourn the debate at any stage of the said bill may be proposed except by a Minister of the Crown; and

(k) during the consideration of the said bill in the Committee of the Whole, no motion that the Committee rise or that the Committee report progress may be proposed except by a Minister of the Crown.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders


Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask members of the House to expedite the passage of a an act to provide for the resumption of rail service operations.

Today, we are experiencing a work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway that will have a significant impact on our Canadian economy. Canadian employees, members of the public, international trade, and our national economy will suffer.

Our economy has faced challenging times since the recession. However, we have stood out among leading industrial countries. Our government is proud of its record of protecting Canadians from the worst effects of the economic downturn and of laying the foundation for recovery.

The Canadian economy still faces risks from global factors that we cannot control. A disruption of rail services could lead to job losses and poses a great risk to the Canadian economy. A work stoppage will only further exacerbate the uncertainty of our economic state and further complicate an already complex situation.

In Canada, we have a large and well developed rail system that carries freight to all parts of the country. Rail is a vital part of the Canadian economy. It is an extension of our communities and their links to industry and resources, and it is part of our link to the world.

Our rail system is complex. It interconnects a wide range of businesses, including shippers, terminal operators, transloaders, port operators, shipping lines, and trucking, all of which are part of a very complex and complicated supply chain. Railway transportation is a backbone of an integrated supply chain that moves Canada's resources all over the globe. Problems occurring in one part of the chain can affect all stakeholders. There is a domino effect. Something that happens on the ground in British Columbia can have an impact on someone living in Ontario, and this can have an impact on tens of thousands of Canadian jobs.

CP plays a critical role in our economy, with its network spaning Canada and the United States. As the second largest rail freight service provider in Canada, CP has nearly 15,500 employees. CP Rail's network spans approximately 22,000 kilometres from Port Metro Vancouver to the Port of Montreal, and to parts of the U.S. northwest and midwest. In 2013, CP generated $6.1 billion in revenue, an increase of about 8% and a company record. CP transports seven commodity groups: industrial and consumer products, containers, grain, coal, fertilizer, sulphur, and automotive products. CP provides its customers, Canadians, the ability to trade with many partners across the country and around the globe. This allows us to employ thousands of Canadians.

Maintaining an effective supply chain is critical to meeting the government's objectives related to strategic gateways and trade corridors, such as the Asia-Pacific gateway. The 21 members economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group account for almost 2.8 billion people, over half of the world's GDP, and in excess of 80% of Canada's total merchandise trade.

Canada is a trading nation and CP plays a critical role in North America's supply chain for moving goods to and from Canadian, U.S., and international markets. This strike could have a detrimental effect on Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner. It could have lasting effects on an already uncertain economy and, most importantly, on Canadian businesses and jobs. It could have an impact on communities who rely on rail services for certain goods.

I have received letters from many people, such as Spectra Energy, urging the federal government not to hesitate to take action to ensure a quick resolution to this dispute. Spectra Energy provides a number of natural gas liquids, such as propane, butane, and ethane, all of which are supplied by rail to key markets in Canada and the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians rely on their products for heat and power. Without the ability to transport the product to residential and commercial customers, including hospitals, I can tell members that it would be catastrophic. Standing on the ground without heat in a hospital is something I cannot imagine.

The Propane Gas Association of Canada has urged that rail delivery of propane gas should be declared an essential service, since rail is the only effective means of transportation and propane is essential for heating homes and businesses.

Teck, Canada's largest diversified mining company has sent me a letter, stating that “...if a strike at CP or CN occurs, we urge that the Government take early action by exercising the legislative measures available to you, including the imposition of back-to-work legislation and binding arbitration.”

Teck's products represent one-third of our bulk exports going through the Port of Vancouver. Teck is the single largest Canadian exporter to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil. On a global scale, the implications of a rail disruption are grave. Teck further states that “...rail disruptions can cause serious harm to the Canadian economy and reputation and hurt our competitiveness as international customers are forced to look elsewhere to import goods.”

A work stoppage by CP could also have an adverse impact on the movement of grain, which is only now returning to normal conditions following last year's backlog. As members may recall, last March our government introduced an order in council to ensure that the supply chain operated effectively to deliver Canadian grain to market. The strike is causing a setback and it could take months to recover the lost business and lost investments.

Without CP Rail operating, our ability to move freight is more limited. This strike in rail transportation in Canada will have such an important impact on so many individuals and industries that the cumulative effects could be immense. However, it is not just the industries that use railways. The railways also provide the tracks for commuters in our cities, particularly Montreal in this case. A strike creates slowdowns and congestion, decreasing productivity and impacting hundreds of Canadians.

Over the past few years our government has been taking all necessary steps to protect Canadians from the worst effects of the economic downturn, but the work stoppage at CP, especially in our current economic reality, will have devastating effects on many workers and their families: those directly involved in the railway, and the tens of thousands of Canadians who rely on rail not only for product but also to get to work. We are not just talking just about the CP employees but the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on the goods carried by rail.

It is clear that we parliamentarians have an important role to play in putting an end to a situation that could negatively impact our economy and the well-being of Canadians. Our economy must be protected. Our products must reach markets. Canadian jobs must be preserved.

As we can see, rail transportation is key to maintaining our country's economic growth. Canadians and businesses count on us to make tough decisions like this one. We are doing this for the good of our country and the good of Canadian citizens.

I am happy to report that the Canadian National Railway and the TCRC, and CP and Unifor were able to reach agreements to renew their collective agreements. I am optimistic that these agreements will be ratified.

It is true that it would be preferable for the parties to resolve their differences on their own.

Our government would like nothing more than to see these parties, the CP and TCRC, reach an agreement on their own, because the best solution is the one the parties reach themselves. We have offered dispute resolution assistance to the parties, provided through the Canada Labour Code, but to no avail. The services and mediators of the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service are still available to help CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference in their negotiations. In fact, I know they have been continuing to work with them, even today.

On several occasions, I too have met in person and talked by phone with the former and current presidents of the union and the CEO of CP. As early as November and December last year, I was expressing my expectations for the current round of bargaining. More recently, in Montreal over the course of Friday and Saturday, I have been encouraging these individuals to reach a negotiated settlement, because the best solution is always the one the parties reach themselves.

If they cannot reach an agreement, I have asked them to go to voluntary arbitration to resolve their outstanding issues. Indeed, last Friday, I went to Montreal and continued to work with them, this time actually at the bargaining table. I continued to express my desire for them to reach a negotiated settlement, and failing that, agreeing to voluntary arbitration. Thus far they have not.

We feel that the parties have had ample time to reach a negotiated agreement. At this point, I have to be honest, the parties are not close to a deal.

For every day of a work stoppage, our economy and trade relationships will be further undermined. The cost to our economy will be enormous, an estimated $205 million decline in GDP per week.

Therefore, I ask my fellow members to stand up for Canadians and Canadian businesses and pass this bill to resume operations at CP Rail.

I can assure the House that our government will continue to focus on the growth and sustainability of our economy. Rail services must continue so that Canadian businesses and, more importantly, Canadian families can continue to be safe and prosper.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am appalled that we are once again debating a bill that violates the rights of this country's workers.

Could the Minister of Labour explain why the Conservatives are once again taking a sledgehammer to unions and workers and taking away their ability to exert pressure?

My question is simple: does the right to strike still exist in Canada?