A rally in support of efforts to improve taxi safety was held on the steps of city hall in Whitehorse on Mar. 8, 2022.(Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

A rally in support of efforts to improve taxi safety was held on the steps of city hall in Whitehorse on Mar. 8, 2022.(Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

Rally for safer taxis held in Whitehorse

Rally follows survey in which women describe harrassment, unsafe conditions

International Women’s Day was marked in Whitehorse with a rally promoting efforts to make the Yukon’s taxis safer.

About 30 people attended, waving signs calling for safer taxis in general and more specific actions like gender-based violence training for drivers.

The March 8 rally is part of growing scrutiny of the safety of taxis in Whitehorse, especially for Indigenous women. In 2021 the Yukon Women’s Coalition commissioned a survey in which more than half of respondents reported reported being made uncomfortable or scared by something that was said or asked in a taxi.

Survey respondents also reported interactions that went well beyond uncomfortable. Twenty per cent said they had been harassed, and 18 per cent said the harassment was sexual in nature. Fifteen per cent of respondents said they experienced offers, threats or demands to exchange fares for sex. Eight per cent, 14 respondents, reported being touched or assaulted in a sexualized way.

Sexual harassment in taxis was found to be significantly more common for Indigenous women.

Following the release of the report, the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council launched an education campaign aimed at promoting safety in taxis and prompting changes to the City of Whitehorse’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw.

“I think that the women’s coalition has done a lot of excellent work with advocating for this issue. And I think here, we’re just here to show our support add to push bylaw here just to know that we’re really trying to keep everybody accountable,” said Meesha Wittkopf, who organized the rally and is coordinating the Aboriginal Women’s Council campaign.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to rally for this in general. But I’m also hopeful because it’s these people that show up that push these advocacy issues even further so I’m hoping we can collaborate more.”

Wittkopf said that along with engaging with city, she has been talking to taxi drivers to find out what would make their workplace safer because they can find themselves the target of violence from passengers.

She added that the planned addition of city bus service on Sundays is a big improvement for providing safe transportation.

City councillors Michelle Friesen and Mellissa Murray attended the rally.

“I think it’s an awesome turnout and it’s great to see the community engaged,” Murray said.

She said it is important for council to keep discussing the issue with the city bylaw department and the RCMP. She said she brought forward the idea of changing the city’s bylaw governing taxis to have audio recording in cabs being one of the mandatory requirements.

A letter to council was passed around at the rally for attendees to sign.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com