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December 29, 1998
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TTC union chief wants protection for workers, public

Leader calls for meeting with mayor, police after stabbing

By Jocelyn Belland and Cal Millar
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

The head of Toronto's Amalgamated Transit Union wants to meet with the mayor and police chief to find ways to protect TTC employees and the public from mentally unstable individuals who are walking the streets.

The call comes after a TTC streetcar driver was stabbed in the neck and jaw Sunday morning. Police describe his alleged attacker as an emotionally troubled man with a history of mental illness.

``Why are these people out on the streets?'' asked Vince Casuti, president of Local 113. ``They should be in some kind of homes.''

Larry Sawchuk, 38, who has worked for the TTC since 1981, underwent emergency treatment at St. Michael's Hospital after he was slashed with a kitchen knife. He was released yesterday.

Sawchuk had just stopped his eastbound streetcar on King St. at Sherbourne St. shortly after 8 a.m., when his only passenger ran to the front of the vehicle and jabbed a 15-centimetre blade into his neck.

The injured driver ran off the streetcar and his attacker barricaded himself in the vehicle. Police arrived seconds later and subdued the man.

``It was an unprovoked attack,'' said Toronto police Sergeant Dan Quigley.

Casuti said the attack couldn't be called a security issue.

``It's something that's random,'' he said. ``Even if they had security people riding the streetcar or the buses . . . there wouldn't be time to react.''

Casuti is hoping to arrange a meeting early next year with Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman, Police Chief David Boothby, TTC general manager David Gunn and Mike Walker, the TTC's chief security director, to discuss his concerns.

``I guess we're going to have to get some handle on just how bad this whole area is,'' he said.

Casuti said people should be asking provincial government officials some tough questions and suggested recent cuts have increased the number of mentally ill people now roaming the streets.

``This is a bigger issue concerning the city than just our members,'' he said, citing the case of a mentally ill man who pushed a young woman to her death in front of a subway train in 1997.

There still is a need for extra security officers to increase general patrolling on the transit system, Casuti said, and suggested the TTC consider installing some type of security camera system.

TTC vehicles are equipped with alarm systems to alert the dispatch centre in an emergency, but Sawchuk didn't get a chance to set it off.

``He didn't have a clue what was going on . . . so he didn't have a chance to set off the alarm,'' Casuti said.

However, Casuti said he doesn't want to adopt security measures like those in some cities in the United States, where transit operators are enclosed in protective cages.

``Hopefully we never become a city like that, where we need to protect our operators by totally enclosing them,'' he said. ``We want balance on it.''

Several TTC bus and streetcar operators said they are more nervous following Sunday's attack. ``It does make us nervous,'' one man said. ``It could have been anyone of us. There are a lot of weird people out there.''

Another man said it's fortunate Sawchuk survived the attack.

``There are many times you are carrying a couple of passengers who look like pretty rough characters. You don't know if someone is going to try and rob you or do something like what happened Sunday.''

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