Manitoba

Make bus safety a priority, transit union urges new Winnipeg city council

Winnipeg's transit union is calling on the city's new council to make bus safety a top priority after a recent spate of violent incidents.

Bear Clan willing to be security presence on Winnipeg Transit buses

Police were called about two people, one armed with a knife, causing a disturbance on a bus in downtown Winnipeg on Wednesday. (John Einarson/CBC)

Winnipeg's transit union is calling on the city's new council to make bus safety a top priority after a recent spate of violent incidents.

"It's getting out of hand, so it needs to be controlled before it gets any further than what it is," said Aleem Chaudhary, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

"Hopefully we don't have another homicide on our hands. We don't need that. We need to have a better and safer work environment for our operators and for the passengers."

The new city council, elected Oct. 24, will be sworn in on Tuesday. It's the perfect opportunity to make safety a key concern — and once again raise the issue of putting plainclothes police officers on buses, Chaudhary said.

"That is something we've been after for at least almost two years now," he said.

"The people committing these crimes would back off and maybe think twice about it" if they knew the person sitting next to them might be a police officer.

James Favel of the Bear Clan shows off the group's logo. He would like members to be able to ride transit for free when they have Bear Clan-branded clothing on. (CBC)

James Favel, co-founder and executive director of the Bear Clan Patrol, said his group has been willing to offer that presence.

And on Sunday, it was two volunteers from the neighbourhood safety group that stepped in to prevent a passenger on a bus from being attacked.

A man got on and began yelling racial slurs and threats, then threatened to stab a passenger. The Bear Clan members, who were also passengers, pulled the man off the bus, wrestled him to the ground and got the knife away from him.

They then held the man down until police arrived.

During the scuffle, one of the Bear Clan members was stabbed in the leg and required eight surgical staples.

"It's awesome to see that kind of caring in our community. That's what we've been building towards — to make sure that when people see something going on like that, they step in instead of watch while other people get victimized," said Favel.

Favel, left, meets with volunteers from the group before heading out on a patrol. (CBC)

He said most Bear Clan volunteers already ride the bus, so he hopes to make a deal with the city. Favel would like to see group members be given free fare when they are wearing Bear Clan clothing, identified with the logo.

In return, they will provide security while on the bus.

Favel met with city administration on Monday about that, but he wasn't holding his breath for a deal.

He's already had several conversations with them since early spring "and so far it's come to nothing."

Chaudhary​ likes the idea, too, and said the ATU met with the Bear Clan about six months ago. The union, however, has no authority in making that decision, he said.

"And unfortunately, a deal hasn't been worked out with the Bear Clan and the city," Chaudhary​ said.

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