Anger over prepayment 'erupted into murder' of Winnipeg cab driver, prosecutor says

Okoth Obeing, now 22, is charged in the death of 44-year-old Balvir Toor, who was killed on March 19, 2020. (John Einarson/CBC - image credit)
Okoth Obeing, now 22, is charged in the death of 44-year-old Balvir Toor, who was killed on March 19, 2020. (John Einarson/CBC - image credit)

A Winnipeg cab driver was stabbed to death over a payment dispute with a man who has a history of animosity toward taxi drivers and South Asian people, a Crown prosecutor argued in court on Wednesday.

Minutes before getting into Balvir Toor's taxi in the early hours of March 19, 2020, Okoth Obeing had gotten out of another cab before reaching his destination after a "hostile interaction" sparked by the driver asking for upfront payment, Crown attorney Chantal Boutin told court at Obeing's second-degree murder trial.

While still "inflamed" by that interaction, Obeing got into Toor's cab on Burrows Avenue near Andrews Street, the prosecutor told Court of King's Bench Justice Joan McKelvey.

When Toor also asked for payment upfront, Obeing perceived it as disrespect "and his anger erupted into murder" as he leaned forward from the back seat and fatally stabbed Toor, Boutin alleged.

Obeing, now 22, has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder charge in 44-year-old Toor's death.

Members of both families, including Toor's children and Obeing's parents, were in court for the first day of what's expected to be a weeks-long trial, which is being heard by judge alone.

In an interview with homicide detectives following his arrest, just hours after Toor's death, Obeing told police of his feelings of animosity toward South Asian people "as a result of negative interactions growing up."

He also told them he had a dislike of cab drivers owing to past experiences — specifically around demands for upfront payment, which he viewed as disrespect, Boutin told court.

"The Crown's theory is that the killing was fuelled by Mr. Obeing's animus, aggression and perceived disrespect of him by the victim," she said.

Obeing also told police in his interview that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hadn't taken his medication in about a week at the time of Toor's death, Boutin said.

He was also frustrated about his personal circumstances, as he was unemployed and had recently been denied entry into a carpentry training program, she said.

'There was blood all over': witness

Police previously said they found Toor seriously injured in his cab around 5:30 on the morning of March 19, 2020. He was rushed to hospital in critical condition but later died.

The man who called 911 after stumbling across the scene on his way to work said what caught his attention that morning was the flashing emergency light on Toor's taxi, which the driver was able to activate after being stabbed.

Kelly Lee testified Wednesday that he saw the cab driver's door open and close quickly as he approached in his truck, then saw the door open again as the driver got out and flagged him down.

"As he stood up he fell down. He got himself back up to the car — and that's when I asked him if he needed help…. It took a lot of effort for him to stand up to get my attention," Lee testified.

"There was blood all over — all over him and his vehicle."

Soon, two men who lived across the street came over to help.

Darren Bernhardt/CBC
Darren Bernhardt/CBC

Lee said he got Toor back into the driver's seat and stayed on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. One of the men applied pressure to Toor's wounds with a towel and the other held up a cellphone light to help them see on the dark morning, until police arrived about 10 minutes later.

Lee said Toor wasn't able to tell the men what had happened.

"He was in survival mode…. He couldn't speak," he said.

"He was having trouble with breathing. We were trying to coax him to keep breathing, stay with us."

Knife found in garbage bin: police

Toor's wife left the courtroom in tears as prosecutors prepared to show photos of evidence, which included the driver's blood-soaked hoodie and a knife later confirmed by DNA testing to have his blood on it, court heard.

That hoodie had 27 holes in it consistent with stab wounds, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Dan Cifuentes of the service's forensic identification unit testified. Toor's body also had a large number of injuries which appeared to be stab wounds, he told court.

Testing also confirmed some blood on the right sleeve cuff of a jacket seized from Obeing after his arrest was Toor's, court heard.

A knife believed to be the murder weapon was found in a back lane garbage bin, another officer testified.

A nearby home's surveillance footage of Burrows Avenue showed someone making stabbing motions in the back seat of Toor's cab, then running from the vehicle toward the back lane, Const. Bryan Romaniuk told court.

There, officers found the knife plunged into a bag of trash inside the garbage bin, "as if someone had placed it there in an attempt to conceal it," testified Const. Sylvia Schroeder, also from the forensic identification unit.

The trial continues on Thursday. It's expected to last about three weeks.