A new law passed this week by the federal government should show criminals that Canada is taking a tough stance on assaults on bus drivers, says St. Albert’s member of Parliament.
The House of Commons passed Bill S-221 Monday.
The bill requires a judge to consider the fact that the victim of an assault was a transit operator operating a transit vehicle as an aggravating factor when sentencing someone for the assault, whether the vehicle be a bus, train, subway, tram, ferry or licensed taxi cab.
Aggravating factors generally tilt judges towards harsher sentences.
Originally introduced in the Senate by Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman, the bill is more or less identical to one tabled by Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber in 2011 in reaction to a brutal assault on St. Albert bus driver Tom Bregg.
Bregg, then 58 and driving an Edmonton Transit Service bus, was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries in December 2009 after passenger Gary Edwin Mattson struck and stomped him repeatedly following a dispute over a $2.50 fare.
The assault drew national attention and prompted St. Albert Transit to put video cameras in its buses to film assaults and accidents.
It also prompted Rathgeber to table Bregg’s Bill – the predecessor to Runciman’s bill.
Unlike other assaults, assaults on bus drivers are a public safety issue as they put everyone on and around the driver’s bus at risk as well, Rathgeber said.
“When you assault a public transit officer while he’s operating, you could have a potential catastrophic incident if that bus were to crash,” he said.
“The public has a vested interest in deterring these types of crimes.”
Bregg’s Bill died on the order paper with the call of the 2011 federal election.
Rathgeber said he was disappointed when that happened, but saw that the bill had “moved the yardstick” in Parliament and won support for its principles.
After the election, Rathgeber said he learned that Runciman had decided to table a near-identical bill in the Senate, so he focused his efforts on a different bill about public servant salary disclosure – a bill that later prompted his resignation from the Conservative caucus.
“I take great satisfaction that a concept I authored is going to be proclaimed into law any day now.”
Praise for new protection
Steve Bradshaw, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569 (which represents Edmonton and St. Albert bus drivers) said he was elated by the bill’s passage.
“It’ll send a message to people who are thinking they can get away with (assaulting a bus driver) that they can’t,” he said, and that they will be dealt with harshly if they try.
Bus drivers are the front-line face of the city government and frequent targets for irate citizens, Bradshaw said. They’re also trapped in most assaults, as the assaulter is usually between them and the bus door.
“That puts us at excessive risk.”
“We need to find a way to stop it (assaults) from happening in the first place.”
Union statistics suggest that something like 80 per cent of transit assaults are caused by fare disputes, Bradshaw said. He called for a new system where drivers would not collect fares and customers would instead pay for rides in advance like they do on the LRT.
It’s hard to say how effective of a deterrent this bill will be, Rathgeber said. Still, Bregg’s case was highly publicized, and this bill will serve as notice that society, through the Criminal Code, is taking a tough stance on these types of assaults.
“These men and women are facing dangerous work sites, and Parliament has decided to act.”
Bregg, reached at his St. Albert home, declined to comment on the bill’s passage.
The bill becomes law upon proclamation.