2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 79

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Criminal Code

Bill to Amend—Third Reading

Hon. Bob Runciman moved third reading of Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators).

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I too rise on Bill S-221, but I am not the critic of this bill. Senator Baker is the critic, so I ask that he be accorded the right to have his time as the critic.

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met in June to discuss Bill S-221, which rightly looks to amend the Criminal Code with regard to assaults against public transit operators. I would like to thank the Honourable Senator Runciman for introducing a bill that highlights the importance of public transit workers in our communities and addresses their need for proper protection by the law. Senator Runciman, I have heard from so many public transit operators who have asked me to thank you publicly for introducing this bill.

I would also like to thank Mr. Neil Dubord, Chief Officer of Metro Vancouver Transit, for testifying and illustrating the magnitude of this issue in my home province of British Columbia and across Canada.

Honourable senators, I am saddened to say that assaults against public transit operators nowadays have become far too common and, unfortunately, the headlines in the news reflect this trend. Public transit operators are verbally, physically and emotionally abused on a daily basis. From minor physical assaults to egregious acts of violence, public transit workers face risks that those in other occupations do not face.

In 2013, Metro Vancouver reported a 9 per cent increase in assaults against bus drivers. Reports this year so far indicate that the number of assaults has dramatically risen. Mr. Dubord, Chief of Metro Vancouver Transit, explains that the risks bus drivers face are due to the fact that “the opportunity for operators to disengage and extricate themselves from potentially violent situations does not exist.” Unlike pilots, who may restrict access to the cockpit of a plane, public transit operators do not have that luxury, which is why they require the protection of this bill.

Bill S-221 seeks to provide justice in these cases of abuse by requiring a court to consider it an aggravating circumstance if the victim of an assault is a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duty. Unlike similar previous bills before, Bill S-221 broadens the definition of “public transit operator” to include taxi drivers, ferry operators and school-bus drivers.

Today, I would like to share with you a story from a past intern of mine, Ms. Vi Vo, about her father, Mr. Cuong Cao Vo, a taxi driver in Toronto. Ms. Vo said:

Immigrants. Long hours. Danger. These are the words that come to my mind and the minds of many others when the taxi industry is mentioned. In many respects, these words are a very accurate description of the taxi business.

For over twenty years, my father has driven a taxi cab in the city of Toronto. As a taxi driver, he can tell you about the types of danger that he has encountered.

As an immigrant, he can tell you the type of treatment he receives for his work. Like many taxi drivers and their families, both of my parents are immigrants.

Both my parents are from Vietnam but spent over 10 years in a refugee camp before arriving in Canada. Although both of my parents work, my mother’s focus has been on me and my two younger brothers, and my father is the primary financial supporter. With this enormous pressure on his shoulders, he joined the taxi industry with the notion that the long hours would provide him with the opportunity to bring more to the table than any other factory job could.

My father works 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, but he never complains. In fact, it is his positive attitude that I admire the most. Despite the long hours, my father always found something enjoyable in his day. At home, he would share stories about the interesting people he met that day or the fascinating places he was able to see. My father would also share stories about those moments when he feared for his life. There is one particular story that I will never forget.

It was around four in the morning and my father’s shift was just coming to an end when he was flagged down for a ride. He had planned on heading straight home, but there were no other cabs around so my father thought he could make one more trip before calling it a night. A woman climbed into the front and two men settled in the back. They didn’t have the address of where they wanted to go, so they gave my father directions along the way.

After a 20-minute ride, my father found himself in a deserted parking lot in the outskirts of the city and he knew something was wrong. One man pulled out a knife and held it to my father’s throat. The other man demanded all his cash, and the woman simply watched. Without hesitation, my father unbuckled the pouch around his waist, which I had given him for Christmas, and handed over all his earnings. He hadn’t made much that day and he wanted to go home, but the men didn’t listen. They dragged my father out of the car and attacked him after he had given them all his money, after he promised not to say a word, and after he begged them to please let him go home to his family.

My father could have been killed that night and what I remember vividly is the sight of him getting ready for work earlier than usual the next day — wearing an old, weathered pouch around his waist instead of the new one I had given him. Bruises trailed along his weary face and his lip was swollen and cut, but he still managed a smile at the sight of me. When I asked why he wasn’t staying home, my father joked that his lunch money was stolen and he had to put in a few extra hours to earn it all back.

My family fears for my father’s safety every day. News of another assault against a taxi driver stops me in my tracks and I find myself praying that it’s not my father and praying for the family of the victim.

I am heartbroken to say that my father has suffered numerous assaults over his twenty years of work, but he never complains. Instead, he tells me that abuse is part of the occupation. He tells me it happens all the time and is nothing to worry about. Although I admire how brave he is and how positive he remains, no one should ever have to explain these types of risks to their children. My father deserves to be protected.

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Honourable senators, Mr. Vo’s daughter is a law student, studying at one of the best law schools in the United States. Both of Mr. Vo’s sons are pursuing business degrees. The youngest one just finished his first year at Schulich School of Business, one of the best business schools in Canada.

Mr. Vo is not just a taxi driver. He is also a father providing for his family so that his children can become the lawyers and the businessmen of our future. Across Canada, statistics show that over 50 per cent of taxi drivers are immigrants. Coming from Uganda, I do understand the narrow outlook on immigrants, but we must remember that we rely on them a great deal. Taxi drivers perform essential, front-line service that directly impacts the day-to-day lives of millions of residents and visitors.

Unfortunately, taxi drivers also hold the highest rate of being killed as a result of their occupation. According to Statistics Canada, the homicide rate of taxi drivers was found to be twice that of police officers. In the most recent study, an average of 3.2 taxi drivers per 100,000 died each year, which is significantly higher than the average for policemen. Yet, the status of a victim who was a policeman may be considered an aggravating factor, while the status of a taxi driver is irrelevant. The psychological impact, disrespect and embarrassment suffered are also never considered in sentencing yet continue to severely affect victims long after these crimes.

Bill S-221 properly acknowledges the different risks that public transit operators face. By broadening the definition of public transit operator, Bill S-221 rightly extends its protection to include those who need it most.

For example, unlike bus drivers, taxi drivers are independent, and the mobility of the workplace makes it very easy for taxi drivers to be directed to desolate locations where crimes can occur. Public transit operators who work alone are particularly vulnerable. Because of the lack of witnesses, complaints filed cannot be followed up on. As a result, numerous assaults are not reported because reporting such incidents would not lead to justice. Instead, public transit workers expect to be verbally, physically and emotionally assaulted every day. No one should expect to be abused in their workplace.

Honourable senators, many of our colleagues do exceptional work to improve the lives of Canadians. I know you will join me in acknowledging and appreciating the great work done by Senator Runciman in introducing this bill to protect people who provide public services and work long hours for our comfort.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

 

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