While drunken idiots terrorizing passengers on Winnipeg Transit busses is not a recent phenomena, calls from some form of Transit Police to deal with them is.

Winnipeg Sun reporter Tessa Vanderhart’s article “Need for transit cops caught on tape” provides substantial video evidence that provides much fodder for those on the pro side of the argument.

For those of you who missed it, Vanderhart’s story featured a YouTube video shot by Winnipeg Transit rider Tristan Johnston who used his cell phone to record a potentially explosive confrontation featuring two (2) intoxicated and disorderly men who allegedly sexually harassed a young female passenger.

(The cell phone video captures the aftermath and not the initial incident.)

What you see on the video is a typical scenario that frequently plays out on Winnipeg Transit busses.  Intoxicated idiots being verbally abusive and aggressive towards innocent riders who simply want to get from point A to point B.  In this case the offenders happen to be physically intimidating intoxicated Aboriginal men who appear to be in their mid thirties or forties.  Once the video camera starts recording you hear the men shouting “Aboriginals” and making racially infused comments about white people.  Their brainless remarks are soon followed by the bus drivers fruitless attempts to kick the men off the bus.

After the bus drivers attempt failed, two transit riders attempt to get the men to leave the bus.  One of the men, who appeared to be Aboriginal, used temperate persuasion while the other, an elderly white man, used emotionally charged aggression that proved to escalate an already volatile situation.

Make no mistake about it, the potential for violence with deadly consequences in this incident was very real.

After watching the 8 minute 26 second video a few questions emerge;

1) Questions regarding the transit drivers interaction with the intoxicated men

2) Questions regarding the Police response time

3) Questions & concerns regarding the potential for a tragic outcome

Issue Number #1 – The Transit Drivers Interaction with the Intoxicated men

Verbal Judo is a term used in Policing to describe the use of one’s words as a method of self-defense, or in other words, to prevent, de-escalate or end a potentially violent encounter.  In this case you see the Transit Driver emerge into the frame and immediately order the men off the bus;

Driver “Okay, get off the bus now.  Off the bus.”

Male #1 “Why?”

Driver “Because I said.”

Male #1 “Why?”

Driver “Do you want the cops here?”

Male #1 “No.”

Driver “Then get off, they’re on their way.  Let’s go.” (Motioning to the door)

Male #1 “So you’re going to kick us off?”

Driver “Yes.”

Male #1 “No, why?”

Driver “You have to get off.”

Male #1 “Why?”

At this point the driver turned in disgust and walked away.  It was clear he was extremely agitated by the mens belligerent behaviour, a factor that undoubtedly affected his ability to achieve a more productive outcome.

Although intoxicated people are often belligerent and difficult to deal with, they are not immune to  logic and cause and effect principles.

In this case, male #1 repeatedly asked the driver why he had to get off the bus.  The driver limited his reply to   stern direction to get off the bus and a threat that Police were enroute.  The male never received an explanation from the driver regarding why he had to get off the bus.  In a similar situation, a Transit driver trained in verbal judo might have attempted to de-escalate the confrontation by engaging the intoxicated men in a less confrontational manner.

Driver “Gentlemen, I’m going to have to ask you to get off the bus?

Male #1 “Why?”

Driver “Because you’ve upset several passengers, you’re using offensive language and you seem to have had far to many drinks to ride the bus.”

Male #1 “I’m not drunk.”

Driver “I’m sorry sir but it seems you are and I have to ask you to get off the bus.”

Male #1 “No.”

Driver “If you refuse you have to think about your options.  If you don’t get off the bus I’ll have to call the Police and you know what they’ll do.  They’re either going to lock you up in the Remand Centre for causing a disturbance or they’ll lock you up in the drunk tank.  Either way, you are going to end up in a locked cell.  Or, if you simply get off the bus, I drive away and you guys have the rest of the day to do whatever you want.”

During my Police career I had literally hundreds of interactions with intoxicated people exactly like the men depicted in the video.  When presented with options in a dispassionate voice the majority of subjects took the least confrontational option.  Had the driver utilized effective verbal judo techniques the potentially dangerous confrontation with the elderly transit rider that followed might have been avoided.

