Edmonton man asks UCP to do more to make transit safer

A man who says he was attacked as he exited an Edmonton LRT terminal is calling on the UCP government to do more to help people who are homeless, addicted and violent.

Rob Nicholl got off the train and was walking out of the Southgate station around 8:45 pm Saturday when he says he was punched several times.

“I saw a man standing probably two feet from the doors just urinating on the sidewalk openly,” he recalled.

“As I squeezed past, and tried not to get his urine on my shoes, I said something like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Can you pee somewhere else?'”

Nicholl said he kept walking but the man came after him.

“I heard him yelling from behind me and then he sucker punched me in the back of the head,” he said. He was asking, ‘Do you got anything more to say? Got anything more to say?’ And kept throwing more punches.”

Nicholl said the attacker continued to follow him down the sidewalk and punched him at least twice. He was “covered in blood” and suffered a concussion and a fractured orbital bone. He has two black eyes and wounds on the front and back of his head.

Nicholl is not upset with the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) or the City of Edmonton, but feels there is a serious problem with safety on the streets of the Alberta capital.

He suspects the attacker may be dealing with either an addiction or houselessness, or perhaps both. Nicholl is less concerned with him being caught and more with larger issues that are making people like him volatile.

“Ever increasing numbers of people can’t find housing, don’t have any sort of supports, if they fall into an addiction good luck getting out of it. We have a provincial government that’s gone and closed down safe consumption sites so all of that activity has now moved into transit centres,” he said.

OTHER TRANSIT ASSAULTS

Nicholl is not the only person to experience violence on Edmonton’s transit system this year, and a handful of cases made headlines.

In April, a senior was shoved onto Edmonton LRT tracks in what police called a “violent unprovoked assault.” She launched a $1.1 million lawsuit against Edmonton and ETS in June.

In May, two women from BC went public claiming they were randomly assaulted on an Edmonton bus. A 35-year-old woman was charged in that incident.

Then in September, a man was arrested under the Mental Health Act after he allegedly pointed a flare gun at a bus driver at the Westmount Transit Centre.

“I am a huge believer in the value of a public transit system,” Nicholl said.

“What’s the solution? Buy in from the provincial government for real solutions, evidence-based solutions.”

Nicholl is now waiting to speak with a city councillor about his experience, but he believes the city doesn’t have enough resources to deal with the open drug use, public urinating and violence he sees on his daily commute.

“I’m not going to let that one incident like that, as damaging and frightening as it might be, prevent that from letting me live my life the way it is best lived,” he said.

‘WE WILL CONTINUE SUPPORTING POLICE’

In May, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro ordered Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to create a safety plan for downtown and on transit.

In April, Sohi announced that 21 new transit police officers would be hired and that the city is also adding more community outreach transit teams which specialize in mental health, addictions and housing.

In October, the province announced $187 million over two years to be spent on addiction services and housing supports.

“Keeping communities safe while treating addiction as a healthcare issue is a priority for our government. We are taking significant steps to address issues of public safety and social disorder in Edmonton,” Colin Aitchison from the ministry of mental health and addiction wrote in a statement on Thursday.

“We will continue supporting police to keep our communities safe while treating addiction as a healthcare issue by focusing on recovery-oriented solutions to the addiction crisis.”

Nicholl said he has noticed more security in transit centers in recent months but said it’s still not enough.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s David Ewasuk

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