Today while riding the Canadian a homeless person was removed from the train by RCMP officers. To my knowledge, the person in question had not raised his voice with anyone, and his only crime had been to complain that his food had gone missing from the customer use onboard fridge. It is not possible for me to believe that he would have been treated in a similar way had he been in first class, or even had he been an economy class passenger who was not overtly poor – asking (always politely) people for food and smokes and donations towards getting his cell phone working again so he could find truck driving work in Vancouver. He never treated any passengers with disrespect, and he only became confrontational and anxious after Via staff took his ticket away and he began to worry he would be removed from the train.
RCMP officers boarded the train in a small town in Saskatchewan and I was present for some of the discussion between the passenger in question and Via staff. There was a clear power differential, especially when the passengers including myself who were calmly and politely defending and vouching for the passenger’s claims were asked to leave the room. Despite this, however, the final opinion of the police officers, judged from personally speaking with one of them and from other passengers’ conversations with the police, was that the passenger in question was not a problem but in the end he had to be removed because Via staff were demanding he be removed. Oddly enough, the police were in the weak situation, because anything they did to try to keep the passenger on the train was only going to antagonize the staff further. For someone with my politics, it’s weird to feel that I’m siding with police against labour, but in this circumstance that’s exactly how I feel – whereas the staff were antagonistic and escalating towards the homeless person, the police were empathetic and seemed to understand that it was Via’s staff who had escalated the situation and made it an impossible one to resolve with the person in question remaining on the train.
In the end, it seems it is the police who are paying the man’s bus fare to Vancouver, and they ensured the passengers who had shown concern for the man’s well being and situation that they would take good care of him. Generally when the police say “well take good care of someone”, they mean the exact opposite, but I truly hope in this situation it was sincere. We got the man’s email address so I will be able to follow up with him and find out what happened and whether he made it safely to Vancouver.
The real problem in this situation I believe is a confrontational attitude from the staff who got on in Winnipeg and will be with us the rest of the way to Vancouver. Many passengers have experienced defensive and antagonistic behaviour by the staff – there have already been other incidents where they have threatened to remove people from the train. Mixing a confrontational staff with a late train and anxious passengers is a nasty cocktail. If I can say something positive has emerged from the situation, it is a strong feeling of solidarity amongst the many passengers who stuck up for the man who was singled out and removed. The jokes awkwardly reveal this – a staff member just walked by and commented how quiet this passenger car is; a passenger retorted: “It’s because none of us want to be kicked off”.
I’ve written a complaint which I will be sending to Via Rail’s customer relations department. If anything significant happens in the follow up, I will try to blog about it as well.