Content warning: This article discusses recent stabbings on the TTC and includes scenes of intense physical violence. It also contains a brief mention of sexual violence.

The January 24 TTC streetcar stabbing victim was a first-year U of T architecture student, Global News has revealed.

Around 2 pm on Tuesday, a 23-year-old woman was attacked on a southbound 510 Spadina Avenue streetcar. The attack, which police do not believe was targeted, occurred just before the Sussex Avenue stop on the edge of the UTSG campus. The woman told Global that she believes she was stabbed approximately six or seven times in the head.

Police arrested Leah Valdez, the 43-year-old suspect, on the scene. Valdez is facing five different criminal charges from the unprompted attack, including: attempted murder, carrying a concealed weapon, possessing a weapon dangerous to public peace, and aggravated assault, as well as the possession of a prohibited or restricted weapon with knowledge that its possession is unauthorized.

Following the attack, the student — whose name Global News did not release for safety reasons — was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, where she says surgeons operated on her for an hour and a half. She stayed at the hospital overnight, but has since been discharged. She has multiple staples and stitches on her head, and also suffered two wounds from self defense on her hands. 

In the Global News interview, the student said that she cannot currently return to her classes. She has also expressed that it’s unlikely she will ever use the TTC again. 

The incident

The student explained to Global News that she doesn’t recall looking at her attacker. Instead, she had been focusing on another commuter who was crocheting. She only remembers Valdez moving towards her. The student attempted to flee, but fell, after which Valdez sat on her lap and began stabbing the student in the head with a folding knife.

The student then began screaming and calling for help until two men pulled Valdez off of her. 

“I remember looking at myself in the TTC mirror, in the reflection of the mirror, and I was bleeding, my entire face was blood,” she told Global.

After the streetcar pulled up to the Sussex Avenue stop, a witness told the Toronto Star that the police were on the scene within two minutes. Officers have since recovered a knife from the scene and highlighted that they would be evaluating the streetcar’s surveillance videos from the incident.

Victim’s educational dreams put on pause

The victim explained to Global that she moved from India to Prince Edward Island in 2018 before receiving her permanent residency in Canada, which allowed her to afford tuition. She has lived in the Greater Toronto Area since September 2022.

She told Global that she will eventually recover from her physical injuries, but she is traumatized and cannot leave her home. The student added that she is now afraid of people. Despite this, she still wishes to finish her studies and “finally have [her] dream come true.” 

Increase in police presence 

This attack against the U of T student follows the December death of 31-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewska, who was a victim of a stabbing at High Park station. Police believe Kurpiewska’s attack was random, and that the attacker did not know her. 

On Thursday afternoon, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw, Mayor John Tory, and TTC CEO Rick Leary announced that the Toronto police would be increasing its presence across the TTC. This decision followed several other violent incidents in the last week, including one case of sexual assault at Kipling station, and a case in which an individual chased TTC employees with syringes near Dundas station. 

While some commuters have welcomed the bolstered police presence, others believe the decision fails to address “root causes of violence,” including inadequate mental health care services.

According to an article by the Toronto Star, the TTC reported over 450 different serious incidents against TTC users in the first half of 2022. Some of the reports included robbery, assault, and harassment. Despite recent TTC customer levels sitting at a low of 68 per cent in comparison to pre-COVID rates, if the attacks from early 2022 had continued throughout the year, the total number of reports would have averaged an increase of around 35 per cent from 2019. 

Valdez was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday, January 25, and will return to court on Monday.

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can reach out to: 

  • The U of T My Student Support Program available 24/7 at 1-844-451-9700 or 001-416-380-6578 outside North America
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454 
  • Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600 
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200 
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030