Transpo special constables target of complaints

Interrupting someone is rude, but it’s certainly no reason to be cuffed, then searched.

So says a woman — with an expired EcoPass — who lodged a complaint against an OC Transpo special constable in October.

The Sun obtained copies of written complaints about special constables from 2007 to May 1, 2012 through an Access to Information request. There are around 50 special constables.

Seven complaints were lodged. However, the city provided just five. One of those is from the woman, who boarded a Route 40 bus.

The driver noticed her EcoPass had expired, then confiscated it and gave her a transfer, which is standard protocol.

“I had never thought the expiry date meant that much, as my payments kept going through monthly pay. My mistake,” she wrote.

The woman said she politely asked to have the pass back and was denied.

Once at Hurdman station, she was accosted by a special constable and two others, then forced off the bus.

The woman was told to take a taxi home. She didn’t have enough cash, she wrote, and wanted to take a bus using her daypass.

Technically, the woman was now trespassing.

“You want to get arrested? OK, you got your wish,” the constable said, according to the woman.

Next, she wrote, she was read her rights, but the constable “didn’t seem to care” when she told them she didn’t understand what was happening.

Her cellphone was seized.

“My purse was searched for weapons … I’m sure the constable will say it is protocol, but it only got this far because (s/he) disliked being interrupted,” she wrote.

She said she was forced into a car, driven a “very short way,” then told if they had a conversation without her interrupting, she was free to go. She obliged.

Hurdman was the location of another passenger complaint stemming from a Jan. 11, 2010 incident in which photos were being taken on a bus heading to the station from downtown.

The shutterbug continued clicking away at Hurdman, and was approached by a Transpo employee (it’s unclear if it was a special constable).

While cameras and recording devices are banned under a transit bylaw, the rider was “denied service without cause, then falsely arrested by OC Transpo officials,” reads the complaint.

“I was questioned before being advised of my right to counsel, and given false information as to the bylaws surrounding my activities.”

The complainant was awarded unspecified monetary damages and a written apology from Transpo.

In addition, “I would like the staff apprised of being better trained with matters of the law,” wrote OC superintendent James Babe.

The other complaints involve teens on a Route 131 bus in November claiming they had been threatened for being noisy; a confrontation with two constables over a parking issue at Baseline station in Oct. 2010; and use of physical force in May 2007.

Overall, the low volume of complaints against special constables wasn’t surprising to Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, who sits on the transit commission.

“They do have a great reputation. They do a good job, actually,” said Tierney.

In 2008, they won a national transit award.

“Obviously, zero (complaints) is probably the better number, but overall I think it’s part of business.”

Transpo introduced special constables in 2007, following the murder of Michael Oatway, 23, who was stabbed to death on a city bus Sept. 21, 2006.

Former OPP officer and ex-Transpo security chief Kim Weston Martin — currently suing the city for breach of contract — oversaw the program.

Twitter: @ottawasunkroche

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