05/17/2013 08:02 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT

STM drivers' union calls again for stiffer penalties to prevent assaults

The union representing Montreal's bus and metro drivers is calling for the strengthening of the Criminal Code to give transit workers the same protection that police and other peace officers have.

Union president Denis Vaillancourt was joined Friday by about 30 bus drivers who showed up in uniform at the court appearance of one of the three people accused of beating up bus driver Marc-OIivier Fortin last month.

Fortin was assaulted on the 363 night bus on St-Laurent Boulevard early on the morning of April 24.

"We have to be better protected than we are right now," Vaillancourt told reporters at the Montreal courthouse, where a bail hearing for Daniel Quiroz-Rivas was postponed until June.

Quiroz-Rivas and Jeffrey St-Cloud, both 20, along with a 17-year-old youth face charges of aggravated assault in relation to the beating.

The bus’s security tape showed two young men and a youth boarding the bus at Fairmount Street just after 2 a.m.

An argument broke out between one of the three and the bus driver, and the trio moved to the back of the bus.

Minutes later, when the bus arrived at Jean-Talon Street, the passengers returned to the front of the bus and, before exiting, said something to the driver, dropped garbage on the floor of the bus, and each in turn spat at the driver before disembarking.

The assault shocked many people in the community, including the mother of one of the accused.

"It's difficult to live through this," said Myrdho Amed, in tears. "I realized that the driver is suffering. So is his family. And I am suffering as well."

Her son, Jeffrey St-Cloud, will remain in jail until his preliminary hearing on June 17.

'One assault is one too many'

The union wants to see cameras installed on all STM buses, along with stiffer penalties imposed on people who assault transit workers.

"Prevention is our highest priority," said Vaillancourt. "Unfortunately, things don't always get done quickly enough. In fact, they never do."

"One assault is one too many."

The federal NDP have been calling for changes to the Criminal Code to offer greater protection for transit workers since 2007, although the most recent private member's bill tabled in 2012 by the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, Peter Julian, did not make it past first reading.

Rosemont–la-Petite-Patrie MP Alexandre Boulerice raised the issue once again during Question Period earlier this week.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has dismissed the proposal, at least for the time being.

"Bus drivers play an important role in our communities and we all have a stake in ensuring their safety," said Julie Di Mambro, a spokeswoman for Nicholson, in an email statement.

"While we currently have a busy justice agenda, we are always looking at ways to improve our criminal justice system."