City of Whitehorse staff will address gender-based violence before considering any other changes to the vehicle-for-hire bylaw as the city continues to consider taxi safety.
The 4-3 vote by Whitehorse city council on April 11 came after close to two hours of discussion and considering other amendments to how to best address the issue.
Councillors Michelle Friesen, Mellisa Murray, Jocelyn Curteanu and Ted Laking ultimately voted in favour of the two-stage effort while Mayor Laura Cabott and councillors Dan Boyd and Kirk Cameron voted against it, favouring an approach that would look at all aspects of taxi safety concurrently.
The final resolution passed by the four councillors reads “that council direct administration to conduct further policy analysis and stakeholder engagement on potential bylaw amendments and program improvements focused on addressing gender-based violence and taxi safety for women based on the recommendations of the taxi safety report and that council direct administration to return to council with a proposal for future bylaw amendments including fleet requirements to address passenger safety once the first phase has been completed.”
The change comes after bylaw manager Doug Spencer brought forward a recommendation April 4 that would have directed staff to do further analysis and stakeholder engagement to address taxi and passenger safety, looking at a variety of issues including women’s safety, fleet requirements and others.
A number of councillors argued such a review should focus specifically on women’s safety in light of a 2021 survey by the Yukon Women’s Coalition in which more than half of respondents reported being made uncomfortable or scared by something that was said or asked in a taxi.
Sexual harassment in taxis was found to be significantly more common for Indigenous women. Since the survey results were released, calls for changes to the city’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw have been made.
Council members arguing for the more specific focus on gender-based violence and women’s safety in cabs stated the recent attention on the issue of taxi safety has come about due to the survey. Focusing on issues like fleet maintenance could take away from that, it was argued.
Others calling for the more broad approach around considering taxi safety argued gender-based violence and women’s safety could be considered along with issues of vehicle safety like the age and condition of cabs.
Over the course of the April 11 debate, a number of amendments to the resolution were considered beginning with a proposal by Cabott that would have seen the resolution worded as: “that council direct administration to conduct further policy analysis and stakeholder engagement on potential bylaw amendments and program improvements, including gender-based violence and taxi safety for women based on the recommendations of the taxi safety report; fleet safety and accessibility for the purpose of addressing taxi and passenger safety, and bring forward for consideration by council.”
Cabott highlighted documents like council’s Code of Conduct and the procedures bylaw in pointing to the responsibility for council to consider the community as a whole in its decisions. She also pointed to a letter that was read into the record at the meeting from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce that called for a more holistic review of the bylaw.
Cabott, Boyd and Cameron suggested gender-based violence and women’s safety could be looked at concurrently and voiced support for looking at issues around accessibility as well.
Others commented that while those additional issues should eventually be looked at, gender-based violence and women’s safety should be considered first.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu suggested a staged approach that would first consider gender-based violence and women’s safety and then look at the other issues.
“Let’s focus first on women’s safety initially,” she said. “Let’s have whatever (bylaw changes) we’re going to pass on that. And then we move on and look at newer vehicles and mechanically sound vehicles, all that other stuff. That’s just my suggestion. I think it’s a nice middle ground. And I think that at the end of the day, everybody’s going to be feeling safer. And I think we’re going to be able to better address the immediate concerns.”
Further discussion and potential amendments followed with those against the phased approach noting it will be a much lengthier process with the bylaw potentially coming to council twice for changes if a phased approach is taken and arguing issues around taxi safety for the entire community should be considered. Those in favour of a phased approach argued it’s important for dealing with gender-based violence and women’s safety first.
Eventually the final wording of the resolution was reached with the 4-3 vote in favour of having administration first consider changes to the vehicle-for-hire bylaw that address gender-based violence and women’s safety.
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