Winnipeg bus drivers should be better equipped to deal with mental health crises: Transit Union

As the inquest into the deaths of five men who passed following police interactions continues, court heard testimony Monday there is no training for bus operators around how to help people in crisis and the ATU says that’s a problem. Morgan Modjeski reports

Four men who died following police interactions in Winnipeg were looking for help in some of their final moments. Alongside raising questions around police restraint and de-escalation, an ongoing inquest has exposed issues within Winnipeg’s public service that may have been factors in the men’s passing. 

Chris Scott, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 — which represents operators in Winnipeg — says drivers do not receive mental health or substance-related crisis training.

That’s problematic, says Scott, given the high number of people in need drivers come in contact with. Scott says while operators shouldn’t be asked to physically engage people in crisis, having other skills to help would be critical. 

“It would be invaluable to provide the operators the tools that they need when dealing with people suffering from these issues,” said Scott. 

“The best training would be understanding the process of what they’re dealing with, how they’re perceiving things, and how to communicate with them to keep them calm.” 

During inquest testimony Monday, Judge Lindy Choy was told by bus driver Darryl Arsenault that operators get no training on how to help people in crisis.

Arsenault, who has been driving for more than 12 years, was one of the last people to have direct contact with Michael Bagot after he boarded a Winnipeg Transit bus frantic, looking for help in May 2019.

Police would be called and Bagot would die in hospital, his death being examined by the courts as part of an inquest putting five deaths after police interactions under the microscope.

Michael Bagot. (Submitted by: Bagot family)

Video released by the courts showed Arsenault trying to calm Bagot and keep him safe. On Monday, he testified for the first time, saying more training for drivers would be beneficial.

He also testified while Bagot was distressed, he was only a “little concerned” for his safety at the start of the interaction, adding he was worried about a woman on board with a baby. He testified Bagot was “not really” being aggressive to passengers and did not feel Bagot was a danger.

Commending Arsenault for his response to Bagot, Scott says the type of training outlined in the inquest for bus drivers is needed, and while efforts were being made before the pandemic, it was paused as a result and never re-implemented.

Scott says if not in place soon, it could put the transit system and its stakeholders in harm’s way.

“They are quite honestly putting my membership and the riding public at risk should these people who suffer from mental-health addictions don’t have people there who can reach out to them and assure them that things are going to be OK,” said Scott.

Scott says this work can only happen if the City of Winnipeg and its government partners address issues around operator retention and staffing plaguing the system. 

A City of Winnipeg spokesperson said it will not comment on matters raised or discussed during the inquest.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today