The Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and Les EssentiElles are calling on women to sign a letter that asks the City of Whitehorse to look into the number of sexual assaults taking place in taxis.
“We are calling on the mayor and council to address taxi safety in Whitehorse in light of the recent case where a taxi driver (allegedly) assaulted two women,” the letter reads. “Taxi cab drivers sexually assaulting women in taxis is not a new issue in our community.”
The incident the letter refers to occurred in early October of this year, when 25-year-old Whitehorse taxi driver Jaspal Singh Tamber allegedly sexually assaulted two women on the evening of Sept. 29. That case is still before the courts.
The letter makes 10 recommendations, including changing the bylaw so that all video recorded in cabs is sent to the city following the end of each driver’s shift and ensuring that the cameras cannot be shut off or disabled. The letter also recommends each cab contain an information sheet, including the cab driver’s name and the company they drive for, and that the city create a training and accreditation program that cab drivers must pass before being licensed.
Mayor Dan Curtis said he felt the issue of safety for women in taxi cabs was “of grave concern” and that the record of assaults was “unacceptable.”
Curtis said he isn’t sure why taxis are so unsafe for women.
“It makes me really sad that we are even having this conversation,” he said. “In recent memory, people have fallen victim to drivers who have preyed on the most vulnerable…. It’s appalling.”
Curtis said the city is “doing what it can” to “weed the bad apples out.”
The mayor said he also recognized that there were “constraints” within the city’s public transit system, which does not run on Sundays or after 10:30 p.m.
Concerns around sexual violence and taxi services have existed in the city for more than a decade.
In 2006, a cab driver told a News reporter that he would tell “young girls never to get into a cab at night,” following reports of sexual misconduct by drivers against intoxicated female passengers, including exchanging sex for rides with teenage passengers. Similar concerns were raised the following year, when one man — himself a retired cab driver — said he witnessed a taxi driver solicit oral sex from a woman instead of money for a ride.
In June 2009, cab driver Mohamed Abdullahi was charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger. He was released on bail and was permitted to continue opporating his taxi service provided he “did not pick up unaccompanied female passengers” by late July of the same year.
Cab companies are privately owned, but all cab drivers are require a license by the city.
Up until 2010, the city did not require taxi drivers to have background checks. In 2015, the city made further changes to its taxi bylaws, including mandating the installation of high resolution cameras which record for up to 72 hours. Cab companies were given two years to comply, and the bylaw became enforceable in May 2017.
Ken Giam, owner of Premier Cabs, told the News at the time the bylaw went into effect that he felt it unfairly “punished” cab companies, even as he alleged there were criminal elements within the industry.
Sarah Murphy, program co-ordinator for the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, said she felt the 72-hour cap time on recordings was not long enough.
Copies of the letter can be found at endviolenceyukon.com. Completed letters can be sent sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or printed off and delivered in-person to 503 Hanson Street.
The letter-signing campaign is part of the 16 Days to End Gender-Based Violence campaign which runs Nov. 25 to Dec.10.
The letters will be presented to council at the Dec. 4 standing committee meeting.
Contact Lori Fox at email@example.com