Women’s Initiatives For Safer Environments - Initiatives des Femmes pour la Sécurité Environnementale

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Submission to Ottawa Transit Commissioners

Submitted: June 19, 2020

This submission is with regards to the policy that as of June 15, all OC Transpo riders are required to wear a mask when accessing these transportation services. This policy change, while understandable from a public health perspective, may have unintended consequences that is of concern to members of the Women's Safety Stakeholder Working Group, namely Hollaback! Ottawa, Women's Initiatives for Safer Environments (WISE) and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW).

Unintended consequences may include:

·       Negative impact on people who can not afford to have a mask leading them either not using public transportation or other negative impacts such as a sense of social stigma, shame or being compelled to disclose personal info such as health impacts, disability, etc.

o   Recommendation: we understand that OC Transpo will be providing masks to those who 'forget' their masks. We suggest you encourage anyone who wishes to use OC Transpo not to hesitate, that all who require a mask will be given one. No one will be left without access because of this new mandatory requirement. Please advertise the availability of masks for all riders widely, and encourage those who have one to bring their own.

·       increasing incidents of sexual harassment and violence resulting from increased anonymity with the use of masks. This will also lead to increased impunity as those causing harm will not be able to be identified very easily. Already the anonymous nature of transportation, and the frequent stops, makes this difficult.

·       decreasing opportunities for bystander intervention, as bystanders may not be clear who is perpetrating harm if comments are made in a subversive and anonymous way and social distancing may lead to bystanders being fearful that by getting involved, they may breach a person’s space.   .

·       increasing incidents of discrimination and potential for backlash could result against Asian residents, who face increased racism associated with COVID19; and increased racism and suspicion against Black, Indigenous and other people of colour for reasons of anonymity. We know these communities are already targeted in our society and this may exacerbate opportunities for spreading hate.

·       Finally, as with the above, it could lead to an increase in gender-based violence against women in Niqab. Would they be required to don additional face masks if their face is already fully covered? Will they be targeted by other riders or OC Transpo itself for not meeting mandatory requirements? Will it create an opportunity for further incidents of hate crime against an already targeted group?


In light of the potential for increased incidents of gender-based violence, and other forms of discrimination and hate crimes, we ask for OC Transpo to:

·       encourage use of the anonymous reporting form to be able to track whether there is an increase in these incidents,

·       be open and flexible to exploring ways to address and ultimately decrease potential incidents that may arise.


This is new territory for all of us, and we don't have all the answers for these complex questions where public health requirements could exacerbate other forms of inequality, however a spirit of collaboration, openness and believing survivors will be central to these efforts.


Thank you,


Julie S. Lalonde

Hollaback! Ottawa



Valerie Collicott





Erin Leigh