October 10, 2014 1:07 pm
Updated: October 10, 2014 3:16 pm

What can Montreal do to increase taxi safety?

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Watch: Montreal police advise cab caution

MONTREAL — “It’s going to happen, we’ve got to face reality.”

These were the words of Montreal police spokesperson Ian Lafrenière, after a young women was reportedly sexually assaulted by a taxi driver over the weekend.

“I don’t want to talk about numbers because one sexual aggression is one too many for us,” he added.

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“Is it possible to go home with no possible aggression? No, it is not.”

He noted that taking a taxi is usually a very safe way for women to get home, however it’s not 100 per cent safe.

As there are over 12,000 taxi drivers in the city serving a region of over 3.8 million people, Lafrenière said taxis were considered relatively safe.

“Unfortunately each year in Montreal, we have between 1,000 and 1,500 sexual aggressions,” Lafrenière said.

“This year, there have been 17 cases where we believe taxi drivers were involved. Last year it was 29.”

Lafrenière told Global News that there have been four cases between March and October, involving people taking a taxi from downtown Montreal to NDG.

“We’re talking about a man in his 30s, speaking French with a strong Arabic accent.”

Police are investigating the latest incident, and Lafrenière confirmed that last year, three taxi drivers were arrested for sexual aggressions.

His advice to women who need to take a taxi late at night?

“If you sit in the back of the taxi, that could be good. Is it going to be zero risk? Not at all.”

Under fire for sexism?

After several alleged attacks on women taking taxis on their own at night, Montreal police initially suggested that women shouldn’t get in a cab alone if they’ve had too much to drink.

The response garnered a lot of reaction on social media.

“How about suggesting men don’t rape?” wrote Samantha Bateman on Global Montreal’s Facebook page.

While Tiffany BG wrote, “Sexist! Why is the responsibility always on women? Why don’t we teach our boys not to sexually assault women and why not have tougher penalties for offenders?”

“You’re supposed to be there to SERVE and PROTECT me.” 

“Placing the onus on me, instead of where it belongs (the rapist) is absolving you of having to do your bloody job,” wrote local freelance journalist Toula Drimonis in her blog.

However, other Montrealers didn’t find the advice sexist, just sound.

Alex Taylor wrote on Global Montreal’s Facebook page, “Good advice in any city,” a comment echoed by Lollie Mock, who wrote, “Disgusting …and sound advice. We used to be able to trust the taxis to get us home as they took “some” pride in their job…I guess that doesn’t apply as”much” as it used to.”

Candice Jolander suggested that although the issue needed to be addressed, “…in the meantime we have to deal with reality and I would take it as sound advice.”

Do you think it was sexist — or sound advice for both men and women? Let us know on Facebook here.

Can we lower the risk of attacks?

One key way being touted to keep Montreal taxi passengers safe could be to ensure criminal background checks are regularly conducted on the over 12,000 drivers.

In Edmonton, taxi drivers are required to undergo a rigorous application process, which includes a police criminal record check that costs the applicant $48.

In fact, from Vancouver to Toronto to Halifax to Iqualuit, most major cities in Canada require cabbies to pass a criminal background check.

But not in Quebec.

Aspiring taxi drivers in Montreal must have a valid driver’s licence and undergo five weeks of training, putting them out of pocket $1,150. Yet this hefty price tag does not include a $68 background check with the city police’s Background Verification Division.

The Montreal Taxi Bureau confirmed that the only drivers who have undergone a background check in the Montreal region are the 3,000 STM drivers who work with disabled passengers.

Although there is a provincial law that says anyone who has been found guilty of a crime in the past five years cannot hold a taxi driver permit, it is not being enforced because municipal and provincial officials cannot agree over who will be responsible.

Anna-Claude Poulin from the Montreal Taxi Bureau told Global News it is waiting for Quebec’s Transport Minister to clarify the law so that it can be properly enforced.

When asked about the issue, Robert Poëti said that he was “shocked” to discover taxi drivers in the province do not undergo background checks and he intended to address the issue as soon as possible.

— With a file from Billy Shields

© 2014 Shaw Media

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