TORONTO, ONTARIO – The problem of an increase in assaults on Toronto’s transit system will be made much worse if the TTC proceeds with its plan to eliminate the Guard at the back of each subway train, says Carlos Santos, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113.
The rise in assaults over the past year has prompted the TTC to call for more Toronto police officers on the transit system – but the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) warns that such a strategy could lead to increased racial profiling.
Rather than risking more racial conflict with an increased police presence, Santos argues that the TTC should rely more on its subway Guards, who for decades have dealt with a wide range of behavioural problems on subway trains in a non-confrontational manner.
Yet the TTC is planning eliminate the Guards on all its trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina line in the next few months. Guards have been responsible for overseeing passenger safety on trains since the TTC started operating the subway system in 1954.
“The timing could not be worse,” says Santos, pointing to the significant increase in assaults during the pandemic on both TTC passengers and employees.
Santos says that increasing the police presence could be part of the solution, but increasing the number of subway Guards would be more effective, with less chance of inflaming racial tensions.
“The most important part of the solution is to stop the TTC plan to eliminate the Subway Guards, who are trusted,” says Carlos Santos. “They know how to deal with problems and emergencies. They do it every day. And they’re already there.”
Santos insists that the TTC needs more Guards, not fewer.
He points out that Guards constantly monitor what’s happening on subway platforms and inside cars; they are trained to deal with emergencies and unruly passengers who disturb other riders.
While Guards have access to emergency equipment for alerting police, fire or ambulance, most of the time they are able to deal with difficult situations themselves. In their TTC uniforms, they represent authority and their very presence discourages passengers from bothering others.
In an open letter to TTC CEO Rick Leary last week, OHRC chief commissioner Ena Chadha acknowledged the need for the TTC to address rising crime but noted that “as years of high-profile incidents have demonstrated, police presence – on TTC properties/vehicles or elsewhere – does not necessarily equal more safety for members of marginalized communities.”