Painful stories of taxi stabbings join calls for safety at Regina conference

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Painful stories of taxi stabbings join calls for safety at Regina conference

The pain and anguish is clear in Monika Bhardwaj's voice when she talks about her husband's recovery, a year and a half after he was stabbed multiple times while driving a taxi in Regina.

She still struggles to talk about the destruction the November 2016 stabbing has wreaked on her family's life. But Bhardwaj said she was determined to come to Sunday's taxi safety forum in Regina to speak out, particularly after a separate stabbing put another Regina driver into critical condition this past week.

"I came here today for everyone, so that we need security here for the drivers, also for the families, to feel safe," she said.

Dozens of taxi drivers came out to the Sunday forum to talk about what they have faced in the job, whether it was being pepper-sprayed over a $12 fare, stabbed on the hand, punched in the head or facing an onslaught of regular verbal abuse.

But several spoke about the case of Bhardwaj and her husband, Iqbal Singh Sharma, as among the worst cases faced by taxi drivers.

Family's life transformed by violence

The couple had come from India in 2016 for a better life, said Bhardwaj, who recalled distinctly the Nov. 24 night that two people came to her door and told her that her husband had been stabbed.

"He's covered with the blood, and I can't see him," she said, crying as she recalled the stab wounds to her husband's neck, chest and brain.

One month after the stabbing he couldn't walk, feed himself or talk, functions that have taken months to return. Even now, he struggles to walk and his right arm remains weak, while he struggles with isolation and depression, said his wife.

She was unable to access insurance, since the industry considers her husband to be self-employed, and now, she is trying to raise the couple's two young children while also working.

"We are just trying to do the best."

She couldn't believe it when she heard of the stabbing of 34-year-old Muhammad Umar, thinking that her  husband's case would have prompted changes in the taxi industry.

"We are totally shocked."

Malik Draz, a taxi driver himself and a representative with the United Steelworkers local union, said after that 2016 stabbing, there was a lot of talk about some of the measures that could be done. His union has pressed for better protection measures for drivers, whether it's safety shields in cabs, a violence prevention plan, and more training and insurance coverage for drivers. 

"Nothing happened unfortunately," he said. "Tomorrow it can be me, tomorrow it can be somebody else. Are we really waiting for somebody to give their life on the job, then we will think about change in the law?"

Draz said provincial and municipal governments can play a role in introducing bylaws or legislation, and ensuring safety standards are upheld. He believes his own life, and the lives of his fellow drivers, hang in the balance.

"All I want to go home safely at the end of shift. I want to see my family, when I'm done my shift."