TTC enforcement reform called by watchdog over "violent interaction" on streetcar

Dec 15 2020, 1:31 pm

A city watchdog is urging the TTC to reform its enforcement officers after an investigation found three of them used unnecessary force with a streetcar passenger earlier this year.

On Monday, the Toronto Ombudsman Susan Opler released a letter saying the TTC must act “with determination and without further delay.”

Opler said on December 8, TTC management shared a draft of its proposed response to the findings and recommendations arising from an investigation of “a violent interaction” on the Queen St. East (501) streetcar involving two Special Constables, two Fare Inspectors and a member of the public.

The incident was filmed showing the transit officers pepper-spraying the passenger.

The independent investigation into the February 7, 2020 incident was done by Rubin Thomlinson at the TTC’s request.

“My team is reviewing the proposed management response in detail. For now, I can only express my deep disappointment and continuing concern,” she said.

Opler and her office have been overseeing TTC enforcement and working with the organization to help it restore public trust in its transit enforcement.

“I have repeatedly expressed my concern, both publicly and directly to TTC management and staff, about unacceptable violent interactions between these employees and members of the public. All too often, the passengers involved are marginalized members of our community, including people who are racialized, are experiencing homelessness, have lower incomes and/or may be living with mental health challenges or other disabilities,” she said.

In the letter, Opler points to three other incidents: an altercation in 2015 at Union Station, resulting in there being an investigation in how the TTC’s oversight of the incident; one in 2018 involving two fare inspectors and a young Black male; and a 2019 incident involving two TTC Special Constables on someone who was in mental distress.

For the incident earlier this year, a video was posted to social media of enforcement using pepper spray on a member of the public.

Her key advice to TTC management is to publicly release the entire investigation report, or a complete and impartial summary, and to publicly release the TTC’s video footage of the incident.

Also to take “immediate steps” to have the passenger’s criminal conviction in May 2020 on two counts of Assaulting a Peace Officer vacated or overturned (which would remove the resulting probation terms, including a 12-month ban from the 501 streetcar line).

“Fairness demands this, given that the convictions were premised on the TTC staff’s version of the facts (namely that Passenger 1 started the fight), which the independent investigation found to be untrue.”

Opler stated that TTC staff should have de-escalated the situation, but instead, it was escalated.

“The TTC is the pride of Toronto, but Toronto deserves better than this. The evidence is clear: the TTC must move ahead with determination and without further delay to overhaul its oversight of Special Constables and Fare Inspectors by changing the culture underlying them from one of para-military enforcement and compliance to one based on rider security, service, respect and dignity,” she said.

“Public trust – and therefore the TTC’s success – depends on it.”

In response to the letter, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the transit commission “acknowledges and appreciates the Ombudsman’s advice and counsel.”

“It’s why we engaged with her as soon as we received the report into the Feb. 7 incident,” Green told Daily Hive in a statement.

“The TTC is committed to operating a system that is inclusive, modern, and welcoming for all residents of this great and diverse city.”

Green noted that the culture change at the TTC with respect to special constable services has been underway for a year and a half and they will continue to engage the Ombudsman’s office moving forward on that change.

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