The chief of Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) is calling for more compassion and education after three cabs denied a KDFN citizen a ride from the Whitehorse airport after he presented them with a voucher from a federal medical program.
In a letter sent to Yellow Cabs on May 9, which has been shared with various officials from different levels of government as well as media, KDFN Chief Doris Bill said she was writing to “express outrage” over the incident.
According to the letter, the citizen had arrived on an Air North flight the night of April 23 and was trying to get to the Whitehorse hospital to meet his brother, who was being medevaced back from Vancouver and whose chances of surviving the flight were uncertain.
The citizen had a voucher from the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Program, the letter says, which is a national program that assists First Nations and Inuit with covering the costs of medically-necessary items and services, including travel.
In an interview, Bill said that the citizen had flown with his brother when he was medevaced from Whitehorse to Vancouver, but for the return, was put on an Air North flight and given a NIHB voucher to cover the cost of taking a taxi from the airport to the hospital.
However, none of the three Yellow Cabs taxis would take him, Bill said.
“He presented the voucher (to the drivers) and they said, ‘Nope, nope, nope… Next cab, next cab.’ They just sort of shooed him to the next cab,” Bill said.
Bill, who happened to be at the airport at the time to pick up someone else, spoke to the citizen after she saw him standing inside “looking really kind of lost” and ended up driving him to the hospital herself.
“It was a really heartbreaking situation, and for him to be placed in that position was really unacceptable,” Bill said, adding that the citizen’s brother survived the medevac home but has since died.
“… I just want to ask the taxi companies to be more accommodating and sensitive to the issue, you know? These vouchers are equivalent to money and some of the people who have them don’t have a lot of money, and taxi companies should accept these vouchers.”
The News reached Yellow Cabs owner Abdul-Hakim Sayid twice by phone on May 9. The first time, Sayid said he had not seen the letter and asked for the News to email him a copy. The second time, Sayid said he was “too busy” to comment for this story.
Bill said that since the incident, she’s heard from other people who have had difficulty with getting taxis to accept NIHB vouchers and suspects it’s part of a “much wider problem.” As well as sending the letter to Yellow Cabs, she’s also reached out to the City of Whitehorse, territorial government, Council of Yukon First Nations and NIHB to see if there’s a “solution” to the issue.
Part of the problem may be the vouchers themselves, Bill acknowledged – she recalled seeing one and, although it was real, “looked like it could be Xeroxed.”
“The taxi companies themselves may have issues with the vouchers, I don’t know,” she said “But if they do, I wish they would come forward and talk to NIHB about it… I don’t know what the answer is here but I think we need to start and have that discussion about how we can improve this system.”
And although Whitehorse cabs are not legally obligated to pick up passengers with NIHB vouchers, Bill said that it’s the right thing to do.
“I think they need to understand that people (with NIHB vouchers) may be in a very, very difficult situation and some people are dealing with a lot of … really serious health issues and concerns, and to compound the problem with this kind of thing is, like I say, it’s not acceptable,” she said.
“… We just want to ask them to have a little compassion for people in these situation.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org