Opinion

Taking a rest on Winnipeg Transit dependent on race?

Sara Arenson says questions remain after she saw Winnipeg Transit inspectors escort an aboriginal man off a bus. 'If he was non-aboriginal, would the response have been the same?' she writes.

Winnipeg writer questions method, motives of kicking sleeping passengers off buses

A Winnipeg writer recounts taking a nap on a city bus, to be woken to the sound of inspectors asking another napping passenger to move along. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"Open your eyes!" says a woman's voice from the back of the bus. "Come on, open your eyes."

Up until now, I've been snoozing, getting my last few moments of shut-eye before a day of work. But now the voice has jarred me awake, and I turn back to see a woman and man in Transit Inspector uniforms.

Their van is in front of us, lights blinking. We are parked on Graham Avenue, near Winnipeg Square.

For a few minutes, the woman keeps repeating, "Open your eyes!" to someone in the last row.

The rest of us sit silently, looking around in confusion. Just as I worry that the person isn't going to wake up, the tone changes.

The male Inspector asks, "Where are you going? Downtown? Well, we're here. Why don't we go get some fresh air?"

As I watch, they escort an aboriginal man off the bus.

This is not the first time I've seen this happen. And as usual, I am left with questions.

Was that man doing anything wrong? Anything dangerous or disruptive? As far as I could see, he was only sleeping.

Will he actually get to his destination?

And the hardest question of all: If he was non-aboriginal, would the response have been the same?

It doesn't feel right, to exile someone so publicly.

I don't trust the line about "getting fresh air," and it bothers me that it's always an aboriginal person being led away.

For those of us on the bus, there is no closure. No official explanations. We never learn what the person did to earn this treatment.

Hoping for some answers, I called the City of Winnipeg.

According to a City of Winnipeg spokesperson, the inspectors had been dispatched because the person was asleep for an entire trip.

When someone is able to care for themselves and state their destination, "They are allowed to ride to their destination or are redirected off to another bus, if it is quicker for them."

In this case, the passenger "was coherent and able to tell the Inspectors that his destination was the downtown area. As such, once off the bus, he continued on his way."

Heavy sleep could mean a medical emergency, and of course, your fare does not give you the right to use the bus as your bedroom. On the other hand, how did the situation escalate into being so public and forceful? Is there a better way to help a sleeping passenger?

I hope that man made it to his destination — that the "downtown area" was close enough. I hope he got all the sleep he needed. And I hope that the next time this happens, the other riders will talk about it.

Sara Arenson is a freelance writer and radio journalist. She has contributed to Geez Magazine, the Westman Journal, Community News Commons and CKUW radio.

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