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I was verbally attacked on Vancouver's SkyTrain and it was frightening

It’s safe to say travelling on public transit in any city isn’t always pretty. While the event could have been a lot worse, it was still frightening. For me, it was also a good wake-up call on what to do in the future if I am ever in this sort of situation again.

“Women are all the same, they are all sluts. You are one of them.”

This is just one of the sexist slurs a man directed at me while I sat on the SkyTrain during a trip in February.

It’s safe to say travelling on public transit in any city isn’t always pretty.

 Canada Line / ShutterstockCanada Line / Shutterstock

To give you a little perspective, last year, Metro Vancouver Transit Police were the lead agency on 31,913 files. That averages out to about 87 incidents a day, where a transit-related disturbance was serious enough to require police to step in and take action.

I have lived in Vancouver for 11 months now, and my experience on the city’s public transit system, up until this point, had always been a pleasant one (aside from the occasional strange smell or overcrowded bus). Unfortunately, that changed last Wednesday evening.

My partner, James, and I had just had an incredible holiday in Whitehorse, Yukon and had stepped off the plane and onto the Canada Line from YVR Airport towards Waterfront. We were headed home after a great adventure in the wilderness -- only to have the good vibes shaken out of us minutes after arriving back.

We had sat down and travelled two stops before a rather dishevelled gentleman boarded the train. He was yelling obscenities as he walked down the train car. It was as if he was yelling at a woman that wasn’t there.

It was clear the man was either intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, mentally unstable, or all of the above.

The next thing I knew he was sitting across from James. I was on the window seat, keeping my eyes glued to my phone, trying to avoid interaction.

The man was talking loudly so everyone on the train could hear him. He was rambling on about a woman, who he had labelled a “slut” that had ruined his life. He was yelling: “You don’t know what that b**** did to me,” and “From now on it’s not going to be that way.”

It took me a few minutes to realize, but soon the slurs were directed at me. I had done nothing to provoke this man, aside from be a woman.

I was doing my best to ignore the degrading comments he was making.

“All women are the same, they are all sluts. You’re one of them.”

I looked up when I heard James say, “OK. Maybe you should calm down." This only led to the man getting more agitated.

James turned to me and said, “Don’t make eye contact.” So I continued to look down.

“Does your boyfriend know how you slept with 60 guys last week?” the man went on say.

“Yeah, I bet he doesn’t. You know it’s true.

“I bet you like it. I’m going to do the same to you but I’m going to use a knife.”

When the man started making violent threats, I began to feel uneasy. I didn’t want the situation to escalate.

It was at this point that a TransLink SkyTrain attendant stepped onto the train and asked, “Does anybody need help?”

I put up my hand. The woman came over and asked what was happening.

I didn’t really know what to say. I just pointed at the man and said he had been making threats.

She then asked us, “Would you like to get off the train?” and not knowing what else to do we said yes.

Someone had pushed the on-train passenger silent alarm for us, and I am extremely grateful. The response was swift by the transit attendant and she alerted police about the man.

While the event could have been a lot worse, it was still frightening.

For me, it was also a good wake-up call on what to do in the future if I am ever in this sort of situation again.

Being a newcomer, I didn’t know about the silent alarm safety measure –- it’s a yellow strip above every window, which you can press when you’re scared or concerned.

When you press the yellow strips, the BC Rapid Transit Company and transit attendants respond. If the matter is serious, it is forwarded to Transit Police.

I’ve also learnt more about Transit Police’s "See something, Say Something" campaign and am happy to report that many Vancouverites aren’t turning a blind eye to unruly transit behaviour. If they feel uncomfortable, they are telling police.

The campaign was renewed in 2017 –- with new posters to better promote the option to text concerns to police on 87-77-77.

Transit Police sergeant Clint Hampton told the Courier, since then Transit Police have noted a drastic increase in reports through SMS.

“In 2018, Transit Police received 5,840 text reports, an 84 per cent increase over 2017,” he said.

Hampton said although a smaller percentage of text reports were converted into police files, there had still been an increase in reports generated from text year over year.

“In 2018, 3,427 police files were generated from text reports, a 45 per cent increase over 2017," he said.

“On average this works out to nine to 10 police files generated from text per day.”

And that’s just a small chunk of what Transit Police deal with.

Hampton said roughly 25 per cent of all files are generated based on phone calls from transit employees, 25 per cent are from police witnessing the situation and 25 per cent are from 9-1-1 calls. The remainder comes from a combination of SMS text reports, phone calls from the public and walk-ups to police.

He said the most common situations to arise on public transit are disorder offences, where individuals are acting in ways that cause concern for fellow passengers.

“This could be due to yelling, public intoxication, panhandling on transit property, following passengers through the fare gates or acting in an otherwise untoward manner that causes overt concern from those around them,” Hampton said.

I’ll have to admit that I become blasé about safety measures on transit because I’d never been in an intimidating situation -– and that’s a terrible excuse.

If there’s one tip I have, it’s read the below safety advice.

You never know when you might need it.


SkyTrain Security Features

  • The on-train Passenger Silent Alarm is a yellow strip above every window, which allows passengers to silently alert SkyTrain control operators in the event of a security concern. Help will be on the scene as soon as possible.
  • The on-train Speakerphone is located inside each car near the doors. Speakerphones provide two-way voice communication with SkyTrain control operators for urgent assistance.
  • The in-station Designated Waiting Areas are located on all platforms. These areas have enhanced lighting, red emergency telephones and a bench, and are monitored by closed-circuit television.
  • The in-station Emergency Cabinets are located on SkyTrain platforms and are equipped with a red emergency telephone, fire extinguisher and emergency train stop buttons.
  • Closed-circuit TV monitors platforms, elevators, escalators and ticket concourse areas. This provides effective station surveillance and the opportunity to record suspicious activity or crime in progress, and to respond to system emergencies.

When to contact Transit Police

Text, call or use the SeeSay app to notify Transit Police of non-emergency issues. In an emergency, always call 9-1-1.

Contact if:

  • You have witnessed an incident or observed suspicious behaviour
  • There is an issue on transit that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • Or if you have other Transit Police-related concerns

There are three easy ways for you to discreetly report non-emergency police issues from your mobile device:

  1. Download the SeeSay app for iPhone or Android
  2. Text 87-77-77
  3. Call 604-515-8300

When to call 9-1-1

Dial 9-1-1 if you witness or are involved in emergencies such as:

  • A crime in progress
  • Threatening, dangerous or violent behaviour
  • Or if someone is in need of immediate medical attention

If you are in need of urgent emergency response or if your safety is threatened always call 9-1-1.

Visit Ecomm 911 to learn more about 9-1-1 services in Metro Vancouver.