TORONTO — How can workers in the taxi industry protect themselves from sexual assault allegations as well as keep their passengers from being victimized? Industry insiders provide a range of answers.
The Free Press has published a series on the issue this week, looking at how sexual assault allegations affect drivers, passengers and the industry.
About 12 women have sought medical help in Winnipeg during the last two years after alleging they were attacked by cabbies, but officials and people within the industry say such incidents are not prevalent.
Dave Barnes, an entrepreneur in Saint John, N.B., plans to launch a business this year involving cabs driven by women. The idea made headlines in the Maritimes this week, and Barnes said a fleet could be on the road before March.
"It’s definitely going to be a small niche market but hopefully we can grow it," he said.
Barnes said women have been positive about the concept and he has chatted with his 21-year-old daughter about the idea.
"She got into a couple of cabs there with some guys and immediately had ‘Oh no’ moments," he said.
The concept is not specifically in response to sexual assault, he said.
"I know that there are some women who feel uncomfortable getting in a cab with a man," he said.
Others have alternative ideas. Gerry Manley, a taxi safety expert and former Toronto police officer, has considered cameras and global positioning systems in vehicles.
Manley, who’s also owned a cab for more than 35 years, said it is rare for drivers to sexually assault passengers. He said, however, he thinks cab drivers should live in Canada for at least three years before they’re allowed to apply to be taxi drivers.
He said in Toronto "probably" about 90 per cent of drivers are new Canadians. "They do not know our social customs. They do not want to accept our social customs. Part of the problem (is) women in their cultures back home don’t have rights."
The Taxicab Board of Manitoba knows first-hand the difficulties when discussing drivers’ cultural differences and how they should adapt to Canadian society.
In 2010, the issue led to Jerry Kozubal, the board’s secretary, being transferred after he discussed an alleged sexual assault case with the media. He was removed from this post for saying to reporters: "Basically, we have people coming from other cultures that may have different views on what’s appropriate and what isn’t."
The confined space in a taxi is another issue drivers face, Manley said. That’s where cameras play an important role.
"Would this happen in an open space that has 2,000 square feet? Highly unlikely, because there’s going to be more than just the two people," he said. "So it’s limited people that are involved here, there’s only the accused and the accuser.
"There isn’t anyone else that can vouch for it, that it happened one way or the other."
In Manitoba, new drivers must complete 45 hours of training, including education on customer relations.
Steve Ashton, minister of infrastructure and transportation, said drivers accused of sexually assaulting passengers are dealt with through the criminal justice system and by the taxi board, which suspends cabbies immediately after a complaint to police.
He said the "vast majority of taxi drivers, the vast majority of trips involve no incident whatsoever."
"We take a zero-tolerance approach," he said.