Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) driver Anna Cohen knows firsthand how debilitating a workplace assault can be.
Cohen, who has been working with the transit agency for over 12 years, was driving the Route 84 Sheppard West bus in North York in June of 2020 when a man ripped the handset out of her bus phone and beat her with it.
“He hit my face and my head numerous times,” Cohen said. She suffered a broken orbital bone that has caused a facial deformity, which still needs surgery.
“That assault caused of … a tremendous amount of trauma. I still suffer from PTSD.”
Cohen spoke at a press conference Wednesday organized by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada, which is calling on federal, provincial and municipal governments to help create a national framework to tackle the issue of assaults on transit systems.
The call comes as two TTC employees were stabbed in separate incidents in Toronto this month.
“We are in crisis when it comes to operator assaults across this country,” said ATU president John Di Nino.
Marvin Alfred, president of ATU Local 113, said that TTC data shows 67 transit worker assaults happened in the last quarter of 2021 alone.
“These numbers are especially high when understanding that our ridership has been significantly reduced because of COVID-19,” he said.
A man is facing charges in connection with one stabbing from earlier this month at Dupont Station, while a 14-year-old boy has been charged in connection with the other, which was caused by a fare dispute, according to police.
Di Nino said that across Canada, there are more than 2,000 assaults on transit operators reported each year — and the union is seeing an uptick in assaults in places like Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
“Right across the nation, we’re seeing a pattern of operator assaults and transit worker assaults,” he said.
Di Nino said the union is hoping to partner with governments to create a national task force that looks at issues of transit worker assault, which would include things like the implementation of reporting and tracking systems for assaults, organizing de-escalation training for workers, and increased distribution of personal protective equipment.
At a separate news conference Wednesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory did not commit to any sort of task force, but did say he has had “constructive discussions” with the union about issues of safety, and added a public information campaign is possible.