Winnipeg’s city council delayed a bylaw on Thursday that would have fined taxi, limo and vehicles-for-hire drivers for assaulting or harassing their passengers.
And that sparked so much outrage in one city councillor that her microphone was cut off.
“Women want to see this move forward. They want to see it move forward, and it’s not moving forward for political reasons that do not support women,” Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) shouted during the council meeting. “It is absolutely absurd.”
Rollins continued when acting speaker Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) tried to interject.
“Women should be outraged today,” she said. “Women who have been assaulted have stood in this chamber. They have played out their pain …”
At that point, her microphone was turned off.
The proposed changes to the city’s vehicles-for-hire bylaw included a $250 fine for sexually harassing, insulting, abusing or threatening a passenger.
Lawyers win delay
The Winnipeg Community Taxi Association — comprising the largest taxi companies in the city including Unicity Taxi and Duffy’s Taxi — hired lawyers to address their concerns with the changes.
“The association, to be clear, categorically supports passenger safety. It agrees that provisions that establish clear procedures for driver conduct are for everyone’s benefit,” said Benjamin Hecht, a lawyer from Pitblado Law who’s representing the association.
“But — and it’s a big but — both rules and the enforcement mechanism must be fair.”
Hecht said the proposed changes as written could mean tickets for drivers without an investigation, or by solely relying on video and audio surveillance of the cab.
The bylaw does state that drivers could face penalties after hearings or investigations.
Hecht told council that fining “small business owners” without a chance to give their perspective is unfair.
“We know that statistics show that being a taxi driver is a dangerous occupation. Driver safety is a matter of key import that needs to be considered along with the importance of passenger safety,” Hecht said.
Hecht also said portions of the bylaw were unclear, stating the section that faults drivers for “lewd remarks” needs more clarity. He said drivers face racism, violence and need a way to deal with the issue of fare-jumping.
Hecht’s ask was for council to send the bylaw back so the industry could have more input and discussions with city staff.
Councillors want more discussions
Later during the meeting, Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) suggested moving parts of the bylaw forward, but not the ones in question by the laywers.
Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) then asked to refer the entire bylaw back to the public works committee for more discussion. Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) agreed as the acting chair of the committee.
“Nobody around this council chamber supports any type of abuse or assault of the passenger or taxicab or private vehicle for hire,” he said during the meeting.
“The concerns from the industry were as such that the policy to ticket was perhaps too easy, and it wasn’t quoted well enough what the process would be to challenge that.”
One advocate for the fines and other aspects of the changes said she’s “disheartened” by the delay.
“I find it distressing that as a place of business, there would be hesitation to implement something as across-the-board as a code of conduct,” said Rachel Sansregret, CEO of the Winnipeg Indigenous Friendship Centre.
“There’s no mention of consultation of women and girls from the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community who have lived experience. There’s only mention of consultation with industry, which to me seems one-sided.”
Sansregret, a member of the city’s vehicles-for-hire committee who has appeared before a handful of committees in support of the changes since the beginning of this year, told councillors multiple times of her own experience being trapped in a cab by a driver and running for her life.
“I do find it disrespectful — as an Indigenous female with lived experience of harassment and potentially life-threatening situations with taxi drivers — that it would be up to a male of either legal representation or from industry to determine what constitutes a lewd comment, and what should and should not make me feel uncomfortable,” she said.
“My gut reaction is that the reason this is being delayed is because I don’t frankly think either Unicity or Duffy’s wants to be held accountable to anybody outside of their internal workings.”
Sansregret wasn’t at council Thursday, but says if she had known lawyers were going to be there, she would have signed up to speak on the matter. She sasays id council’s decision shows the importance of having representation of lived experience in the room.
Council voted 8-6 to send the bylaw back for more discussion. Those who voted in favour included Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West), Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan), Coun. Scott Gillilngham (St. James), Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona), Chambers, Browaty and Klein.
The bylaw will appear before the infrastructure and public works committee next month.
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