Stabbings at Toronto subway station were random, police say

Police say an alleged attacker in a stabbing that killed a 31-year-old woman on Toronto’s public transit system and injured another passenger did not know the victims.

The slain woman – whom police have identified as Vanessa Kurpiewska – was attacked Thursday afternoon on a subway car. The injured passenger, a 37-year-old woman, was treated in hospital and released, police said in a Friday news release.

The stabbing follows other acts of violence that alarmed the city’s transit riders. In June, a woman was set on fire on a Toronto Transit Commission bus in what police said was a random attack. She later died. In April, a woman was pushed onto the tracks at a busy subway station and survived by sheltering under the platform edge.

Such attacks have raised fears about public safety on the city’s transit system, which experienced a rise in its rate of on-board offences as the pandemic dramatically reduced ridership.

Vincent Puhakka, a volunteer with the advocacy organization TTC Riders, said his group is hearing from passengers that the system is becoming more dangerous. He warned that such a narrative becoming entrenched could signal an existential crisis for Toronto, with riders abandoning transit and the city grinding to a halt as a result.

“Statistically, [transit is] still safer than driving everywhere, but the perception is, when you’re driving you’re in control. And perception is important,” he said.

“I think our city right now is at a tipping point when it comes to transit, because we’ve had a number of high-profile incidents this year. Even if overall you’re still safe, it’s going to create the impression that you’re not. Which is potentially quite disastrous for the transit system.”

Mr. Puhakka called for the TTC to flood the system with transit staff members, both to help deter criminal behaviour and to offer a sense of security to passengers. He also called for work on broader issues related to housing and mental health. He noted that the TTC system exists within the fabric of the larger city.

In a statement, the main TTC union also called for prompt action.

“ATU Local 113, along with the citizens of Toronto, are outraged at these repeated acts of violence on public transit and demand that the City of Toronto and the TTC take transit safety seriously and now act with urgency,” the union said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory promised on Friday to meet with police and transit bosses next week, to talk about ways of improving security on the system. In a statement after the stabbing, TTC chief executive Rick Leary promised to increase the number of special constables and uniformed staff on the system, “to reassure customers travelling this afternoon.”

The alleged assailant in Thursday’s attack, 52-year-old Neng Jia Jin, was to appear in court Friday. Police said he has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Like other transit agencies, the TTC has faced concerns about safety throughout the pandemic.

After being essentially flat for several years, the rate of offences against passengers on the TTC surged in the first quarter of 2020, from less than one per million boardings to close to 2.5.

At the same time, the rate of offences against staff also jumped. This metric, which the TTC measures per 100 staff members, rose from around 5 to close to 7.

In the late summer of 2022, the most recent period for which data are available, the rate of offences against passengers had receded to around 1.6 or 1.7 per million boardings. The rate of offences against staff was similar to the rate early in the pandemic.