First Nations advocate says ‘urgency’ needed for taxi behaviour fines in Winnipeg

A Manitoba advocate is dismayed Winnipeg’s city council didn’t pass a bylaw amendment that would have seen vehicle-for-hire drivers fined for inappropriate behaviour.

“As long as I can remember, there’s been concerns about the treatment of our First Nations women in taxis,” said Cora Morgan, First Nations Family Advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

“I think it’s really important that we have mechanisms in place, that there’s measures of accountability, that there’s transparency in the way everyone is treated.”

At issue is proposed changes to the Vehicles for Hire By-Law, which would have implemented fines of $250 for drivers who behave inappropriately, but don’t necessarily receive criminal charges.

This could be for sexual harassment, intimidation, asking for a tip or collateral, or failing to let someone out of the vehicle.

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“We have come across situations where an individual has been arrested for a criminal offence and charged but, because of other circumstances during the police investigation or the legal process, the charge is not officially laid,” the public service’s report reads.

“This does not change the fact that a Criminal Code or other serious offence is alleged to have occurred, and the impact on the VFH (vehicle for hire) Industry and the overall safety of passengers and other participants needs to be considered.”

However, during Thursday’s council meeting, councillor Markus Chambers explained the amendment as written operates with a presumption of guilt rather than innocence.

Instead, he outlined a new amendment that directs the code of conduct section to be rewritten so tickets are conditional on a “full and thorough investigation, which calls upon all parties to participate, until a conclusion is established.”

That motion was met with fiery opposition from councillor Sherri Rollins, who erupted when it was put forward.

“Women want to see this move forward, they want to see it move forward, and it’s not moving forward, Mr. Speaker, for political reasons that do not support women,” Rollins shouted, as speaker, councillor Ross Eadie, implored her to stop.

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“Women should be outraged today.”

Rollins eventually had her mic cut off.

Council then narrowly voted to send the code of conduct section back to be rewritten.

Morgan feels the changes are long overdue.

“There’s been enough stories that should have compelled action long before now,” Morgan said.

“It’s really critical and it’s time-sensitive. Urgency is needed.”

Among those who wanted to see changes to the bylaw is the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association, which argued that the proposal lacks a “procedurally fair investigation and enforcement process.”

“I want to stress that the association agrees that passenger safety and any measures that hold drivers accountable is very important,” said Benjamin Hecht, managing partner for Pitblado Law, which is representing the association.

“The first thing that should be done as part of an investigation before issuing a ticket is look at the video and then speak with the people who were in the cab to see if there’s anything of context to be added … and while vehicle for hire has stated that would be its practice, it’s not codified in the bylaw, which caused us to simply ask: well why not?”

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Hecht added they are happy to provide input on the proposed changes, but ultimately the task rests with the city and its own legal team.

Click to play video: 'City looks at potential fines for vehicle-for-hire driver behaviour'
City looks at potential fines for vehicle-for-hire driver behaviour

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