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Is the Toronto subway safe for international students?

Toronto subway station at night
Many Toronto residents and groups are demanding increased funding to allocate for extra safety measures in the city's public transport network following a recent spike in random attacks at subway stations. Source: Cole Burston / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

A recent spate of attacks near Toronto subways have raised the hackles of the city’s residents, who are growing increasingly worried over their safety. A series of random violent acts have been reported in the city, including the shocking murder of Indian international student Kartik Vasudev in a fatal shooting at the city’s Sherbourne subway station. 

On April 19, 2022, a man was stabbed in the neck at downtown Toronto’s St. George station, a major interchange station just next to the University of Toronto, where many foreign students are enrolled. Just two days earlier, a woman was shoved off the Bloor subway platform and fell on the tracks. The suspect has since been charged with attempted murder, while the victim suffered a broken rib from the attack. Last November saw a similar incident where a man was allegedly pushed onto the train tracks in the same station as a train approached. 

These cases are only a fraction of the growing random, violent incidents near Toronto subway stations, corresponding with the rising number of assaults across the city, which has seen a 9.4% surge compared to last year. Even operators of public transport in the city aren’t adequately protected by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which has been criticised for dialling down safety measures that puts the public at risk. 

Workers’ unions and a local advocacy group have been vocal in urging the TTC to ramp up security and safety at subway stations. The demands include reversing budget cuts to the TTC, allocating more financial resources to its operations, installing platform edge doors (PEDs), and boosting the staffing for special constables to patrol all public transport routes. 

“The number of special constables deployed throughout the TTC does not address the scale and safety requirements of the TTC,” Marvin Alfred, Local 113 president in one of the unions, told Canadian Occupational Safety.

Toronto subways

Subway platforms in Toronto currently do not have platform edge doors, which increases the risk of commuters falling onto the subway tracks. Source: Cole Burston/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Students express fears over their safety taking the Toronto subway  

If you’re an international student in Toronto, you’re likely a frequent user of the TTC, which includes a comprehensive network of subways, streetcars, and buses covering the Greater Toronto Area. While subways are straightforward and fairly easy to navigate, transiting between stops for trains or buses can be time-consuming. 

The city is home to many foreign students on campuses that are close to subway lines, where many commute daily to classes. Popular institutions like the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University, and the Ontario College of Art and Design University are located near major transit intersections in the city, which can get extremely busy during peak hours. 

The recent attacks in stations that are near the city’s busy downtown areas have led many students to question their own safety in the city. 

“As an international student myself, this tragedy has greatly impacted me as many international students have given up so much to move here,” Ritik Sharma, president of the Seneca Student Federation, told CTV News regarding Vasudev’s murder. “My heart is broken.”

Another student stated similar fears in a Twitter post. “As a student in Toronto, this really puts doubts in my head about the safety of students who sacrifice so much to come here for a better future,” wrote Joveen Gomes, who expressed his sympathies to the victim’s family. 

Some view the TTC’s move to slash funding, reduce the number of patrol officers, and other management decisions as major contributing factors to spiking crimes in the last few months. Transit use declined since March 2020 due to the pandemic, which led to revenue loss. Less funding to public infrastructure translates to diminishing safety, and losing ridership will only exacerbate the problem further for those who still need to commute. 

Responding to the public’s concerns, the TTC has added more security cameras in every station and vehicle, in addition to two-way communication systems on platforms, as well as the SafeTTC app where users can receive assistance directly. 

“In the wake of these recent incidents, we are focusing resources in and around the subway system to both give customers an added sense of safety and security as well as to respond in the unlikely event of a safety incident,” Stuart Green, a TTC spokesperson, told blogTo