Union representing TTC special constables calls for ‘real solutions’ after rash of violent transit incidents

The union representing special constables, fare inspectors, and security personnel at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) says it’s been left out of ongoing safety discussions and is calling on the agency to “find real solutions” after a rash of violent incidents on the city’s transit system this year.

Dariusz Nowotny, interim president of CUPE Local 5089, says the union was left out of a recent meeting between TTC CEO Rick Leary, Toronto Mayor John Tory, the Toronto Police Service, and ATU Local 113 in which recent safety TTC concerns were discussed.

The meeting was held days after the fatal stabbing of 31-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewska in a random attack at High Park Station on Dec. 8.

“CUPE has reached out to Mayor Tory, TTC Chair Burnside, and TTC CEO Leary requesting to be involved in discussions to find real solutions to the increased violence on the TTC,” Nowotny said in a statement issued to CTV News Toronto.

As of Monday, the union says it hasn’t received a response, but Nowotny says he is “hopeful” the union will hear back soon.

While the TTC says it is “engaging with all union parties when it comes to safety,” the union says its absence from these talks is only further fuelling strife and uncertainty within the department.

When reached for comment, the TTC did not provide reasoning for CUPE 5089’s absence at last week’s safety meeting.

A RASH OF ATTACKS

Discussions around safety come after a number of violent attacks on Toronto’s transit system in 2022. Kurpiewska’s death marks the third on the TTC this year alone.

In June, a 28-year-old woman died in hospital after she was doused with a flammable substance and set on fire on a bus outside Kipling Station. Two months before that, a 21-year-old international student was shot outside of the entrance to Sherbourne Station and transported to hospital, where he later died.

Moreover, there’s been a number of other random attacks reported across the network in 2022, including but not limited to separate incidents in which a passenger was choked unconscious and robbed at Pioneer Village Station, another was stabbed in the neck at St George Station, and a woman was pushed onto the tracks while waiting for a subway train at Bloor-Yonge Station.

All those incidents, and others, prompted an increase in police visibility on the network in recent months that Tory said remains to this day.

When reached for comment, the office of Mayor John Tory said there is another safety meeting planned for next week.

“These incidents of violence on the TTC have shaken our communities and rightly raised residents’ concerns,” Tory said in a statement issued by his office.

“At the meetings I am convening, we are discussing specific measures involving the targeted deployment of additional safety-related people on the transit system, and greater involvement of our operators in offering advice that will help keep them and our passengers safe.”

Green also said the TTC has recently increased the number of special constables patrolling and is deploying more uniformed staff around the system.

“The safety of customers and employees is paramount to all the TTC does,” Green said.

“We have recently added more special constable patrols on the subways, but we also know that there are bigger societal and systemic issues at play when it comes to the root causes of these incidents and we look forward to a broader discussion about what can be done to reduce all crime.”

Green also highlighted a number of measures already employed to mitigate security incidents, including the presence of cameras and emergency alarms in all stations and vehicles, two-way communications systems in Designated Waiting Areas, and the SafeTTC app which can be used to report suspicious incidents in real-time.

SPECIAL CONSTABLES SEEK CLARITY

The union acknowledges the TTC has indeed made efforts to increase the number of special constables patrolling the system. Currently, it says eight to 12 officers are on patrol on any given day.

But an increase in staffing alone won’t result in a safer transit experience, Nowotny said.

“It is true, the TTC has been consistently hiring for several years now and we appreciate that,” he said. Yet, he says the department is struggling with a high staff turnover, in part, fuelled by uncertainty regarding enforcement.

Last year, the TTC fired two special constables involved in a high-profile incident on a streetcar in 2020.

Documents obtained by CTV News Toronto show that, since the aforementioned incident, the agency has altered its directives to its special constables regarding what levels of enforcement are permitted at least three times between December 2020 and June 2021 — something the union says breeds uncertainty and ultimately puts its officers, and the public, at risk.

“Fear of termination for doing what you’re trained to do doesn’t make for a place many people want to dedicate their career to, and it’s something we’ve suffered with for years,” Nowotny said.

Going forward, CUPE 5089 says it hopes to be included in talks regarding safety and security at the commission.

“We would like our input and experiences as front-line employees to be taken into consideration along with other front-line employees in the TTC.” 

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