A Winnipeg Transit driver is upset after a passenger spat on him in a confrontation that turned physical — and was caught on video — earlier this week, says the president of the union representing drivers. A witness posted social media video of the bus driver and a male passenger arguing aboard a Route 21 bus near Polo Park Shopping Centre on Wednesday afternoon.
The video shows the passenger spitting at the driver and leaving the bus, and the driver following the passenger and grabbing him. The two are then seen exchanging a few blows before the video ends.
Police said by the time officers arrived, another transit driver and two passengers were restraining the passenger.
A 29-year-old man has been charged with assault, Winnipeg police announced on Friday. He was taken into custody.
Const. Rob Carver said no charges will be laid against the transit driver, who was described as a man in his 40s. His name was not released.
Police say the confrontation stemmed from a disagreement over bus fare — a situation that the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 says is all too familiar.
Union John Callahan said the passenger allegedly took offence when the driver asked to see his bus pass.
The driver has been on the job for about 10 years with a clean record and has never encountered this type of incident before, said Callahan.
“When someone spits in your face, it’s pretty hard to not react to that.
“They would rather be punched or slapped than have someone spit in their face.”
Carver said the spitting and other actions of the passenger could be considered assault.
“The suspect was very aggressive, waving his arms,” he said.
“If you look under the definition of the Criminal Code, somebody who gets that close to you and is waving their arms, if you believe you’re going to be struck, that can be construed as an assault.”
‘Hindsight is always 20/20’
Callahan said the driver is feeling distraught over the incident and regrets that it escalated the way it did.
“I can tell you that hindsight is always 20/20. He talked about things he could’ve done differently, should’ve done differently. But of course, at the time of the incident, when someone spits in your face, you kind of lose sight of things, and that’s what happened in this case. He saw red,” Callahan said.
“Things got twisted a little bit there. There [were] some blows thrown but the intention was just apprehend the individual and hold him for police, which is eventually what happened.”
Callahan said the driver went to hospital after the incident to undergo blood tests for diseases like HIV and hepatitis C, and he will have to be re-tested in the future.
“The driver is at home. He’s taking some time off. He filed a [Workers Compensation Board] claim,” he said.
“He was in our office this morning, filled out a report about the incident. He’s just kind of regrouping, refocusing right now.”
Winnipeg Transit is reviewing video and audio surveillance footage from the bus, said Callahan, who hopes the driver will not be reprimanded.
Driver safety an issue
The Amalgamated Transit Union has raised concerns in the past about safety aboard Winnipeg Transit buses, saying drivers have faced a rising number of assaults on the job.
A number of assaults involving passengers and bus drivers — some of which were captured on video — have made headlines in recent years.
Winnipeg police said downtown officers sometimes chose to ride the bus while walking the beat, but haven’t been specifically ordered to do so.
The union provided figures for the number of assaults on bus drivers over the last five years:
- 2011: 63
- 2012: 51
- 2013: 46
- 2014: 39
- 2015: 62
- 2016: 26 (as of July)
The most common time for bus assaults is around 4 p.m., and July and December have been considered to be peak months, Callahan said.
How you can help in a dangerous situation
Carver said his advice for people who want to help someone in trouble is to keep a safe distance away from the situation and call 911.
“I know that depending on the circumstances, individuals are going to feel that they should intervene,” he said, adding that such decisions are personal choices but not recommended by police.
“We never know, as police officers, when we’re intervening if someone’s going to produce a weapon … [or] if there’s another individual connected to that person that we haven’t identified — suddenly you’re fighting two people. So it’s a big risk. Our recommendation is to keep yourself safe and call 911.”