Taxi safety will be the focus of a Whitehorse city council and administrative roundtable meeting in early March.
The topic was a major point of discussion during council’s Jan. 24 meeting, with the Yukon Status of Women’s Council and Yukon Women’s Council presenting the findings of their recent report on taxi safety. City administration confirmed later in the meeting that a roundtable on the topic is booked for early March.
The report by the two women’s organizations was released earlier this month. As Aja Mason, executive director of the Yukon Status of Women’s Council, and Jonna Reaume, coordinator with the Yukon Women’s Council, stated in reviewing the report during their presentation, there continues to be safety issues for women using taxi services in Whitehorse.
“It’s not a new issue here in Whitehorse,” Reaume said.
As outlined in the report, among the findings from a survey done in 2021, 68 per cent, 118 in total, reported being made uncomfortable or scared by something that was said or asked in a taxi in the Yukon.
Twenty per cent said they had been harassed, and 18 per cent said the harassment was sexual in nature. Fifteen per cent 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.
The survey, delivered online for nine days in early 2021, was responded to by 174 people, 160 of whom identified themselves as women. It did not ask respondents to differentiate between recent experiences and those that might have happened some time ago.
Indigenous respondents reported proportionally higher rates of violence, harassment or other encounters which made them feel unsafe. Adults aged 25 to 39 made up the majority of respondents who said they had experienced sexualized violence or harassment.
Among its recommendations, the two organizations told council a top priority for the city should be getting a transportation committee in place that would work to provide ongoing evaluation of taxis in the cities, as well as launching a public awareness campaign that would inform residents about the bylaw department’s role in regulating cabs in the city.
“What we would like to see is a transportation committee struck where taxi safety is definitely prioritized given the recent findings, but also that there’s consideration made for other transportation-related issues such as public transit,” Mason said when questioned by Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu about whether such a committee would look at issues relating to other public transportation options outside of taxis.
Later in the meeting, Coun. Michelle Friesen posed a number of questions to the city’s acting director of community services Krista Mroz and bylaw manager Doug Spencer about the issue and the vehicle for hire bylaw.
Through those questions it was confirmed that five tickets — with a $2,500 fine each — were issued in 2021 for cabs that did not have a working camera. Spencer noted that vehicles are checked during scheduled May and November inspections to ensure the cameras are working. There are also some spot checks done. Taxis without working cameras are taken out of service until cameras are fixed, Spencer said.
Spencer also confirmed, under questioning by Coun. Mellisa Murray, that video recordings from taxis are only kept for seven days under the bylaw. Friesen suggested that time frame is not realistic given that it can take women months, or even years, to report an assault.
Mayor Laura Cabott said she plans to reach out to officials in Yellowknife about how they are dealing with the issue there.
— With files from Jim Elliot
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