Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ride Gone Wrong: A taxi story

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Sometimes, as a reporter, a story grabs you by the neck and won’t let go.

A recent series I did on taxicabs weighed on me for months, after a pretty amazing woman I met came forward to tell her story.

She was brave and angry and motivated, and told the story of her alleged sexual assault by a driver.

The man is now before the courts – and the case hit the news because she made the choice to discuss it.

Her story motivated me to look at other similar allegations.

I was surprised when I started researching the issue of taxicab sexual assaults, and saw that while there’s been reports of such incidents in jurisdictions across Canada, I could not find a single piece that looked at the issue as a whole. This series looked at the problem from both a victim’s and driver’s perspective, as well as board policies around public notification of assaults.

When you write for print, your space is limited – so the videos by my colleague Tania Kohut told the story in a way I could not have.

I hope none of our readers ever have to go to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) suite at the Health Sciences Centre for an examination, but getting a glimpse inside it is important insight into how sensitively these crimes are dealt with.

Anyways, I wanted to make sure that the Freep’s approach to the issue was balanced and not one-sided, which was why looking at false allegations also played into the story.

I have far, far, far, more thoughts than I will write here but I thought I would share two pieces of mail I got in regards to the series.

The vast majority of feedback was overwhelmingly positive...I think it’s an issue that touches a nerve with people, and hits on things that we feel slightly nervous about confronting in Canadian society.

One of these letters was from a Manitoba reader, the other from the former cab driver (and still Manitoban) who was acquitted of a sexual assault charge (his insight was part of the series, but not at this length).

Both letters were amazingly eloquent.

There were many people who helped out on this, and I am exceedingly grateful to all of them for their time on a very complex issue.

This is from a woman, who said this incident happened about three years ago:

"I was at the Festival du voyageur and had planned to take a taxi home. Approx. midnight I got into a cab and told him my address. We were driving when I asked him to make a stop at 7-11 so that I can get his cab money, he became very belligerent and offensive. I told the cab driver I wasn’t trying to rip him off and he could come into the store if he needed to. He drove to a very dark secluded area somewhere off Main Street and told me to get out of the car. I refused and told him to drive to 7-11 and I would walk from there. He wouldn’t go and continued to tell me get out of the car and I continued to refuse. He said he would call the police and I told him to go right ahead. I pulled out my house keys and kept them in my hand in case I needed to protect myself. I guess the cab driver then decided that I was prepared to protect and stand up for myself at all costs and started to drive. I was taken to 7-11 on Mountain Avenue and paid him only what was owed and told him I would be making a complaint. I am not positive what would have happened if I got out of the cab.

"My advice to women taking cabs alone is to always sit in the back seat and remain in the cab and call the police if ordered to get out. It’s more difficult for the driver to assault you when you are in the back seat and he is in the front seat. If you have the slightest concern don’t get in the cab and wait for another one."

This is from the former cab driver who was accused and acquitted of sexual assault, but left the profession over the allegations:

"Driving taxi is a stressful job and sometimes becomes a very dangerous job as well, as stated you never know who your next fare will be and the condition or activities of those individuals you pick up. That job exposed me to bikers, drug dealers, gang members, gangsters, prostitutes and thieves. Yes most people were just normal individual's going about their business and were good passengers. But as mentioned, you have no control over where you get dispatched, and who your next fare will be. I would never drive a taxi again as long as I live and worry about those who do. It's a very dangerous job with no support mechanisms in place to save you in the event of a serious life threatening or life changing situation occurring.

"I recognize that Winnipeg taxi's now have video camera equipment installed as a safety precaution, but that doesn't change what you get exposed to as a driver or save you in the event of trouble. I would rather starve and be homeless, or end up on welfare, before ever going back to that profession. I am 56 years of age, I have no criminal record and have never had charges prior to or after driving taxi. It's not the type of job I would recommend anyone doing, people can say what they will about it, but an allegation like this can ruin your life.

"As mentioned, the charges were dropped and I was acquitted, yet two years ago during a routine traffic stop, the officer informed me that that charge was still on record. I inquired about getting this information removed from the system, but was told I had no criminal record and therefore didn't need to apply for a pardon. They also informed me this allegation would stay on record and follow me the rest of my life, which I think is ridiculous. I was never convicted of the charge, yet the history of the allegation is there in the records for them to see and confront me about.

"I don't like the idea that if I ever get stopped again, that information is provided to the officer who stopped me. This information should not be available as it is embarrassing to say the least, in addition if that officer decides to tell others about it, the stigma that surrounds that type of charge can have a very negative impact on me in the community and ruin my reputation as a professional person. No -One likes someone they think is either a threat or a danger to people in that community."

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About Gabrielle Giroday

Gabrielle has handled the police and crime beat for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2009, meaning she’s seen the best and worst humanity has to offer.

Covering the crime beat in a city known for its homicide rate and violent crime can be challenging, but Gabrielle tries to look at the more complex factors that drive violent events. She began the beat after originally joining the Free Press in June 2005.

Her previous experience contributing to the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine, the National Post, Maisonneuve magazine and NOW Magazine. She was also a member of the editorial board of the Queen’s University Feminist Review, and completed a degree there in politics and English. Some of the Toronto native’s favourite adventures include hitchhiking in the Cuban countryside during a stint studying in Havana, and hanging off the back of a jeep climbing the Kanchenjunga mountain in Nepal.

Gabrielle also felt privileged to write about the first-time elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the summer of 2006, and received a grant from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian International Development Agency to write about sexual violence there.

She recently went to Cameroon in fall 2010 as part of an expert election monitoring team, on behalf of the Commonwealth.

When she’s not chasing a story, Gabrielle can be found jogging every morning by the Legislature and down Portage Avenue.

She’s always enthusiastic about stories that involve investigating the road less travelled or the opinion less broadcast.

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