Edmonton Transit targets sexual harassment in new campaign

A woman who was sexually harassed on the LRT said she will feel more confident riding the transit system thanks to new safety measures approved by city councillors Wednesday.

Measures needed to improve transit for women, victim says

Mari Chartier said she was sexually harassed on the LRT last fall. She said new safety measures approved by the transportation committee will make her feel more secure. (CBC)

A woman who was sexually harassed on the LRT said she will feel more confident riding the transit system thanks to new safety measures approved by Edmonton city councillors Wednesday.

The transportation committee approved the development of a public awareness campaign, more training for drivers, and improved ways to report incidents to transit security.

Coun. Bev Esslinger brought the issue forward because of stories she had heard from women like Mari Chartier, who said she had a terrifying experience on the train last fall.

"I've never felt more powerless in my life," said 29-year-old Chartier, who told councillors several men approached her on the train that evening and refused to leave her alone.

"It turned into very crass, vulgar, physically grabbing at my arm," she said. "It was really scary."

Chartier has feared riding transit ever since that night. But she said the new measures approved by council would make her feel much more secure if it happened again.

"They talked about creating a safe, discreet way to contact officials who could … come in to the train. That's great."

The city's Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton (WAVE) Committee said the new safety measures have been proven to work in cities like Boston and Washington D.C.

"We've seen an increase in the reporting of these incidents and a decrease in these incidents happening," said WAVE representative Cristina Stasia.

New safety measures will be in place as early as summer

Ron Gabruck, Edmonton Transit's director of customer safety, said some of the ideas approved by council are already in the works, including a public awareness campaign to discourage harassment.

He also wants to improve people's awareness of safety measures that already exist. 

"We want to roll that out right away," he said. "That's a quick fix."

Councillors expressed concern about the threat of penalties associated with the help buttons on LRT trains. Mayor Don Iveson said it could deter people from seeking assistance. (City of Edmonton)
Councillors expressed particular concern about the help buttons on LRT trains which have signs warning of penalties if they are misused. 

Chartier said she didn't push the button because she was afraid her situation wasn't serious enough.

Even Mayor Don Iveson said he hesitated to use the button once during an incident on the train.

"I was thinking twice," he said. "Do I push the button? Do I not push the button?" 

When Iveson did eventually push the button, peace officers arrived right away. He said the threat of penalty discourages people from pushing it, no matter what circumstance they're in.

City staff will look at changing those signs.

Other parts of the plan could come into effect as early as July, Gabruck said.

In April, the city approved $712,000 to hire nine new transit peace officers which Gabruck said will help improve safety as well.