Grace Wilson was on a bus to Vancouver when a man sitting behind her began masturbating, following the rattled 17-year-old as she changed seats.
Hailey, a young software developer, caught a man surreptitiously taking photos up her skirt as she sat on a Toronto subway on her way to work.
Nineteen-year-old Adoncia Cayouette was thrown to the ground, groped and battered after she refused to perform oral sex on her attacker while waiting for a bus in Calgary.
All three women reported their experiences to transportation workers. In Hailey and Ms. Cayouette’s cases, the police were also alerted. But the transit systems did not record any of these incidents in their statistics on sexual assault and unwanted sexual acts on transit, The Globe and Mail has discovered – some of the many data omissions uncovered in the newspaper’s investigation of how the country’s 22 largest public transit systems track and handle sexual misconduct. The information gaps are troubling and point to a larger problem, said Holly Johnson, an expert on sexual-assault statistics and a retired University of Ottawa criminology professor.
“If we are going to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in all of its forms, we need much more detailed data and we need accurate data,” she said. “We can’t address it if we keep denying that it is happening.”
The Globe’s analysis, based on statistics obtained through dozens of Freedom of Information requests, offers the most comprehensive examination of sexual violence on the country’s municipal buses, trains and subways. No national study of the issue has ever been done.
According to The Globe’s examination, almost 4,000 incidents of sexual assault or harassment were recorded on Canada’s 22 largest systems between 2013 and 2017. Ninety per cent of the incidents were perpetrated against women by men. A separate set of data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, focused solely on criminal activity, reveals that across the country, 507 incidents of sexual crimes on public transit involved passengers under the age of 18 during the same period.
For a variety of reasons, these numbers are likely much lower than the actual number of incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault that took place on those systems at that time. In some cases, the property where an incident took place – for instance, a bus stop – was considered municipal and not the agency’s responsibility. In other cases, the harassment was not recorded as sexual in nature, or did not reach the legal threshold of criminal behaviour. Finally, individual transit employees may not correctly inform women how to report what happened to them, or may not be responsive to complaints.
Transit officials should take heed of the findings, said Amina Doreh, public education co-ordinator for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa. “They should be very concerned if their ridership does not feel safe or if there is sexual harassment going on or that women feel threatened, because for many women this is their only form of transit,” Ms. Doreh said.
Indeed, in Canada’s major cities, women make up the majority of transit riders, often out of necessity and lower incomes. Yet the issue is worse than the official statistics indicate, and few transit systems are doing anything to get a true sense of the scope of the issue.
Around 10 p.m. in March of 2016, a man entered a bus shelter on a Calgary street and asked Adoncia Cayouette when the next bus was due. She was alone and headed to an aunt’s house, a brand-new pair of dark-rimmed glasses framing her face and a longboard under her arm.
As they waited, he suddenly put his hand down her top and grabbed her breasts. When she told him to stop, she remembers him saying, “ ‘This is how this is going to work, you give me a blow job or I break your jaw.’ ”
When she resisted, he punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground. He continued to hit her while putting his hands up her skirt, groping her breasts and repeatedly slamming her head into the pavement, breaking her jaw and glasses and battering her face. The attack only ended when the bus they had been waiting for arrived and the man ran off.
Across the country, some of the most violent sex crimes associated with public transit have taken place at bus stops. In Montreal, a string of attacks on women between 2002 and 2004 led perpetrator Michel Cox to be dubbed the “bus stop rapist.” In Calgary in 2014, brothers Corey and Cody Manyshots abducted a 17-year-old girl from a stop and, over a 12-hour period, raped and sodomized her. Last year in Toronto, police say a woman was dragged from a bus shelter near York University and sexually assaulted in a nearby field.
Notwithstanding the severity of these crimes, most transit systems do not track sexual violence at bus stops and shelters. The attack on Ms. Cayouette was not included in the statistics provided to The Globe because data collected by Calgary Transit do not include crimes at bus terminals.
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied bus-stop crime and women’s experiences on transit. She said knowing where and when bus-stop crimes are happening is critical to preventing them. “Having this data is the best way to say, ‘Here is a problem that you need to address.’ ”
To assist The Globe’s research, a Vancouver Police Department data analyst did a manual search of the department’s data on transit sex crimes and found 51 of the 110 incidents recorded between 2013 and 2017 were committed at or near Skytrain stations or bus stops.
Brian Whitelaw, superintendent of Calgary Transit public safety and enforcement, said the agency is working to improve its data-collection methods as a result of issues brought forward by The Globe’s reporting.
The Globe found evidence of other incidents missing from the data on sexual harassment and sexual assault kept by Canadian transit agencies.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) encourages riders to report sexual misconduct. So when Hailey, who asked that her last name not be used, saw a man surreptitiously taking photos up her skirt, she grabbed his phone and ran toward a transit worker. She said transit enforcement officers told her that the photos were not strong enough evidence to charge the man with voyeurism. Instead, he received a fine of $235 for "interference with ordinary enjoyment of transit system.”
Despite reporting the event to both the TTC and Toronto police, Hailey’s 2017 experience never made it into the statistics that either agency keeps on sexual misconduct on transit. The incident was instead coded as a “general occurrence.”
Stuart Green, a spokesman for the TTC, said: “We are satisfied that when we are aware of an incident through a complaint or report to transit enforcement, we are capturing that information satisfactorily.” In this case, he added, “the detective we consulted did not feel the threshold for a criminal offence was met.”
In Edmonton, Janae Jamieson reported being forcibly kissed by an unknown man at a bus stop in 2015, but her case was also missing from both the police and transit data. An analyst at the Edmonton Police Service said the incident was misclassified as an assault instead of a sexual assault, and the record has since been corrected.
