The fatal stabbing of a Winnipeg Transit driver is thought to be the first time a city bus operator has been slain on the job in Manitoba.
Dave Wardrop, the Winnipeg's chief transportation and utilities officer, said while drivers have died in collisions in the past, this is the first known case of a city driver being killed in a violent altercation with a passenger.
Irvine J. Fraser, 58, was attacked at the University of Manitoba and died after being taken to hospital, Winnipeg police said Tuesday at a news conference.
"My fellow brother was murdered for doing his job last night, that's all I know," said Nelson Giesbrecht, who has been driving buses for Winnipeg Transit for 19 years.
"I'm pretty shaken up. It's supposed to be Valentine's Day, not a day of mourning. It's supposed to be about love, not death."
Officers with the major crimes unit, the forensics unit and the identification unit remained for hours at Dafoe Road West and Gillson Street, in front of Tache Hall, where police were called just before 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Witnesses helped direct police to a man who was arrested on the nearby frozen Red River — between Freedman Crescent and Marine Drive — which runs adjacent to the campus. The 22-year-old remains in police custody. No charges have been laid.
An officer with the canine unit fell through the ice when he went back to investigate the scene. He was pulled to shore by other officers and wasn't injured.
"I think the quick-thinking action of our members who were on the scene prevented this from becoming an even worse tragedy," Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said.
Our public transit is safe. I ride the bus. My family rides the bus. I believe it is safe. - Chief Danny Smyth. pic.twitter.com/x5AIhoXAho— @wpgpolice
Police said Fraser and the man who stabbed him were alone at the time of the attack. Investigators plan to review footage from cameras on the bus to determine whether the attack happened inside or outside the vehicle, Smyth added.
A large area of blood could be seen on the snow near a bus that was parked next to a curb.
"This is a rare occurrence," Smyth said. "It is a shocking story any time a public servant is killed while working.
"We don't think things like this are going to happen."
'Very sad day'
"It's a very sad day, I want to offer deepest condolences to friends and loved ones of Irvine Fraser as well as his colleagues at Winnipeg Transit," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said, thanking the police canine unit for helping make an arrest.
Bowman said he agrees with Smyth in that he wants to see the investigation conclude before commenting generally on safety on Winnipeg buses.
"We're going to continue to look for ways to ensure safety is best protected for everyone that rides buses, including operators," Bowman said. "The discussion of safety isn't new."
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University of Manitoba president David Barnard thanked the police and transit officials involved in the investigation and said "the suspect has no evident association with the University of Manitoba."
"Our hearts and minds remain with the family and loved ones of Mr. Fraser. Tragic events like this morning's reaffirm our collective commitment to building a stronger, safer shared community," he said in a statement.
University student Victoria Goikhman said she was shocked and upset after hearing about the stabbing because she takes buses all the time and knows many of the drivers.
Violence on buses
Violence against Winnipeg Transit drivers over the past couple of years has put the dangers of the job into the spotlight.
In 2015 in Winnipeg, there were about 60 incidents on transit buses involving drivers, an increase of 54 per cent over the previous year, the Amalgamated Transit Union said in an interview last year.
In the summer of 2016, a transit driver decided to fight back after being spit on by a passenger. The passenger was eventually charged with assault.
A federal law passed in February 2015 allows more severe penalties for attacks on bus drivers. Bregg's Law was named after Edmonton transit driver Tom Bregg, who was beaten so severely that he suffered brain injuries and lost the sight in one eye.
Bregg was driving his route during the rush hour one morning in December 2009 when he was hit several times by a drunken man, who did not want to pay the $2.50 fare. The attacker dragged the driver off the bus and stomped on his face more than a dozen times when he became wedged between the bus and the curb.
Bregg was in hospital for more than eight weeks.
Gary Mattson pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was declared a dangerous offender.
City Coun. Brian Mayes has been raising the issue of transit safety since 2011, pushing the city to get special constables on public transit buses. In 2014, he won approval to get cadets put on some transit routes.
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Coun. Matt Allard joined the call in 2015 and put forward a motion to get regular undercover police officers posted on buses. That's been happening for about a year now, and there has been an improvement in terms of the number of assaults, Mayes said.
Statistics are kept on which routes have the most incidents and at what times of day they happen. That allows the city to really focus its efforts, "but there will always be some outliers" that don't fall into that framework, Mayes said.
Tuesday's attack is one of those, he said.
"This is a very unfortunate incident," Mayes said.
Wardrop said violence on buses in Winnipeg has generally dropped over time, with the exception of the past year or two.
"We have seen some more problems arising again that we're struggling to deal with," he said. "This is a serious problem, it's a problem we take extremely seriously ... and it's a national problem."
Counselling services have been made available to transit employees to help them cope with Fraser's death, Wardrop said.
"This is of course a very difficult time for Winnipeg Transit employees, City of Winnipeg employees," he said.
Wardrop said Winnipeg Transit will work with the union to determine whether any improvements can be made to make drivers safer on buses.
"As difficult as it is, we encourage everyone to focus on the job at hand, to focus on the service that we need to deliver on a daily basis and continue on."
Bus Operator Fatality - Condolences to the family and friends. Please know you have the support from all of ATU 1505 https://t.co/h8w367tq6b— @ATU1505