Wherever I am across Canada these days, I hear a lot from bus drivers and other public transportation employees about safety issues. On an all-too-frequent basis, there are news reports about assaults and various other offences against those who work in this vital sector.
People like bus drivers are required to provide open, accessible service to the public. They work in all areas of our communities. They do so in all conditions, at all hours of the day and night, often alone. So by the nature of their employment they are vulnerable.
The latest available statistics show that over 2,000 offences were committed against public transportation employees in Canada in 2011. Some were relatively minor, but many involved dangerous physical attacks. Some have left lasting damage, both physical and psychological. Such behavior is unacceptable and could create substantial risks to the traveling public, not to mention downtime, Workers’ Compensation claims and other costs.
A consensus has developed among organizations like the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the Canadian Auto Workers, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Urban Transit Association, the Chiefs of Police, many Members of Parliament across Party lines, and others. We need a concerted campaign to improve bus driver safety, and changes to the Criminal Code will help.
I first heard of these issues from Don Brown and Jim Yakubowski, the local Presidents of the ATU in Regina and Saskatoon respectively. The case they made was compelling. I have since met with union reps and transit employees in Ottawa and Burnaby, BC. More get-togethers are being planned.
I’m trying to build momentum behind a Private Members Bill (#C-533) which I put before the House of Commons in June. It provides that whenever any offence under the Criminal Code is committed against a public transportation employee, the Judge must take the vulnerable nature of the victim’s employment into account as an “aggravating circumstance” which would justify a heavier sentence.
This is good public policy. It is already being applied by some judges in some cases. My amendment would make it a rule in all cases.
While Private Members proposals survive prorogations, it is still rare event for one of them to make it all the way through the process to become law. I hope C-533 will be one of those. In a totally non-partisan way, I invite all Canadians to urge their local MPs to be supportive.
Better still, I encourage the government to take up this idea as their own. Move it forward on a stand-alone basis, uncluttered by other issues. With a little good-will on all sides, we can get this enacted quickly – maybe even with unanimous consent.