“I was attacked at St. Clair station. The TTC never investigated the assault”

“I was attacked at St. Clair station. The TTC never investigated the assault”

When Jason Wang reported the incident to the agency, he remembers being told that someone would contact him within 15 days. That was 17 months ago—the TTC never followed up

Jason Wang in front of St. Clair station, where he was attacked in October 2021

On a dark Saturday evening in October 2021, I was standing in a queue at St. Clair subway station, waiting for a shuttle bus. I was listening to music and scrolling through Instagram when, suddenly, someone whacked me in the head with a huge, stuffed black garbage bag. I screamed as the blow to my face, neck and shoulder slammed me into the wall behind me. I hadn’t seen the attacker approach, and in a state of shock, I could only glimpse the silhouette of a fleeing man.

Numb and disoriented, I looked around for help. The station was packed, but no one asked if I was okay or stepped forward to say that they had witnessed the assault. The long line of transit users merely gawked at me. I sought out a customer service agent and told him that I’d been physically assaulted at the station. There’s nothing we can do, I recall him saying when I asked for assistance. It felt like a second blow, but I didn’t give up. After I told him I was in pain, he suggested that I talk to the site supervisor, neglecting to explain how I might find one among the crowd packed into the station.

When I finally tracked down the supervisor, he wasn’t any more compassionate. I remember him asking me, loudly enough for passers-by to overhear, What do you want me to do? He demanded to know whether I wanted him to call the police. I felt humiliated and intimidated. The supervisor was a tall, beefy white man. I’m a five-foot-ten Chinese man in my early 30s; I am definitely not beefy.

Related: How Torontonians feel about the rise of violence on the TTC

Trembling, I asked if there was a safe space where I could pull myself together. He pointed to a dark corner, where he suggested I recover by myself. I didn’t feel comfortable in a deserted area where I might be singled out in another attack, so I returned to the line for the shuttle bus. (The TTC’s incident report detailing my experience states that the supervisor offered me medical attention several times, moved me to a quiet space away from the crowd and waited with me until I boarded transit. None of these claims align with my memory of the events.)

Still in pain, I tweeted about my experience from the bus. The response from the TTC’s social media team was immediate and supportive. They gave me a phone number and asked me to call them to report the incident. But, when I called the next day, I was met with what felt like more indifference. I recall the agent saying, I don’t understand what you want me to do. By then, I was no longer shaking or frightened.

After I insisted that they do more to help, the agent told me there would be a special constable’s investigation. I remember her promising that someone would be in touch within 15 days. That was 17 months ago—I never heard back. (The agency has since clarified that, while its process for forwarding complaints can take up to 15 days, following up with complainants may take longer. Since recordings of TTC calls are deleted after one year, the agency was unable to independently verify what the agent told me.)

TTC assault

Since my attack, I’ve watched the number of violent incidents against TTC passengers rise. According to the Toronto Star, a recent report from the agency found that there were 1,068 attacks on transit in 2022, a 46 per cent increase from the previous year. In December 2021, a passenger was reportedly pushed onto the tracks at Bloor-Yonge station and dragged and injured by the train; in June 2022, a 28-year-old Tibetan woman was set on fire at Kipling station and eventually died; in December 2022, a man was charged with stabbing two women at High Park station, one of whom died from her injuries. 

This year has seen more violent attacks: on January 23, a man violently snatched a purse from a woman at Broadview station; the next day, a woman allegedly stabbed a stranger multiple times on a Spadina streetcar; and, on the third day of violence in a row, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed on a bus at Old Mill station. Just last week, in another tragic incident, a 16-year-old boy was fatally stabbed at Keele station.

At the same time, we’ve seen a number of hate crimes and racist attacks on the TTC, coinciding with a stark rise in anti-Asian racism in Canada. During the early days of Covid-19, even before then-US-president Donald Trump’s inflammatory “China virus” rhetoric, a Chinese student was subjected to a racist tirade on a Toronto bus. Likewise, in January 2022, a streetcar passenger filmed a white woman calling an Asian passenger a “fucking gook…you fucking slanty eyed piece of shit” while spitting at him. Particularly for marginalized people—including women, racialized and elderly passengers—TTC vehicles and waiting stations have become potential danger zones, minefields of verbal and physical assaults, sometimes with deadly consequences. 

TTC violence

In January, at the request of the TTC, Toronto police deployed upward of 80 officers to patrol the transit network in an overtime capacity. The increase in security came weeks after the TTC’s new budget proposals, which include some fare increases and lower service levels to offset the pandemic-related drop in riders and revenue. In March, after six weeks of the campaign, police put an end to their overtime officer patrols, citing budget constraints. 

Given the magnitude of the transit network—75 subway stations and over 3,000 buses, rapid transit cars and streetcars—it seems impossible that additional police officers could have truly solved the problem in the first place. Instead, the heightened presence of police may lead to further stigmatization of marginalized transit users, such as the unhoused people who seek warmth and refuge in subway stations and subway cars. Increased policing won’t fix the city’s long-ignored social problems

As a metro pass holder, I still commute on the TTC every day and rely on their services to get around. But my experience being attacked has made me more vigilant. My guard is up as I cross the city—I scan transit cars for signs of trouble and watch out for my fellow passengers. Friends now wish me a safe trip and ask me to text them when I get home. 

In February, I asked the TTC about its process for responding to attacks and following up with victims. I also wanted to know whether the agency tracks potential hate crimes or racially motivated incidents. I learned that the TTC agent who recorded my complaint had indicated on my report that I hadn’t requested for anyone to follow up with me. And, while the agency’s incident-report form does allow agents to specify whether a complainant is reporting a suspected human rights or legal violation, the corresponding box on my report was ticked “no.” Because of this, my file was never forwarded to the special constables who would have investigated the attack.

Today, my anger is directed not toward my attacker but at the TTC. Before the assault, I celebrated our transit system. I tolerated its perpetual mechanical issues, mass delays and routine weekend closures. When I had friends visiting from abroad, I took them on the subway or streetcar so they could truly experience the city. But my fondness for the TTC, and my belief that it’s a part of Toronto’s identity worth celebrating, has disappeared. I simply can’t accept the agency’s inaction around the violence I experienced.