A young woman was stabbed multiple times in the head and face on a Spadina streetcar Tuesday afternoon in what’s believed to be a random attack, the latest in a series of violent incidents on Toronto’s transit system that left riders fearful and union leaders calling for governments to step in.
The attack comes one day after a group of young people swarmed and injured two TTC employees on a Scarborough bus and follows Saturday’s BB gun shooting of a bus driver on Saturday.
The stabbing victim, who is in her 20s, is stable and recovering from non-life-threatening injuries after she was attacked on the busy streetcar near Spadina and Sussex avenues around 2pm Tuesday, police said in an update from the scene. The suspect, a woman in her 40s, was arrested at the scene and will be charged with aggravated assault, said Duty Insp. Lori Kranenburg, adding that police do not believe the victim and suspect knew each other.
Toronto police have arrested a suspect and say it is unclear whether victim and suspect knew each other after the incident on the Spadina streetcar just south of Bloor Street West.
Bloody bandages could be seen on the front seat of the streetcar as police marked potential evidence. More than a dozen police and TTC vehicles were at the scene as curious bystanders milled nearby.
Police said a knife was recovered from the scene and the investigators would be reviewing surveillance video from the streetcar. Anyone with information about what happened was asked to speak to police.
The streetcar was heading south on Spadina Avenue and had pulled up to the stop at Sussex Avenue, said one witness who was working nearby. Immediately after the doors opened, a large group of mostly younger women flooded out of the doors, screaming, he said.
One was crying. They were just in shock,” said the witness, Michael, who declined to give his last name.
Two minutes later the police showed up, he said. “It was really fast.”
Camilo Siabato, a U of T student who lives in a building across the street from where the attack occurred, said he boards the Spadina streetcar at Sussex Avenue to get to class nearly every day. But on Tuesday afternoon, he opted to take a BikeShare instead, since the streetcar was delayed and he was running late.
Siabato returned home to a crime scene, shaking that he had so narrowly missed the stabbing.
“I got back here at 3 o’clock and I just saw a bunch of police cars,” he said.
The stabbing was the third case of violence on city transit in recent days.
Also on Tuesday afternoon, police announced they had arrested four 13-year-old boys in connection with an alleged “swarming” of two TTC employees. On Monday, Toronto police received a call at 3:35 pm about a group of 10 to 15 youths in an altercation on a bus near Kennedy and Merrian roads, just south of Kennedy subway station. As a result of the altercation, two uniformed TTC employees were assaulted, police say.
The group fled the scene, and the TTC employees’ injuries were determined to be non-life-threatening.
On Saturday, a TTC bus operator was shot with a BB gun. Her injuries were also non-life-threatening.
Violent crime has risen on the TTC since the pandemic, despite lower ridership — a trend experts pin on deepening social and economic issues in the city, including a lack of mental health support for people who are struggling.
In the first half of 2022, the TTC reported 451 offenses against customers, defined as the most serious incidents reported to police (assault, sexual assault, robbery, theft, threatening, harassment and indecent exposure). If that rate persisted, the TTC will have reported roughly 900 offences last year — up from 666 in 2019. As of January, the TTC’s weekday ridership was about 68 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
Violence against TTC employees is also on the rise. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of reported monthly offenses against employees hovered between three and five per 100 employees, according to the TTC CEO’s November report. The number of offenses has topped five per 100 employees each month since early 2020, reaching a five-year peak in April 2022, when there were more than eight reported offenses per 100 employees.
While Toronto is a safe city in relative terms, the alarming frequency and random nature of recent transit attacks — including the fatal stabbing of 31-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewska at High Park station in December — have left riders and TTC workers on high alert.
On Tuesday, the president of Canada’s largest transit union called for a national task force to address transit violence, which he says has persisted for too long with no action.
“For years we’ve been advocating for greater protections on our transit system, and every time there’s an event or a crisis, we hear the same rhetoric, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something,’” said John Di Nino, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Canada.
“Nothing is getting done.”
Di Nino said the problem could, at least in part, be solved by more police officers on the TTC — something Toronto Mayor John Tory pledged to do in the 2023 budget, which includes more funding from the city to fill 25 vacant spots for special constables. and create 25 new positions.
The notion that more police will boost safety is contended by many transit advocates and public health experts, who say addressing the root causes of violence — like the housing and mental health crises — is what is needed to make the system safe.
The vast majority of people have no violent inclinations. But when you continue to … deprive (people) of very basic needs and access to health care, there can be unfortunate circumstances where people are very desperate, people are very exasperated, very agitated,” University Health Network’s Dr. Andrew Boozary told the Star in December.
Di Nino said the mindset of front-line transit workers has completely shifted as a result of the violence.
There’s a fear factor. You just don’t know where it’s coming from,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing an exodus of (TTC workers) saying, ‘It’s not worth my life.’”
Riders are also thinking twice about taking the TTC, at a time when the system is desperately trying to lure them back.
“I’m taking only Ubers from now on,” said Tanisha Brumbridge, who used to take the subway daily. “I’m not jumping on that streetcar again — ever.
“The TTC is in trouble. No one is going to want to go underground anymore,” she said.
Toronto police’s Kranenburg said the force is aware of ongoing issues with safety on the city’s transit system.
“Toronto police is working in conjunction with the city to address these safety issues, and with Toronto transit,” she said.
“We can’t be everywhere at all times, so we’re asking people to continue to be aware of your surroundings and if you see something, report it.”
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