Toronto transit constables faulted for ‘excessive force’ on streetcar rider

TTC Agents

Two special constables were unnecessarily violent with a Toronto streetcar passenger in a videotaped incident shared widely on social media, an investigation has concluded.

In a report into the February incident, the investigator found both officers — motivated by misguided perceptions of the mentally ill — used excessive force, as did a fare inspector.

Video of the incident showed the transit employees struggling with the passenger, then pepper-spraying him.

The report ordered by the Toronto Transit Commission and written by law firm Rubin Thomlinson says there was nothing untoward in how a fare inspector initially approached the unidentified passenger, who was sitting by himself on the Queen Street streetcar. The man, however, aggressively refused to provide proof of payment, it says.

Unable to obtain such proof, the special constables asked the man to get off the streetcar. He refused.

“The passenger was belligerent, swore and spoke loudly,” the investigator says, adding the transit officials remained calm.

However, things went south when the man stood up and the special constables grabbed his arms. One of them yanked him forward and the second put an arm around him, escalating the incident, the report states.

In an ensuing “fast-moving” struggle lasting about 12 seconds, the officers and man exchanged punches and shoves. One constable then pressed the man into a seat and the other immediately used pepper spray.

That led to another 50-second struggle during which a fare inspector used her fingers on a pressure point on the man’s neck. The constables then handcuffed the passenger, pushed him against a window, and bent him over a seat in plain view of observers for about two minutes until police arrived.

The constables blamed the passenger for starting the brawl. The investigator, however, blamed them for sparking the violence when the man got up to leave.

“This initial application of force was unnecessary given that the passenger was attempting to exit, was not advised that he was under arrest, and had not displayed any threatening behaviour,” the report states.

While the constables were justified in punching the man after he initiated a flurry of blows, neither their use of pepper spray nor how they bent him over a seat was, the report concludes.

The special constables suspected the man was mentally ill and as a result deemed him to pose more of a violent threat than he had demonstrated, the investigator says.

Among other things, the report calls on agency management to enhance mental health training for special constables and fare inspectors.

In forwarding the report to the transit commission board, the agency’s general counsel and chief diversity officer urge adoption of the recommendations.

“The roles of both TTC fare inspectors and special constables are built on public trust, co-operation and respect,” they say. “When the public loses confidence in TTC fare inspectors or special constables due to an alleged incident of serious misconduct, the mistrust they feel toward them often extends to the entire TTC organization.”

The report also recommends proper expectations and measures be put in place to ensure the front-line officials take independent notes.

The transit commission’s court-obtained ban on the passenger’s use of the Queen Street streetcar also needs to be reconsidered, it said.

But the union representing TTC workers took issue with the report, accusing investigators of “numerous inaccuracies, omissions (and) conjectures.”

“The report is a veiled attack not only on the three members of this local but also on the rest of the department. The process leading to the preparation of the report is flawed and so are the findings of it,” said Dariusz Nowotny, vice-president of CUPE 5089.