Group of Indigenous women partner with Winnipeg cab companies to improve safety

A committee made up of Indigenous women is working with cab companies and the City of Winnipeg’s Vehicles for Hire department to improve safety for women, girls and two-spirit people.

It stems from concern over incidents that have been made public and stories shared within the community but often go unreported, committee members said.

Committee members were joined by representatives of Duffy’s Taxi and Unicity Taxi Monday morning at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for the launch of an action plan which includes recommendations to make cab rides safer.

“This is an important first step,” said Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, a member of the committee. “One of the things that came up that really brought us together and caused a lot of discussion was when one of our committee members said, ‘I don’t even allow my daughter to take cabs in this city.’”

“And that really affected some of our new friends in the cab company and they realized there’s something we gotta do here.”

The recommendations include creating a new advocate position to ensure Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people have a safe place to file any complaints or concerns stemming from cab rides.

“Preferably an Indigenous woman in that role who will serve as the communicator between all parties to take stories, complaints,” Robinson-Desjarlais said. “If there’s any kind of communication that needs to happen between the cab companies and our Indigenous community that would be the liaison to do so.”

Grant Heather, the City of Winnipeg’s manager of Vehicles for Hire, said it still needs to be decided whether the advocate role would be a position within the City of Winnipeg or the taxi industry.

“Our role in all this as the regulator and licensor of the industry is to support the community but also support the industry,” Heather said.

He said more discussions will take place between the parties to determine what would work best.

The recommendations also include new training for all current and future drivers on historical teachings from an Indigenous perspective and courses on conduct and sensitivity.

The groups also talked about a need for implementing restorative justice options when incidents do occur.

Heather said there are already processes within the Vehicles for Hire bylaw that can lead to discipline against drivers when complaints arise. Matters that don’t meet the threshold for criminal charges to be laid can still result in a driver facing penalties under the bylaw such as having their licence suspended.

“There is already a process in place for discipline,” Heather said. “Anything along the restorative justice road would have to be something we consider after the fact. Public safety is ultimately the number one priority.”

Rajwant Brar, president of the board of Duffy’s Taxi, said the company is committed to bringing about change and reconciliation for Indigenous people.

“We have to work together if there are problems. We need to sort it out,” Brar said, who suggested language barriers can sometimes be part of the problem. “A lot of things may just be misunderstandings. There has to be communication.”

“I truly believe this committee will work as a mediator and they will solve a lot of issues.”

Tarlochan Gill, president of Unicity Taxi, also spoke in support of the partnership. 

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