Toronto public transport to get more police as random attacks hit ‘crisis level’

<span>Photograph: Roberto Machado Noa/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Roberto Machado Noa/Rex/Shutterstock

Toronto police has announced plans to deploy more officers on the city’s public transport system as a transit workers’ union warned that a string of random attacks on passengers had brought Canada’s largest city to “crisis point”.

The city’s police chief, Myron Demkiw, said on Thursday that 80 officers would be immediately dispatched to subways and stations “to enhance the safety and security” of transit users. Earlier in the day, police arrested one person following reports of teens shooting at a passenger with a BB gun.

In recent days, police charged a woman with attempted murder after she allegedly approached another passenger on a streetcar and stabbed her repeatedly in the face and head. Separately, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed on a bus in the city’s west end and left with “serious” injuries. Earlier in the week, a group of teens “swarmed” and assaulted two transit employees and two other employees were chased by a person wielding a syringe.

The union that represents 35,000 transit workers in Canada warned that the situation had reached a “crisis level” in Toronto, amid a spike in assaults in other urban centres.

“The swarming, the unprovoked stabbings, [the] incident of someone running around with a syringe, it’s only a matter of time before these injuries become catastrophic and start to take lives. We need to act now, not tomorrow,” John Di Nino, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told reporters.

Over the summer a woman was stabbed to death at a subway station in a seemingly random attack and another woman died after she was set on fire in what police called a random hate-motivated attack.

Rick Leary, head of the transit commission, said while incidents were up, the “high profile” nature of the assaults had drawn public attention. The transit commission has previously said more vulnerable people have used its stations and vehicles for shelter in recent years as ridership ebbed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Toronto mayor, John Tory, said the city was facing a broader mental health crisis and an emergency federal summit is needed, although it is unknown what role mental illness has played in the spate of attacks.

Earlier this week, Tory said the mental health summit should have happened “yesterday” and leaders from all levels of government needed to meet to determine how care and assistance would be funded, but conceded there was no “magic answer” to the recent violence. More outreach and support workers will be sent to transit stations in the coming days.

In early January, Tory announced plans to hire 200 new police officers in the city budget and 50 special constables for the city’s transit system.

The spate of violence on the transit system comes with the city still on edge after a group of teens girls allegedly stabbed a man to death in an apparently random “swarming” attack. Police suspect the group was also involved in a series of assaults at downtown subway stations before the killing.