Recently, the local media have run low on things to sensationalize. No governments are falling, the budget debate at City Hall is boring everyone to tears and we’re all in “wait and see” mode until Queen’s Park tells us just how broke they are at the end of March.
Into these doldrums fell a few stories that have been blown out of proportion:
- January 22: A shooting at Osgoode Station brought chaos to the afternoon rush hour and the first round of “is the TTC safe to ride” publicity. In time, we learned that the shooter and victim knew each other, and the wanted suspect has turned himself in to police.
- February 12: A man was stabbed at Wilson Station. No further details are available.
- February 13: At Dufferin Station, three teenagers were pushed from the platform in front of an incoming train. One managed not to fall, the others dropped to track level and, through quick thinking, wound up under the platform overhang. One of them sustained foot injuries from the train. The assailant was pursued and captured by various passengers and TTC staff, and is now known to have mental problems that could be the root of his actions.
- February 23: A youth boarded the Ossington bus and was recognized by two passengers. The youth was shot, non-fatally, and the incident continued outside on the street. A weapon has been recovered, and it is clear that the parties involved know each other.
These are all serious incidents, but they must be seen in the larger context of the city as a whole. Violent crime happens in many places — shopping malls, car parks, dance clubs both downtown and suburban, even in the 905, although the Toronto media tend not to report such things unless the story is just too juicy to leave alone.
In two of the cases above, the parties were known to each other, in one case we have no information, and one case is clearly a disturbed person. These events could have just as easily happened on the street such as the Dundas Square Boxing Day shooting in 2005.
Somehow, this has become a TTC Crime Wave. One reporter (from CBC Radio) actually dredged up an incident where a girl riding on a bus had been hit by a stray bullet from an incident on the street nearby. That’s not TTC crime, that’s street crime, and it shows how desperate some in the media are to manufacture a story.
At Queen’s Park, MPP Mike Colle, formerly Chair of the TTC, has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to make crimes on transit property subject to special penalties. Already, several legal beagles have pointed out that this would be ultra vires (beyond provincial jurisdiction) because such crimes are federal matters under the Criminal Code. However, it got Colle a “sparsely attended press conference” according to the Globe, and one short news cycle.
Violent crime in Toronto should not be ignored, but we risk wasting a lot of time demonizing the TTC as if it were inherently unsafe. The TTC is a place where lots of people travel, and by extension events of all kinds will happen there. Some types of activity may be deterred by cameras, at least for those criminals who understand or care that their actions are recorded for posterity.
This may contribute to TTC safety by pushing the violent crime elsewhere. The larger benefit of monitoring applies to typical onboard crimes such as pickpocketing and “stealth” sexual assaults that exploit the crowded conditions on vehicles.
Finally, I am appalled by the complete lack of attention to the issue of mental health and whether the Dufferin Station incident may have been preventable not by platform doors, but by treatment of an existing condition.
Platform doors, bluntly, are a make-work project for the TTC. The politicians can’t very well say that they are against them as it’s a motherhood issue. However, we’ve now seen a back-back-burner project leap to the forefront, partly as a reinforcement for “we need automatic train control now”. The TTC needs to be more responsible in its capital planning than hoping for an increase in “crime on the subway” to generate funding for its projects.
To the TTC’s credit, various spokepeople, notably Chief General Manager Gary Webster, have been quite measured in their response. The rest of the TTC and Toronto’s media need a similar, responsible approach.
Jeff Gray in the Globe has an article with an overview of recent events.