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In Memoriam: Remembering George Robitaille

The conductor who became a TTC pariah has passed away

By Enzo Di Matteo

The name won’t mean anything to most, but he was the so-called “sleepy conductor” caught snoozing on the job in that famous TTC ticket taker fiasco that blew up around this time last year. Read NOW’s take at the time.

The incident was a watershed moment for the TTC and, arguably, the city. The shot of Robitaille catching flies in his booth went viral, as they say in the online biz, and unleashed a firestorm of criticism against the TTC that eventually prompted an independent review of customer service.

The resulting public backlash bordered on the insane. Anti-TTC websites popped up and for weeks afterward newsrooms were swamped with cell phone camera shots and reports of all manner of supposed transgressions on the part of TTC employees. Remember the bus driver who got called out for taking a coffee break?

Of course, lost completely in the news back then was the fact that Robitaille was in fact seriously ill with a heart condition and on new medication when he was “caught” copping a few zzzs on the job. The Sun is reporting that Robitaille died following a stroke Thursday.

Amalgamated Transit Union president Bob Kinnear tried to explain Robitaille had health issues back then, but the only reaction that elicited from the media was sneers. The wave of public anger was too much. Not even the TTC’s staunchest defenders could summon the courage to offer much-needed perspective. Soon the TTC union was embarking on town halls across the city to listen to rider complaints. It’s too bad, really.

In some ways, the incident was a turning point for the city, a spark for the anger that mayor-elect Rob Ford’s team so spectacularly seized upon to ride into office. And to think part of the trigger for all that public nastiness was predicated on a bullshit story.

As Robitaille told the Star a couple of weeks after the fury, “When you knock Haiti off the front page, you know something’s wrong.” Indeed. Robitaille’s tabloid notoriety turned him, the TTC and city into a punch line for comedians the world over, even Jay Leno.

The Sun, the paper that put that famous shot of Robitaille on the front page (and had some great fun whipping up the hysteria over it), is this morning calling Robitaille’s death “ironic.”

That’s because Robitaille was no poster boy for lazy TTC employees. In fact, he was a hero, winning a commendation for saving the life of a Wheel-Trans rider many years back. Funny, that.

The conductor who became a TTC pariah has passed away

by Enzo di Matteo

Now that he’s gone to the great big gig in the sky, can’t help thinking that a little piece of Toronto has died with him.

As TTC union prez Kinnear said when the shit storm hit the fan last January, “It is very discouraging that the picture taker and, apparently, other customers, made no attempt to see if there was anything wrong with this TTC employee. A simple knock on the glass might have determined if the collector was, in fact, asleep or whether he was unconscious as a result of some medical problem. The reports that passengers were laughing at him as they passed by the booth makes this even more disturbing.”

To think a simple knock might have changed everything. Now that would be really ironic. R.I.P. George Robitaille.




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