New security plan for Montreal metro amid rise in mental health and addictions issues

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Montreal’s transit authority is increasing security in certain metro stations to address safety concerns amid a rise in the number of people with mental health or addiction issues in the network.

Under a plan announced Wednesday, the Societe de transport de Montreal – commonly known as the STM – is deploying special constables and other safety employees in teams of four to monitor the 10 stations where security director Jocelyn Latulippe said riders have most reported feeling unsafe. He said uncivil behaviour has been the biggest issue.

Each security team will be responsible for a group of three to four stations, travelling between them to survey the premises and respond quickly to problematic situations, Latulippe told reporters.

The new security plan took effect Saturday and is set to run until the end of the month as a bridge from the cold season, when many people take shelter in the metro, to the warmer months, when the network has fewer problems related to mental health, Latulippe explained. He said the STM could extend the operation if necessary.

The announcement comes less than a week after an assault outside Lionel-Groulx station sent a 35-year-old man to hospital with serious injuries. Police have said they arrested four teenagers in connection with the attack.

“We’re in a situation where, in 2024, it’s not like before the pandemic,” STM board president Eric Alan Caldwell said Wednesday. “There is an increase in reports. There is an increase in vulnerable clients, addiction issues, mental health in our network. And we’re worried about the loyalty of our clients,” he said. “We don’t want to take our clients for granted.”

Latulippe said the goal of the new security plan is to reassure riders, but ultimately a greater intervention by health and social services is needed to accompany people who need help to appropriate resources. Otherwise, he said, the metro will remain what he called a revolving door for people who need assistance but who have no other recourse.

Caldwell called for better health and housing support. “Our network is downstream of the problem,” he said. “If we don’t resolve the housing, clinical follow-up, mental health and addiction issues, the people who don’t find a place elsewhere will take refuge in the metro.”

The 10 targeted stations are Bonaventure in downtown Montreal; Beaudry, Papineau, Frontenac and Joliette to the east; Atwater and Lionel-Groulx to the southwest; and Mont-Royal, Jean-Talon and Jarry to the north. An 11th station, the transfer hub Berri-UQAM, already has a constant security presence.

Several metro riders on Wednesday acknowledged feeling insecure at times in the metro because of the presence of people who are homeless or have health issues, but said they realize there are no simple solutions.

“I now compare the Montreal metro with that of Los Angeles (where) there is a lot of crime,” Melissa Dumais, 38, said inside Bonaventure station. “We’re not there yet, but if we continue like this “

Frederic Beneteau, 20, recognized some riders’ discomfort with vulnerable people who may behave unpredictably. “But where do you put these people if not in the metro?” he asked. “That’s my question.”

Reacting to the announcement Wednesday, Montreal city hall opposition leader Aref Salem called the security plan “phony,” saying it fails to include concrete measures to improve safety in the metro. His party wants the STM to add 70 more officers and special constables and for Montreal to institute a comprehensive metro security improvement plan.

The STM is relying on overtime hours to staff this month’s operation. Caldwell said the authority is doing the best it can amid a financial crunch that has seen it reduce spending by more than $160 million since 2022. The STM has committed to hiring a combined 60 security and sanitation personnel despite 232 recent layoffs in other departments.

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