Halifax regional council has ordered a staff report on whether it should be deciding who gets to drive a taxi following controversy over the acquittal of a cabbie charged with sexual assault.
"It was extremely important. We have to restore faith in the taxi system in HRM. Is it an admission the system is broken? No. Is it an opportunity to explore how we can do things better? Absolutely," said Coun. Lisa Blackburn.
While council debated the motion, there was growing protest outside city hall about the recent acquittal of former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi.
He was found not guilty of sexually assaulting an intoxicated female passenger who was found unconscious in his cab in May 2015. In giving his decision, Judge Gregory Lenehan said "clearly a drunk can consent."
Upholding public safety
"We have to stop treating taxi licences as a right and remember that this is a privilege to drive a cab in this town and not a right," Blackburn said.
Ahead of the meeting, Halifax's mayor said he was eager to debate the issue.
"We need to uphold the safety of citizens and as the mayor and also the father of a young woman who takes cabs in Halifax we hold people to a higher standard and we should," Mayor Mike Savage told CBC News.
In August 2015, the councillors on a municipal appeals committee reinstated the taxi licence of Bassam Al-Rawi, who was charged with sexually assaulting a passenger.
Al-Rawi's licence had been suspended by the city's taxi licensing office after his arrest in May 2015, but he appealed the decision.
The councillors on the appeals committee determined he should get his licence back as long as he only drove between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and he had a camera installed in his vehicle.
But Al-Rawi was unable to provide the municipality with proof a cab company would hire him or register as an independent cab driver, and he wasn't able to drive a cab. His licence was sent into a non-operational state in September 2015.
Al-Rawi was acquitted last week in Halifax provincial court, but the judge's decision that the passenger could have consented to sexual activity sparked an uproar.
The female 26-year-old passenger was intoxicated and was found unconscious and partially naked in the taxi by the police officer who arrested Al-Rawi.
"Personally I would like to see any cab driver that is charged with a violent criminal offence while on duty as a driver have his license suspended with no chance of appeal until the outcome of that criminal case," said Blackburn.
Better handled by UARB?
Savage and Blackburn suggested a body like Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board may be better at making decisions on taxi licensing.
"I've long felt and expressed last year that it's probably not fair to put councillors in the position on the appeals committee of making decisions of this magnitude," Savage said.
"It's obviously not all of our decision, but if the province and the UARB do not think it's their call then how do we improve the system from our point of view?"
He said while the municipal appeals committee — made up of six councillors — have made good decisions in the past, he said it made the wrong decision in deciding to reinstate Al-Rawi's taxi licence.
"I think that the information they had should have been stronger," Savage said.
"For the appeals committee, there's a big difference between somebody who doesn't cut the grass for a couple of months and somebody who puts the safety of citizens in question."