Ketsia Houde-Mclennan, acting executive director of the Women’s Transition Home in Whitehorse, poses for a photo outside Betty’s Place in Whitehorse on Dec. 8. Houde-McLennan said she no longer thinks it’s safe to send women places in local taxi cabs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Ketsia Houde-Mclennan, acting executive director of the Women’s Transition Home in Whitehorse, poses for a photo outside Betty’s Place in Whitehorse on Dec. 8. Houde-McLennan said she no longer thinks it’s safe to send women places in local taxi cabs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Despite changes, several accounts show cab safety still an issue in Whitehorse

Several women have recounted frightening taxi experiences, showing it remains a pervasive issue

A number of accounts from women detailing frightening interactions with local taxi drivers have circulated social media this week, and local advocates say it’s a perpetual problem in the Yukon.

“(It’s a problem) to the point where we don’t think that it’s safe to send women in taxis…. It’s a big problem,” said Ketsia Houde-Mclennan, acting executive director of the Yukon Women’s Transition Home.

A local woman posted a warning to the Yukon Helpers Network Facebook group earlier this week, after a taxi driver asked her to “help him out” in exchange for a ride and attempted to drive her to his home.

She posted her story as a warning to other women who might take cabs alone. A number of women responded that they had experienced similar situations while cabbing in Whitehorse.

Another woman, who spoke with the News about her experience but requested anonymity, said she was similarly propositioned by a cab driver in Whitehorse.

She was taking a taxi from downtown to Porter Creek, when the driver offered to charge her eight dollars for the ride.

“I said, ‘Why eight dollars?’ and he said, ‘Well, if we just take a ride up to Fish Lake Road, it’ll only be eight dollars … you can do me a favour.’”

The woman said she immediately read the situation as unsafe and asked the driver to stop, or she would jump out of the car.

“‘He said, ‘No, no, it’s just a favour, you do me a favour and I’ll do you a favour,’” she said.

At that point, the woman asked the driver to turn around and return to her pick-up location, or she would dial 9-1-1. The driver obliged and the woman contacted RCMP while they returned downtown.

“It took me a good while before I took a cab again in Whitehorse,” she said.

She told the News that after several unsafe experiences in cabs, both in Whitehorse and outside of the Yukon, she has extensive safety procedures she follows.

“When you get in a cab you check the number on the outside, if you’re able to walk around it, look at the licence. Then I sit in the back, directly behind the cab driver, because if he’s going to reach out to grab you, he has to reach around,” she said.

“It’s scary because you don’t have any alternative for getting out of there … if the doors are locked from the front. I’m always making sure I have the window down if it’s summertime, you have to make sure you have a way of getting out the window or something.”

A third woman told the News she had an unsettling experience when she took a cab from a friend’s place to her downtown home last spring. She had been drinking, and that was probably clear to the driver. The taxi driver drove past her house to the edge of downtown near the Black Street stairs.

“The cab driver got out, and opened my door, and he was standing there looking around … and was trying to let me out into the bushes,” she said.

“I said, ‘Where am I? Why didn’t you drive me home?’”

She said that after she became upset, the cab driver returned to the driver’s seat, turned around and drove her home.

Both women told the News they have heard, anecdotally, of many other women who experienced frightening situations while cabbing alone.

Houde-Mclennan said the frequent number of incidents in Whitehorse led to a cab safety initiative under Together for Safety.

Together for Safety is a community initiative spearheaded in 2015 by women’s advocacy groups in partnership with the RCMP.

That advocacy led to a city bylaw change in 2017, requiring the installation of cameras in all taxis. Last May, every taxi was mandated to have a GPS tracker.

Together for Safety also hosted sexualized assault awareness and prevention training for about 15 employees of a taxi company last October.

In spite of these changes, Houde-Mclennan said she knows that taxi safety is still a problem. While taxis now have cameras, they only begin recording once the driver starts the meter. She also said that she isn’t sure if inspections happen to ensure that drivers have the camera and GPS.

The women’s transition home often uses taxis to pick up clients, out of necessity, and she said there is one cab company she no longer calls due to so many unsafe experiences.

“One day, this taxi driver dropped off a client and the client was a victim of violence. When my staff goes to pay him, it smells like pot, like he’s just smoking a joint in the car, and he’s hitting on my staff, asking for her phone number,” Houde-Mclennan said. “And he’s dropping someone off to a women’s shelter!”

Houde-Mclennan said Together for Safety is working to find more funding to continue awareness campaigns and look for other solutions.

“Women need taxis, we tell women not to hitchhike because it’s dangerous … but if taxis are also not safe, then you’re stuck. Women need safe rides home.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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