Halifax investigates taxi licence process after driver acquitted of sex assault: ‘Women are scared’

Click to play video: 'Regional council approves motion to investigate ways of improving the handling of suspended taxi licenses' Regional council approves motion to investigate ways of improving the handling of suspended taxi licenses
WATCH ABOVE: Halifax Regional Council has approved a motion to investigate ways of improving the handling of suspended taxi licenses. Alexa MacLean reports – Mar 7, 2017

A motion calling on Halifax city staff to investigate better ways of dealing with the appeals of suspended taxi licences was given the green light Tuesday.

READ MORE: Halifax sex assault acquittal leads to calls for change in taxi licensing

The motion for the report was brought forward by Coun. Waye Mason and was passed unanimously. It comes less than a week after the acquittal of former taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi.

Al-Rawi was found not guilty of sexual assault charges laid against him by Halifax Regional Police after an officer found a young woman passed out and partially naked in the back seat of his cab in 2015.

His licence was originally suspended in May 2015, but a few months later in August, the appeals standing committee voted to reinstate his licence with conditions. A month later, though he had met the conditions, he could no longer drive as he had not provided the city with a business name he was registered under.

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READ MORE: Crown appeals verdict in Halifax taxi sexual assault case

Mason said the motion is about safety.

“What citizens in HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) value is a taxi system that is safe for all,” Mason said during council.

“The taxi system is a publicly regulated system and no one has a right to license.”

Coun. Lisa Blackburn supported the motion with a bold statement: “We have to restore trust in the system.”

“We have to stop treating these taxi licences as a right. Women are scared, I’m not over-dramatizing this,” she said.

Vladimir Ostarcevic, a taxi driver in Halifax for the past 36 years, said having this review will benefit the community and the industry.

“They see there’s a serious problem and there has to be something done to improve the industry and bring the confidence of the people back to the taxi industry,” Ostarcevic said.

WATCH: Ambrose discusses Halifax taxi driver acquitted of sex assault

Click to play video: 'Ambrose discusses Halifax taxi driver acquitted of sexual assault' Ambrose discusses Halifax taxi driver acquitted of sexual assault
Ambrose discusses Halifax taxi driver acquitted of sexual assault – Mar 8, 2017

He said he believes in the industry and something needs to be done.

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“We’ll clean up the industry, whatever it will take to do so, with the city and the drivers who aren’t fit to be driving the public, they won’t be.”

The motion includes looking at transferring the responsibility of licence reviews to a new tribunal formed that is composed of lawyers and people with licensing experience or to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB).

The requirement for interim and permanent suspensions of taxi licences will also be looked into, alongside strengthening the “standards of conduct” set out in the taxi bylaw.

Though unanimously approved, Coun. Russell Walker said he was offended by a line in the motion that taxi licence appeals are “technically difficult and beyond the training and experience of most councillors.”

An amendment was also put forward during the meeting by Coun. Bill Karsten asking for the staff report to be completed before writing the province for advice – Mason’s motion included a request that Mayor Mike Savage write Justice Minister Diana Whalen for advice on whether the NSUARB could be responsible for licence review.

– With files from Alexa MacLean, Global News

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