Over the past few weeks, public transit users in Toronto have been shot to death, stabbed in the neck and pushed onto subway tracks in front of a moving train — all by complete strangers, all without provocation.
High-profile attacks like these are rare, considering how many people ride the TTC every day without incident, but it’s not often that we see so many scary things happen in such quick succession.
Rampant reports of random assaults both on and off the TTC network have shaken Toronto residents recently, rendering some hesitant to enter subway stations and bus terminals for fear of violence.
You can’t blame them, but you can try to reassure them, as Toronto Mayor John Tory did today in the wake of yet another random stabbing attack at St. George Station this week.
Tory met with both Toronto Police Chief James Ramer and TTC CEO Rick Leary on Thursday amid mounting pressure from members of the public to address “the recent and unacceptable incidents of random violence we have seen on the TTC.”
“We are all in complete agreement that the safety of everyone on our transit system is an absolute priority, and I made it clear that the City government is ready to provide any additional support required,” said Tory in a press release following the meeting, noting that all three officials were “extremely troubled” by what’s been happening.
Tory thanked police and TTC staff for moving quickly to arrest those responsible for some of the recent high-profile attacks, and wished the victims a quick recovery.
“The TTC and Toronto Police have assured me that they are more focused than ever on the safety of the transit system,” Tory continued.
“Police confirmed today they are not seeing a spike of violent incidents on the TTC. Both the TTC and police service have committed to doing everything they possibly can do right now to address the public’s concerns and that they will never stop looking at ways to make the system even safer.”
Tory highlighted that there are already many safety measures in place across the TTC network, but also revealed that the transit agency is planning to focus more security resources in and around the subway system specifically.
Toronto Police will also be “working to increase the visibility of police officers in the City’s transit system throughout the coming days and in the weeks ahead,” according to Tory.
But his message to citizens didn’t end there. It could have, but it didn’t.
Tory took the conversation one step further, validating the concerns of those who’ve been arguing that this rash of random violence is symptomatic of a larger problem.
“Our discussion today did focus a great deal on mental health. TTC and Toronto Police officials made it very clear just how often these types of incidents on the TTC can be traced back to mental health and addiction issues,” said the mayor.
“As I have said many times, there continues to be a need for more intensive efforts to address mental health and addiction concerns in our society by the healthcare system.”
While the pandemic has certainly exacerbated conditions like depression and anxiety among the general population, it has also resulted in higher rates of homelessness for vulnerable people with serious psychatric conditions.
According to Toronto’s Fred Victor Centre, a charitable organization that provides support for people living in poverty, some 75 per cent of people experiencing homelessness struggle with a form of mental illness.
COVID outbreaks in shelters, the clearing of encampments at parks, the ongoing housing crisis, and an uptick in demand from people seeking help have all contributed over the past few years to a phenomenon in which we’ve seen more homeless individuals using the TTC as a place of shelter.
Simply put, mental illness and addiction issues have never been so visible in this city.
Tory believes that addressing this urgent and ever-worsening problem could help make the TTC feel safer.
“This is becoming a more and more acute problem for Toronto and other cities and has a considerable impact on safety and stability on the TTC and many other places in our city. Those experiencing mental health and addiction issues need treatment and support and this is properly the responsibility of the provincial health care system,” he said on Thursday.
“We simply have to do more and do better and this will be an integral part of keeping the TTC stable and safe.”