Ashley, a Calgary receptionist, reported to transit authorities what she describes as one of the most terrifying moments of her life, but her case went uncounted as well.
In 2015, she was followed onto the CTrain by two men who cornered her in a booth-style seat and talked about wanting to rape her while grabbing at her hands and thighs. Afraid of what might happen, she slipped off her heels as she neared her stop, pushed past the man sitting beside her and bolted off the train. For three blocks, she ran to her office in stocking feet. The men chased her, she said, though they never caught up.
She reported the incident, but it was never recorded by Calgary Transit or the police in their official statistics obtained by The Globe – a gap that shocks Ashley, who asked that her last name not be used.
“What would have had to happen for this to be taken seriously? Would I have had to have been beaten up or raped or taken?” she questioned.
The Globe’s inquiries have led Calgary Transit to review the file.
Most transit systems that The Globe surveyed, including Toronto and Vancouver’s, only keep information on criminal acts, meaning the most common forms of sexual harassment, such as inappropriate comments, leering and propositioning, are not counted because they are not considered crimes under the Criminal Code.
A Freedom of Information request on reports made to Toronto’s SafeTTC app reveals the type of complaints not tracked in official data on sexual misconduct.
“A twenty-year-old man sat down next to me and started to talk to me. He asked me how old I was, I told him 15. He then asked how old I would go for a man. He suggested 20. I got up and walked away. He then started to follow me while yelling that he was a virgin. I exited the station and went to a store and called my dad. He waited for me on the corner,” read one report to the app from October, 2017.
Another woman wrote: “This man followed me from Bayview station all the way to Bloor (2 different lines and I tried multiple times to lose him). Walking several train cars down, and he would come and find me and stand close or across the train from me. Leering at me, staring but not approaching or communication."
Mr. Green said as a result of The Globe’s inquiries, the TTC has had internal discussions that have “revealed we have an opportunity to revise and improve collection and analysis of data related to customer-on-customer incidents of sexual harassment.” The discussions, however, have not yet led to policy changes.
Non-criminal sexual harassment is missed when systems rely only on police statistics. In more than a third of the transportation systems surveyed by The Globe, including Montreal, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Brampton, transit authorities keep none of their own data on sexual misconduct, instead relying on police.
Among the data collected by transit agencies, The Globe found particularly low numbers reported in some Quebec cities. Longueuil, Laval and Gatineau systems each reported one incident of sexual harassment or sexual assault from 2013 and 2017, despite each having a ridership of more than 19 million a year.
A spokesperson from Le Réseau de transport de Longueuil said the agency was satisfied with its tracking system and that only one incident was reported because, “Longueuil is a suburban area composed of rather quiet and safe cities.” La Société de transport de Laval said an absence of crime was the reason for its low number.
Gabrielle Bouchard, president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, disagrees. “I think it’s silly to say such a thing, it’s closing your eyes to the reality to what women and women’s organizations have been saying for many years,” she said.
Transit systems across the country have run public campaigns to encourage riders to report sexual assaults and harassment, but at times, their own workers have discouraged passengers from filing complaints or didn’t know how to help them report, The Globe’s investigation found.
That was Grace Wilson’s experience. At 17, while taking a bus to Vancouver from Tsawwassen, B.C., she spotted a man behind her with his penis out of his pants and masturbating. Unnerved, she changed seats, but he followed her several times.
When they arrived in Vancouver, she told the bus driver about the incident and asked if there was a hotline to report what had happened. Despite Vancouver having various ways to report such incidents on transit, the driver said he didn’t know. “I just took that as gospel truth and was like, ‘Okay, I guess there is no line and got off the bus,’ ” said Ms. Wilson, who added she was terrified at the time that the man would follow her.
In Toronto, nearly 40 people complained about front-line workers ignoring reports made to them between 2013 and 2018, according to information released through a Freedom of Information request. The reports include a woman who complained that she received a rape threat while taking a Toronto bus. “The customer told him that she was being harassed and the operator told the passenger to exit the bus and he could not do anything about it,” according to the notes of the complaint.
TTC spokesman Mr. Green said the transit system would look into any reports of an employee discouraging reporting and would “take appropriate action.”
On a chilly day in April, 2018, Ms. Cayouette and her mother returned for the first time to the bus stop where Adoncia was assaulted.
Ms. Cayouette had asked the courts to waive her right to a publication ban so that she could be named and tell her story. She wants to send a message to Calgary Transit: It must do more to improve safety at bus stops.
"It has been two years and there still hasn’t been one change,” the exasperated 22-year-old said. “C’mon, please take these things seriously, and make some changes so other people can actually be safe and so that this is less likely to happen.”
After the brutal attack, her mother asked Calgary Transit to cut down the trees that blocked the view of the shelter from nearby homes, to put in an emergency button and to install CCTV cameras. The transit agency reviewed the measures but opted against making changes, contending they would not significantly improve safety at the stop, said Mr. Whitelaw, superintendent of Calgary Transit public safety and enforcement.
"We are doing a risk-based assessment of which places need these things first,” he added, stressing that Calgary’s transit system treats “all incidents seriously.”
Data analysis by Michael Pereira, The Globe and Mail
How you can fill Canada’s data gaps
The gaps so far
The Globe and Mail has uncovered myriad data deficits, culled from dozens of interviews, research reports, government documents, international searches and feedback from our own newsroom. Here’s a list of what we found, which we’ll be adding to as the investigation continues.
Globe and Mail reporters will continue to collect and report on data gaps that affect Canadians. If you have one in mind, please submit a description of it. Data gaps will be investigated by our reporters before they are published.