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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Toronto police ending overtime deployments on TTC

Toronto police are ending extra patrols on city transit that had been introduced after several high-profile cases of violence in the system, with the force saying it would “remain flexible” to respond to the public’s safety concerns.

Police had announced in late January that more than 80 officers working overtime shifts would patrol various locations on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). That came after a series of violent cases on the TTC, including stabbings, BB gun shootings and an alleged swarming.

Those overtime shifts will now end, the force said Monday, and on-duty officers will carry out regular proactive patrols on the TTC.

“Toronto police will be visible in the transit system and officers will continue to patrol the TTC and respond to emergencies and calls for service,” police Chief Myron Demkiw wrote in a statement.

Police will patrol the TTC during periods that typically generate the most calls for service and where there’s a high volume of ridership, based on its own intelligence as well as data provided by the transit agency, Demkiw said.

Overtime shifts on the TTC could resume in the future “if deemed necessary,” police said.

“We will remain flexible to respond to the concerns of the public and will continuously assess the public safety needs, along with TTC and the City of Toronto,” Demkiw said.

City manager Paul Johnson had said at a February budget meeting that police would not be able to afford the overtime patrols — which cost about $1.5 million per month — past the end of winter unless additional funding was considered.

Some observers had called on police, the TTC and the city to make clear just how the measure had been working and to provide data on whether it had made the system safer.

Police said Monday that the increased police presence since late January resulted in 314 arrests and officers giving more than 220 referrals to people in need of social supports like shelter, food and mental health services.

An ambulance is parked outside a TTC station on Jan. 26, 2023. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Experts, community workers and advocates had previously warned that having more police on transit could negatively affect Black, Indigenous and other transit riders, as well as criminalize people experiencing homelessness or mental distress.

TTC data indicates customer offences went down for the month of January compared to the previous month — from 145 in December to 116 incidents. Those figures include occurrences ranging from mischief to assault, with no way to distinguish their severity.

TTC CEO Rick Leary thanked police Monday for their presence on the transit system.

“This partnership is essential to addressing the complex safety and security challenges the TTC has been facing recently,” Leary said.

Police noted Monday that the TTC had added 50 temporary security guards as well as community safety ambassadors and outreach workers to the system in the last month.

Muslim advocacy group condemns alleged hate crime

One incident that came to the attention of police while officers were conducting extra patrols on the system involved an attempted attack on a woman wearing a hijab on Line 1 on March 9 at about 5 p.m.

Police are investigating and a report has been filed involving a person with a knife, but the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said in a news release on Monday that it wants police to consider the incident a hate-motivated crime. Police have said they were called to Wilson station and the investigation is continuing.

According to the NCCM, the woman was threatened by a man carrying a large knife between Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station and Finch West station. The woman ran across several subway cars until a bystander helped her by pulling the train’s emergency alarm, the NCCM said in the release.

The NCCM said the man asked the woman questions about Muslims and Islam and asked what she would do if someone hit her head and got away with it. He reportedly also told her, “You know what we do with people like you,” before he pulled the knife out of his backpack.

The woman told the NCCM she was taking the subway to meet some friends at the time of the incident and the man frightened her.

“This is not the first time we have seen an Islamophobic attack on a Muslim woman who wears a hijab on public transit,” Nadia Hasan, chief operating officer of the NCCM, said in the release.

“There is a problem in this country where spaces that most Canadians take for granted simply aren’t safe for Muslim women and people of colour. The recent spate of attacks on the TTC is alarming. It’s time for change.” 

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