Make no mistake about it, I’m not blaming the Transit Driver for the ugly incident, far from it, I’m merely suggesting effective verbal judo skills may have helped to mitigate the situation and could have avoided a volatile situation where other transit riders felt compelled to intervene. Members of the public are not trained to deal with intoxicated people and their involvement in cases like this can often escalate an already volatile situation.

I have no idea what training, if any, Winnipeg Transit Drivers receive in the way of developing verbal judo skills.  I suspect they receive little.  Police Insider efforts to contact Winnipeg Transit for clarification were unsuccessful.

Issue #2 – The Question Regarding Police Response Time

It’s my understanding Winnipeg Transit policy dictates Drivers do not call Police directly when they have issues on their busses.  They are required to report the situation to their dispatcher at which time assessments are made regarding the need to contact Police.

In this case, if the incident was reported to Police it would have been entered as a high priority call due to the escalating nature of the incident and the potential for violence.  The following questions remain;

  • were the Police called
  • who called the Police
  • when were the Police called
  • what was their arrival time
  • what was the outcome of the Police involvement

In an official response to media outlets, Winnipeg Police Spokesman Constable Eric Hofley confirmed a “fight” call was entered regarding this incident and Police attended shortly after the call was entered.  No further information was released.

In my experience, many calls of this nature end up being cleared as suspects GOA or “gone on arrival.”

(It might very well be that Police were called late in the game, received and responded promptly to the call only to arrive on scene after the suspects had left the Transit bus.)

Issue #3 – The Potential for a Tragic Outcome

It doesn’t take much imagination to consider the possibility this case could have turned out to be a tragic incident.  Two intoxicated, large aggressive men riding a transit bus looking for trouble.  An elderly transit rider confronts the men and is assaulted, punched and kicked into submission.  The City of Winnipeg records another Homicide statistic.  This could have just as easily been the outcome of this incident.

None of this is news to Transit Drivers who are often exposed to violent, drunk people or to the Police Officers who are sent on the calls to come to their aid.  These kinds of incidents are not uncommon in the City of Winnipeg and have been occurring for decades.

Vanderhart’s story brought back memories of an incident I experienced circa 1978.  I was walking with my brother on Portage Ave in the Downtown area when we observed two (2) drunken miscreants pull a transit driver off his bus and start to put the boots to him.  We immediately intervened and came to the aid of the driver.  As the fists started to fly, the driver got up, ran back to his bus and quickly drove away.

(At one point during the fight I recall thinking it would have been nice if the guy would have stuck around until the final outcome was a bit more obvious.)

Nothing much has changed in the forty (40) plus years since my brother and I saved that Transit Drivers ass.  Drunk idiots still get on transit buses, passengers still get exposed to their abuse and Transit Drivers still get assaulted.

Would Transit Police increase Driver safety?

Would Transit Police increase passenger safety?

Would Transit Police reduce incidents of violence and potentially violent confrontations on Transit Busses?

Many people believe they would.  They also believe it’s long past time for the City of Winnipeg to acknowledge and properly address the problem.

It might just be that Tristan Johnston’s cell phone video helps us get there.


  1. James G Jewell

    Thanks very much Tristan…

    Your video will undoubtedly educate a great many people. Glad you had the initiative to shoot it.

    Hope your experience on Winnipeg Transit is less eventful the rest of the summer….all the best.

  2. Tristan Johnston

    Hi James,

    Thanks you for the well written article. I shot the video on the bus that day. Thanks for keeping this issue in the news.

  3. James G Jewell

    I appreciate your comments and thanks for sharing the link….

    Always interested in reading other perspectives….

  4. Glad you wrote a post about that video!

    I understand the points you were making about “verbal judo,” and I agree that it may work in some cases. However, for the FASD-affected mind, common logic is often unlikely to work. Rather, impulsive behaviour is the default. It’s a rampant condition that no doubt afflicts most of our city’s vagrants.

    As for the bus driver, I don’t blame him for being agitated. He was exposed to vile racism coming from the two drunks. Think he handled himself well given the circumstances.

    Related, The Black Rod wrote a good post on the bus video as well:


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