Local women’s groups are calling on the City of Whitehorse to make changes to the vehicle for hire bylaw aimed at improving safety for women using taxis.
Sarah Murphy, the program co-ordinator at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre; Elaine Michaud, executive director of Les EssentiElles; and Collyn Lovelace, the co-ordinator of the Yukon Women’s Coalition and who’s with the Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society, made a presentation to city council Monday night.
They called for the changes in light of concerns over alleged sexual assaults involving cab drivers in the city.
Lovelace highlighted past cases. Those include a case that is still before the courts where a cab driver has been charged with sexually assaulting two female passengers.
“We must speak out and take action,” Murphy said.
The groups then put forward 10 recommendations and presented council with letters from 41 people supporting the organizations’ proposals.
A major change proposed for the bylaw would be in the requirements for video footage.
Cabs are currently required to have cameras in place and collect footage.
However, the three groups’ representatives pointed out the cameras can be disabled and footage can be erased after 72 hours.
Included in the list of recommendations are proposals that would require footage to be sent to the city after every 24 hours.
The proposals would see similar cameras to those installed in city buses, where the cameras can’t be disabled.
“It’s very difficult to have some checks that are done, because we never know when someone will come forward with a complaint or anything like that.” Michaud said.
“So if the recordings are only kept for 72 hours, not really checked, or checked randomly, or not (checked) very often, then a lot of the evidence that could be needed if someone wanted to go forward and press charges, that evidence would be gone.”
The three groups also pointed out many victims of assault may not come forward about the crime until long after 72 hours – and the footage may have been erased by that point.
Other changes to the bylaw the groups are calling for would see cab companies develop procedures on how they would handle situations where a driver is accused of assault, and sign onto a set of standards that hold drivers accountable.
Also included in the recommendations are:
• calls to the city to research what other jurisdictions do to ensure passengers’ safety in taxis;
• a public education campaign on the vehicle for hire bylaw so there’s more awareness about the requirement for cabs to have cameras;
• developing a minimum and maximum number of cabs that companies would have;
• displaying driver’s information in cabs and how complaints can be made;
• creating a training and accreditation program for drivers; and
• creating a committee that would be focused on taxi safety.
City council members noted their own concerns on the issue following the presentation.
Mayor Dan Curtis encouraged the group to keep working on the issue.
“(The city) takes this very seriously,” he said.
Coun. Dan Boyd later continued the discussion as new business, noting: “I would like to see this go somewhere. If we can do more, I’d like to do more.”
Bylaw manager Dave Pruden said the department has met with the women’s groups and the Yukon government, and is continuing efforts to ensure compliance with the current bylaw.
“We’re continuing to work on it,” Pruden said.
The department will soon be able to provide a more detailed report about the city’s current work, as well as a response to the recommendations presented to council, he added.