'Very troubling': New report details racism faced by ETS riders and employees
EDMONTON -- A new report presented to the city’s Urban Planning Committee focused on racism that people who use and work for Edmonton transit face.
“Racism is something that transit riders see on a daily basis,” said Jarret Esslinger, an Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) Advisory Board member.
The board has been hearing from the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) community in Edmonton about their experiences using and working on ETS.
“A witness spoke to us about how a young woman with children was subjected to racist verbal abuse on a bus, and told over and over again to go back to where they came from,” the report detailed.
“We also heard that many BIPOC riders are harassed for speaking in their native language on the bus.”
The report went on to say it was “disturbing” that all BIPOC ETS drivers interviewed “considered dealing with racial abuse as just part of their job.”
“I don’t think I have gone one day without some kind of abuse,” said one East Indian bus driver in the report.
Councillor Bev Esslinger called the stories in the report “heartbreaking.”
“I think overall, on a personal level, just very troubling,” said Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, ETS branch manager.
The report also examined interactions between transit peace officers and BIPOC individuals. It identified that on a five-year average, 61.5 per cent of interactions between transit peace officers and riders were with BIPOC individuals.
In 2019, data between January and November showed BIPOC individuals were the suspect in 18,273 cases. BIPOC community members also received 6,877 tickets during the same year.
Those numbers were down in 2020, but ridership was lower because of the pandemic.
In addition, the report showed that between 2016 and 2020, Indigenous people received 81 per cent of the tickets issued to BIPOC individuals.
“This is significantly higher than the proportion of Indigenous individuals in Edmonton and quite alarming,” the report stated.
Bev Esslinger believes that is a problem, even if the statistics might be slightly off due to interactions with repeat offenders.
“No matter what the numbers are, what it did show us is that we have work to do,” said Bev Esslinger.
Recommendations listed in the report include implementing BIPOC-friendly human resource practices, de-escalating fare enforcement and engaging Edmontonians in proactive and ongoing communication.
“Their recommendations were really, really thorough and really smart,” said Hotton-MacDonald. “(They) work nicely with the path that we’re on.”
ETS is already doing some work to address the problem, a bystander awareness program will begin in the fall, according to Hotton-MacDonald. The program will have advice for people on how to intervene if you witness troubling behavior.
“What can you do in a safe manner to provide support,” said Hotton-MacDonald. “It will be ongoing and continuous work.”
Bev Esslinger also suggested that ETS could make use of the PA system for getting the message across that racism wouldn’t be tolerated on transit.
“Stating very confidently, ‘This is a welcoming and inclusive space for everybody and that we have zero tolerance,’ what a great reminder,” said Hotton-MacDonald. “Visibly having signage that stipulates that this is what we expect from people when using this system.
“Those that want to use transit should feel that it’s safe and accessible and convenient to do so.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson