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Ottawa okays stiffer sentences for bus driver attacks

Federal reform makes it aggravating factor to target transit workers
More than 100 Metro Vancouver bus drivers a year are assaulted on the job

Lower Mainland bus drivers are celebrating after the House of Commons passed new legislation allowing judges to impose stiffer sentences against their assailants.

"We are ecstatic," said Nathan Woods, president of Unifor local 111, which represents Metro Vancouver bus drivers.

The federal bill passed third reading Monday in Ottawa and is expected to become law in the months ahead, making it an "aggravating" circumstance that can justify longer jail terms when an assault is perpetrated against a transit operator.

Woods said tougher sentencing isn't a cure-all for assaults but called it a significant new tool that should deter some aggressors.

"It will create a safer environment for us," Woods predicted. "We feel that finally it's recognized nationally that there is a threat against transit workers across Canada."

Assaults on drivers were down in 2014 to 119 from 134 in 2013 but anxiety continues to run high for drivers after brutal attacks over the years.

The new federal legislation would confer the same status to other public transit operators, including train drivers, taxi drivers and school bus drivers.

Woods said the new law is important to the safety of passengers and other motorists and pedestrians as well because some attacks happen while buses are moving.

A pilot project is also now underway to road test the performance of a clear plastic shield designed to protect Metro bus drivers.

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