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People enter a subway train inside a Toronto Transit Commission station in downtown Toronto, on April 1.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

A Canadian transit advocacy group is calling on the federal and provincial governments to tackle social issues of housing, addictions and mental health in order to address violence on public transportation.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association unveiled 27 recommendations in Ottawa on Monday designed to improve safety on transit systems across the country. CUTA’s calls stem from a transit safety task force formed by the group last June to address root causes of violence with representation from the largest transit systems, including the cities of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Montreal.

CUTA president and chief executive officer Marco D’Angelo said needed improvements go beyond what individual transit agencies can do and support is required from senior levels of government to tackle societal issues that are having an impact on transit systems. The association is calling for an urgent meeting between federal and provincial officials to advance work on these challenges. It is also asking transit agencies and municipalities to increase the number of “safety, security and enforcement positions” but didn’t provide a specific figure.

“Issues such as poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and mental health, when unaddressed are impacting transit systems,” Mr. D’Angelo said Monday. “Canada’s transit agencies have worked hard to keep bus and rail services running during these difficult times, but we need the help of government to address these big issues.”

CUTA’s calls follow a rise in violent offences on public transit, including a series of recent high-profile cases where riders have been killed. Last month, 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes was fatally stabbed while sitting on a bench at a west Toronto subway station, in what police called an unprovoked attack.

CUTA’s recommendations to provinces and the federal government include increasing supply of permanent, supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness as well as more money for 24-7 shelter access so those seeking shelter on transit systems have a place to go.

Mr. D’Angelo added that people with complex mental-health challenges are “taking refuge in transit properties” and need better support, calling on provinces to implement dedicated outreach services as well as an “accelerated hand-off initiative” between police officers or special constables and mental-health professionals in order to connect people with proper care quicker.

A recommendation specifically for the federal government is to amend the criminal code to strengthen penalties for assault of transit workers. Currently, the law applies to offences against transit operators, but not all other employees. Mr. D’Angelo said expanding the rule could act as a deterrent for criminal activity against transit staff.

The Toronto Transit Commission acted to improve safety earlier this year with the temporary addition of security guards and community safety ambassadors. Calls have been renewed by the public and local politicians to add cellular service across the underground subway system, which Rogers has pledged to do, with its recent purchase of BAI Communications Inc. and the acquisition of the right to build out the wireless network.

Asked to respond to CUTA’s recommendations at an unrelated transit news conference in Toronto Monday afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she is “concerned” about some of the recent acts of violence on the TTC. She called safety on public transit, specifically in Toronto, “one of the most important issues in our city today.”

Ms. Freeland said she concurs with CUTA’s finding that investing in mental health and addictions, and reducing poverty, are important steps to address the root social issues on transit systems across the country.

“That’s why this government has invested heavily in reducing poverty in Canada,” she said. “We need to do more.”

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