ÎYÂRHE NAKODA – A security guard will man the Swift Mînî Thnî Transit bus going forward following an assault on a bus driver Aug.11.
The bus driver, a 72-year-old man from Cochrane working for Southland Transportation, was punched in the face after asking the would-be passenger for a fare, which they could not present.
“The bus showed up at the band office stop and the bus driver asked clients to provide tickets to get on,” said Pascal Richard, Nakoda Emergency Services protective services manager. “One of the clients did not have a ticket and got very upset.
“The driver told him he couldn’t come on and then he was punched in the face.”
Richard said the driver is recovering and is expected to return to work, and the accused was arrested by Stoney Nakoda RCMP.
Cpl. Troy Savinkoff, RCMP media relations officer, said the accused, Clarke George Labelle, 33, a resident of Mînî Thnî, has been charged with assault causing bodily harm and resisting arrest.
“Stoney Nakoda RCMP received a report of an assault to a Swift bus driver at the Tribal Administration building in Morley,” said Savinkoff. “Prior to arrival, the suspect ran away, however, he was quickly located in a nearby field and arrested.”
Labelle has been remanded into custody with a court appearance set for Aug. 22 in Cochrane Provincial Court.
The bus service, which provides a connection from Mînî Thnî on Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation to Cochrane, was subsequently shut down until Aug. 17.
In a statement, Stoney Tribal Administration, said a security guard would henceforth be present on the bus for the safety of the driver and passengers.
“This enhancement in security measures is aimed at providing you with a safe and comfortable commuting experience,” the statement said. “Your safety remains our top priority and we believe that this addition will help create a secure environment for everyone on board.”
The statement further noted it was in conversation with Southland Transportation, which works in partnership with Swift to provide transit service, that the security measure was implemented.
Richard said it was clear the service was missed while it was down.
“People were so disappointed. We got so many phone calls because that’s an essential service for people from the Nation,” he said.
“There was a lot of talk between myself and Southland Transportation regarding safety of the driver and the passengers and what we could do, and so we came up with the security guard solution.”
For nearby Roam transit, which services Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Banff and Canmore, its CEO Martin Bean said each bus has seven cameras to record various areas inside and outside.
“These have been integral in ensuring our security and being able to replay incidents that happen and do follow-up investigations,” he said.
He noted there are relatively few incidents where a driver feels the need to call police, but when it occurs it’s for safety purposes.
“We’re very lucky that our incidents are very minimal. It doesn’t happen very often out here compared to an urban transit operation.”
Bean added at different times in the year – typically the off-season on the Tunnel Mountain route – they will put a security person on some Banff local routes during the evening.
“It’s an added comfort level for our drivers and providing a safe environment for other passengers,” he said. “It’s primarily in the off-season, not so much in the summer.”
As of Aug. 22, the transit service – which has 31 buses – had surpassed 1.67 million riders for its highest ever.
In nearby Calgary, additional security guards were added to transit stations after a woman was assaulted and taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries in April at the Lions Park CTrain station.
Calgary also has overnight patrols of transit stations with police and community peace officers seven nights a week.
A security guard with Nakoda Emergency Services will be on hand around-the-clock during the Swift bus’s nearly 12-hour service, five days a week. A guard will also be stationed on the bus for shorter services on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Richard said protective services has responded to other security-related incidents on the bus service, which was implemented in March 2022, but about 97 per cent of passengers ride without issue.
While glad Nakoda Emergency Services can assist with bus security, Richard noted the agency doesn’t have a lot of resources to spare and an extra guard dedicated to the bus was not anticipated.
“It’s definitely a challenge – we’re running short on staff just because it’s summer and finding security guards to work full-time on the bus has been difficult so far,” he said.
Swift Mînî Thnî Transit currently runs a single, 26-seater bus to stops at the Stoney Tribal Administration building in Mînî Thnî, Chiniki Gas Bar, Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino, and the Station in Cochrane. One-way fares cost $5.00 and there is a free zone between Mînî Thnî and the Chiniki Gas Bar.
The Outlook also reached out to Southland Transportation for comment and will update this story when a response is received.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.