11/16/2012 05:42 EST | Updated 01/16/2013 05:12 EST

Thank You Oroc, For Acting on Potential Harassment

Flickr: Peter Broster

Many people in Toronto right now have opinions about the actions of TTC driver Dino Oroc stopping his streetcar and chasing someone who allegedly sexually assaulted a passenger of his on the 501 route. I was glad to hear that he has been reinstated as a driver after being placed on temporary suspension.

The "he shouldn't have done that" basically goes like this: TTC drivers shouldn't leave their streetcars except for the "getting coffee not during rush hour in consideration of passenger load" provision, he may have put himself at risk, he could have escalated the situation, he's not a cop.

These are all important points to take into consideration, and I agree that they all belong in this discussion. But let's examine a few other dimensions of this.

At the time, Oroc was operating under the impression that a sexual assault had taken place on his streetcar, and that one of his passengers was in distress and in need of his assistance. In a recent press conference, Oroc told his side of the story, and said that he stood by what he did in that moment.

He also said that 9-1-1 had already been called, and that he went in pursuit to take a better look at the suspect. He never said anything about tackling the passenger, or making any presumption of guilt, and the result of his actions were simply that he was momentarily absent from the streetcar.

The Toronto Police were still the parties who dealt with the allegations, which is right now being referred to as an "incident."

There are no indications that this was any kind of unchecked vigilante-ism as I've seen suggested, and I don't think we need to be concerned about TTC staff morphing into the Justice League if we don't condemn every aspect in totality of what Oroc did.

Something critical that came up in the CTV press conference earlier today was "the human element." This means keeping in mind that policies and protocol don't cover every conceivable situation because people are not robots. In a role where someone is charged with any degree of responsibility for public safety, situations arise that require fast-thinking and responding, where there may not be specific responses outlined that take all factors at work into account, or where someone may not have time to consult the rulebook when someone needs help.

I had a short-lived career as a flight attendant on an international airline, so I can relate somewhat to the circumstances of having this responsibility, though to be clear I've definitely never done anything that could be construed as "heroic" (as some are saying this driver's actions should or shouldn't be).

I do know that we sometimes needed to improvise. That, for instance, sometimes following protocol to get approval for cracking a medical kit onboard the plane from the ground presented challenges that were best avoided by calling on the goodwill of fellow passengers to share their medications (without us ever touching these, of course). Or, that a passenger in grief flying across the ocean to bury a loved one might require a flight attendant to briefly act as a counselor and provide solace in a way that we were not trained for and went beyond the job description.

As someone who also frequently travels the TTC, I know that I have been rested on in ways that were really unnecessary in streetcars that were not packed and had to actually push a man off of me after shuffling away and having him follow. I've had a man lean in close to me and run his tongue over his lips repeatedly through a leering grin, finding amusement in my discomfort. I've been spoken to suggestively by a drunk older man who was accompanied by his young daughter. I've never been groped on TTC transit (though I have been elsewhere) but I know many, many women who have.

There are a number of ongoing discussions that relate to this incident, including but not limited to: the policy and procedure for TTC drivers in this situation and others; the relative safety or feeling of safety and support of women in public spaces; the role that men can play as bystanders when witnessing harassment and violence.

I'm not saying that how he responded was without problems, or that what he did should be the model for further situations, and my limited understanding of what it means to be a TTC worker means that I don't have the answers in any kind of absolute way.

But I would like to sincerely thank Dino Oroc for not doing nothing in this situation, however imperfect his response may have been, and I do find it commendable that he put himself at risk to help someone he understood to be in need of help.

Too often harassment and assaults on transit and elsewhere are ignored, not taken seriously, and are committed without repercussions and accepted as the status quo of being a woman in a public space. In addition to whatever information the public receives about what the role of our transit personnel should be in these situations in the future, I hope to see this incident propel more discussion of public and community-based safety.

And I hope to see this discussion rooted not in reprimand of Oroc, or "what he did wrong" but in gratitude to him for doing something, as a platform for a compassionate dialogue on what could be done differently or better in the future in similar situations.

I know that if I see Oroc at the helm the next time I board the 501, I'll be sure to say thanks.