Transit advisory committee to mull offer to bring Bear Clan to the bus

The city's transit advisory committee is considering an offer from the Bear Clan Patrol to help keep the city's buses safe, if they're able to ride free during their postings.

Idea floated in spring, revisited on Monday after off-duty member intervened to stop on bus attack Sunday

Winnipeg's Bear Clan Patrol says it can help out with bus safety, and hopes patrol members can ride for free while they're on duty. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The city's transit advisory committee is considering an offer from the Bear Clan Patrol to help keep the city's buses safe, if they're able to ride free during their postings.

James Favel, co-founder and executive director of the volunteer group, said members already ride city buses and could provide a feeling of security if they're posted there.

"We are all about de-escalation. We want to keep things peaceful, and that's what we are trying to offer to transit," Favel said Monday.

"A lot of our members are already riding the bus. I mean, it's how they get to and from, you know, everything. We're already there."

On Sunday, an off-duty Bear Clan Patrol member on a bus intervened to prevent another passenger from being stabbed. Jonathan Meikle, the patrol member, was stabbed himself in the process and needed eight surgical staples in his leg.

The attack came just a few days after a teen pulled out a knife and began fighting with a man on a bus on Halloween.

The idea of Bear Clan Patrol on buses has been floated earlier this year, Favel said. In June, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary told CBC Bear Clan members would be preferable to the city's plan to hire former transit drivers.

On Monday, Bear Clan members met with representatives from the city's Transit Advisory Committee, which was created after transit driver Irvine Jubal Fraser was killed on the job in 2017. 

James Favel, executive director of the Bear Clan Patrol, distributes food from Crampton's Market to organizations and individuals in the community. (CBC)

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, who represents city council on the committee, said those representatives will meet with the full committee to present the results.

"If we are going to pursue this, what are the implications? What might be the budget allocations? How would this be operationalized?" Allard said. "And so that's the meeting that happened this morning, and expecting a report back to the full [transit advisory committee] so we can have a full discussion."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he was pleased to see dialogue around the Bear Clan but he'd like to hear from the transit advisory committee before arranging anything formally.

38 operator assaults so far this year: city

Violence on Winnipeg buses has been in the public eye since transit driver Fraser's death in February 2017. His death was followed by a series of initiatives by the city to improve bus safety, including improved audio and video surveillance, bus inspectors and a two-day de-escalation training for bus drivers.

Last year, 51 transit operator assaults were reported to the city, according to a spokesperson. The majority — 46 of them — were "Level One" incidents, in which the assailant applied force, attempted to apply force or made a threat.

Four of them involved the use or threat of a weapon to cause bodily harm and one of them was an aggravated assault.

So far this year, city numbers show 38 operator assaults, with 36 "Level One" incidents and two instances involving the use or threat of a weapon before Oct. 10.

Randy Tonnellier, operations manager at Winnipeg Transit, said he's in favour of anything that makes the city's buses safer. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Randy Tonnellier, manager of operations for Winnipeg Transit, said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the numbers.

Tonnellier said he hadn't been updated on the outcome of the Bear Clan's meeting with transit advisory committee representatives.

"But I'm definitely in favour of anything we can do to enhance safety in any way for our passengers and for our employees as well," he said."

'Don't want to take from the taxpayer': Favel

Favel said Bear Clan Patrol members receive thorough training. Examples include how to recognize a drug overdose, administer the overdose treatment drug Naloxone, first aid and CPR, use of a defibrillator and dementia awareness.

One of their most recent sessions was delivered by Winnipeg police and covered tactical communication, which Favel said is essentially non-violent crisis intervention training.

Walking patrols and board members are insured, he said. They are non-confrontational and non-violent. There would be no expectation or mandate to physically intervene in the way the off-duty member did on Sunday, which Favel said was an extreme case.

"When there are innocent people at risk, you can count on Bear Clan members stepping up to come to their aid," Favel said. "And that's what I can guarantee."

If his idea moves forward, free passage on the bus for members in their uniform, or potentially carrying an ID card, would be preferable to free bus passes, Favel added. A stack of free bus passes would cost the city, and Favel said he doesn't want to do that.

"I don't want to take from the taxpayer for us to do what we're already doing," he said.

"If it was as simple as … getting on the bus in our Bear Clan gear, if we could produce an ID card that had a commencement date and a renewal date on it and show that this volunteer's in good standing and they would be allowed to travel for free — that would be fantastic."


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