Edmonton

Edmonton transit attack should be a 'wake-up call,' says woman assaulted on city bus

A series of violent assaults on Edmonton buses Sunday should serve as a wake-up call for the city, says one of the victims who was repeatedly assaulted by a stranger during an afternoon ride.

'I do not blame this woman. I see a system that is very, very broken,' says assault victim Patty Garside

Patty Garside, her daughter and her sister were repeatedly punched, pushed and scratched by a stranger on a city bus on Sunday. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

A series of violent assaults on Edmonton buses Sunday should serve as a wake-up call for the city, says one of the victims who was repeatedly assaulted by a stranger during an afternoon ride.

Patty Garside, her daughter and her sister were repeatedly punched, pushed and scratched during the May 1 attack.

Garside said they were largely left to fend for themselves during the hour-long attack, an ordeal she described as emotionally and physically traumatizing. 

A 35-year-old woman has been charged with six counts of assault and three charges for causing a disturbance and breaching conditions, Edmonton police say. 

All the injuries reported were non-life threatening, police said.

The issue of transit safety in Edmonton has been under increased security after a 78-year-old woman was pushed onto LRT tracks last week, in what police have described as a violent and unprovoked assault.

Garside, from Victoria, B.C. said the women were en route to the Lewis Farms Transit Centre in the city's west when the initial assault began.

Garside and her daughter had just flown into the city for a family visit and were looking forward to an afternoon of sightseeing.

'She attacked me' 

Garside, 56, said they were sitting near the front of the bus when an agitated woman sat down nearby at around 3 p.m.

The passenger, who was a stranger to the women, spoke of the devil and began threatening them, Garside said. 

"This woman, all of a sudden, just lunged at my daughter and tore her glasses off her face and scratched her. And then she grabbed my sister, so I stepped in." 

The driver yelled at the woman to get off the bus but the assault continued, Garside said.

Garside said the driver did not get out of his seat but appeared

to be calling for help. Other passengers were watching the incident unfold, recording the assault with their phones.

"She attacked me  — started to assault me," said Garside, who said she eventually managed to wrestle the woman off the bus. 

"As she was hitting me, I was just still walking towards the door … and absolutely nobody came to our aid, nobody."

After arriving at the transit centre, as Garside filed a police report over the phone, the attacker reappeared.

"Another bus shows up and three or four young women — teenagers — came off the bus. They were screaming and they were terrified. They were being assaulted by this woman." 

Garside say she offered to help the teenagers. Soon, the woman was chasing all of them through the transit centre, she said.

Garside said she and her family ended up on the platform, where they were attacked a second time.

"She targeted my daughter again," she said.  "I screamed at her. She went for my sister. She grabbed my sister by the arm and she was punching her in the face.

"I stepped in again and got my daughter and my sister behind me ... I just backed up and she was hitting me."

A transit driver eventually ushered the women into a bus, Garside said. Police arrived on scene a few minutes later, she said. 

Garside said she and her sister both suffered concussions and were assessed in hospital.

Garside says the attack — the latest in a string of violent incidents on Edmonton's transit system — should serve as a reminder that security issues are putting passengers at risk. 

"I hope that this horrifying experience that has happened to me and my family is even more of a wake-up call that something needs to be done, that this needs to be made a priority," Garside said. 

"I'm not angry. I'm just saddened." 

The safety of Edmonton's transit system has been under increased scrutiny since a woman was pushed from the LRT tracks last week during an unprovoked attack. (Cort Sloan/CBC)

The previous high profile transit attack last week left Sharda Devi Naidu with a shattered right leg after she was pushed off the platform at the Health Sciences/Jubilee LRT station on April 25.

The 20-year-old man accused of assaulting Naidu was arrested the following day after he allegedly used or threatened to use bear spray on a man at the Churchill LRT station.

The city has promised to improve transit safety with improved outreach services and security measures.

Steve Bradshaw, local transit union president, said while he deeply regrets the attack occurred, his members responded appropriately. 

When violence erupts — operators are instructed to keep themselves out of harm's way and call for help from peace officers and police.

Bradshaw said, too often, transit drivers have become the target for violence and abuse.

He added drivers are concerned about the recent rise in violence on the system, disorder he attributes to complex social issues.

The transit system is often operating as a makeshift shelter amid an "avalanche of homelessness" in the city, he said. That, in turn attracts a "criminal element" of people who are to prey on vulnerable people, he said. 

He said the union is working closely with the city manager to improve security for passengers. 

"This shouldn't be happening to anyone on our system here in the city, much less to visitors."

In a statement issued last week, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said increased crime and disorder on the transit system are symptoms of broader societal issues —  including homelessness and addiction — problems that the city needs provincial assistance to better address. 

Garside agrees. She said more resources are needed to help vulnerable people. Garside, who works as a support worker in a residential treatment centre, suspects her attacker was experiencing a mental health episode. 

"I do not blame the woman," she said. "I see a system that is very, very broken." 

With files from Janice Johnston

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