Ottawa

Advocates push for bystander training amid LRT harassment worries

Safety advocates in Ottawa are pushing for a comprehensive plan including bystander training to prevent harassment on the Confederation Line ahead of the LRT system's anticipated launch next month. 

Safety group fears current safety protocols won't work on packed trains

Julie Lalonde, director of Hollaback Ottawa, says bystander intervention is essential when it comes to stopping harassment on public transit. (CBC)

Safety advocates in Ottawa are pushing for a comprehensive plan including bystander training to prevent harassment on the Confederation Line ahead of the LRT system's anticipated launch next month. 

Hollaback Ottawa, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment, is asking the city to recognize the specific safety challenges associated with the LRT system, where trains can hold up to 600 passengers with only one operator on board.

We're not asking people to step between two people if there's a knife involved, or if there's a physical altercation.- Julie Lalonde, Hollaback Ottawa

"We are still concerned that the creation of LRT in the city is going to present some unique safety issues that the city hasn't thought about," said Julie Lalonde, the organization's director. 

With that many people on board, Lalonde says bystander training is essential. She's pushing for the city to educate passengers on how to intervene safely when they see harassment happening. 

Right now, the safety plan on the new Confederation Line will be the same one used on buses and on the city's Trillium Line, said Jim Babe, chief special constable at OC Transpo. 

Jim Babe, chief special constable with OC Transpo, says the agency currently encourages bystanders to 'let OC Transpo know' if they see harassment happening. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

That plan was developed in consultation with community groups including Hollaback. The campaign encourages victims or bystanders to let OC Transpo know about harassment through an online reporting tool, by phone or by telling an operator. 

Trains on the Confederation Line do include safety features such as two-way intercoms to speak to the operator, as well as CCTV cameras, but Lalonde said those measures may not be enough to stop harassment when it's happening, or prevent it from happening in the first place. 

"Even with a two-way intercom to speak to the driver, that's still a lot of people for one driver to have to handle," she said. "And something like a CCTV camera helps when you're trying to write a report after the fact, but it's not a deterrent." 

Julie Lalonde, director of Hollaback Ottawa, says bystanders will be at the forefront of harassment prevention when it comes to safety on crowded LRT trains. 0:50

What is 'bystander intervention?'

OC Transpo doesn't currently encourage direct bystander action apart from reporting incidents to the agency or calling 911 to report dangerous situations.

Lalonde, who has been teaching bystander intervention for over a decade, said some organizations are reluctant to ask bystanders to get involved over fears for their safety, something that frustrates anti-harassment efforts. 

The trains on the Confederation Line come equipped with two-way intercoms to allow passengers to contact the operator. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

"There's misinformation about what bystander intervention is," she said. "We're not asking people to step between two people if there's a knife involved, or if there's a physical altercation." 

She said there are many things bystanders can do to help victims of harassment without putting themselves in danger, such as asking the victim if they're alright or asking the harasser to stop their behaviour.

Much of the responsibility falls on OC Transpo, Lalonde said. 

"We do believe that the city has that responsibility to create that community in that space. This is public transit," she said. "There's an attitude shift that needs to happen, and we think it's up to OC Transpo to really set that tone." 

Meetings planned for fall

OC Transpo officials are expected to meet with community groups later in the fall, Babe said, and those conversations could potentially include a discussion about bystander training.

Once the city has an established handover date for the Confederation Line, Babe said the agency will be inviting its working groups and safety stakeholders aboard the trains for a tour of the vehicles' safety features. 

Lalonde said Hollaback Ottawa is hoping to meet with OC Transpo about LRT-specific safety issues before the public launch of the Confederation Line. 

"We want everyone in the city, young, old, regardless of your gender, to feel safe taking the system," she said. "We all pay the same fare, so I should have the right to feel as safe as the person sitting beside me."

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