MONTREAL -- Montreal's subway system, already under scrutiny because of unreported violent crimes, has seen all crimes jump by 50 per cent in a five-year period, Montreal La Presse reported on Tuesday.
La Presse, citing an unreleased Montreal Transit Corp. report from October, said the number of crimes noted by security agents in the underground network rose to 3,016 in 2003 compared with 1,998 in 1999.
Meanwhile, Montreal's overall crime rate fell by 13 per cent over the same period, said the newspaper.
The subway crime figures were revealed a day after La Presse published parts of an internal police document indicating subway agents aren't reporting crimes such as sexual assaults and muggings to Montreal police.
Claude Dauphin, president of the transit corporation, said at a news conference on Monday that the subway, known locally as the metro, is one of the safest in the world.
But the transit corporation's internal report indicated a 67 per cent rise in thefts on the subway system between 1999 and 2003. The document also noted an 86 per cent increase in cases of mischief and a 14 per cent increase in assaults over the same period.
Assaults against the subway security agents themselves also jumped 54 per cent between 1999 and 2003, said the report.
Sexual assaults and bomb threats declined by 38 per cent and 59 per cent, respectively.
Transit agency spokeswoman Odile Paradis disputed La Presse's interpretation of the report, saying most of the crimes reported by security agents were not violent.
"We have recorded a 40 per cent decrease in crimes against people since 1996," Paradis told La Presse.
"That's the number that we consider important."
Dauphin said Monday the city's auditor-general will examine the issue of security on the subway system.
The union representing city police officers said Tuesday the subway system is one of the most vulnerable targets in Quebec.
"The place that's the most insecure in all Quebec, if anyone wants to do terrorist acts, it's the metro of Montreal," said union president Georges Painchaud, whose officers have publicly stated they want to take over subway security.
Painchaud said the transit corporation is more concerned about the cost of beefing up security than the problems caused by maintaining the status quo.
"They look only about how it's going to cost and I think that's what's going to influence most decisions."
City officials say they may swear in the 153 subway security agents as constables, a move the city has resisted since the subway's inception in 1966.
A former agent told La Presse as unarmed civilian agents, his ex-colleagues are ill-equipped to handle rising gang and drug violence.
"Can an unarmed metro agent realistically scare a drug dealer who may be armed? No," said the agent, who refused to be named.
He added transit agents are often asked to carry out searches and other police procedures, putting themselves in physical danger.
"We have to seize weapons and drugs," said the former agent.
"The criminals know that we aren't police officers and they're taking advantage."
Terry Andrews, chief special constable at the Toronto Transit Commission, said this week crime rates on Toronto's subway system have remained stable since her agents were given special constable status in 1997.