Police look for man in early 30s who posed as ride-hail driver in alleged sexual assault

1 person dead, 2 injured after 'very violent struggle' at Brentwood Bay home

Police are searching for a man, believed to be in his early 30s, who posed as a driver of a ride-hailing service and sexually assaulted a woman over the Easter long weekend.

The victim ordered a car online around 3:15 a.m. Saturday in Toronto's west end. Shortly after, she was approached by a man who claimed to be her driver, according to a police news release.

Believing he was the intended driver, the woman, 34, got in a dark-coloured four-door sedan with him in the area of King and Shaw streets. She was then sexually assaulted, investigators said. 

Police are now looking for a suspect in relation to the incident.

He is described as between age 30 and 35 with a dark brown complexion, a young-looking face and a stocky build. He was last seen wearing a red-coloured T-shirt.  

Passenger safety concerns

Two popular ride-hailing companies, Uber and Lyft, currently operate in Toronto. When asked by CBC Toronto which service the man claimed to represent, police declined to provide further details about the case.  

Uber recently launched a campaign to build public awareness amid growing concerns about passenger safety.

"Police would like to remind the public that when ordering transportation via a rideshare app, make sure to verify the make, model, and licence plate of the vehicle before you enter it," a news release read. 

On the same day of this alleged sexual assault, an Uber driver was charged with sexual assault, forcible confinement and extortion in connection with two separate incidents in September 2018 and early April.  

The San Francisco-based company now says riders will receive a push notification reminding them to complete the following steps before entering a vehicle hailed through the app:

  • Check the licence plate number.
  • Match the vehicle's make and model.
  • Check the driver's photo.

Meanwhile, Uber's main rival, Lyft, says the company is developing a new protocol to "help make everyone feel safer." 

This fall thousands of people called on the City of Toronto to re-instate mandatory training for taxi and ride-hailing service drivers in the wake of a local man's death during an Uber ride last March.   

City council opted to shelve 17-day training for both taxis and ride-hail drivers back in 2016 by allowing motorists to pick up passengers without a traditional taxi licence.

While cities like New York or Montreal require drivers to take a road safety test, in Toronto, drivers are only required to have a licence, fewer than nine demerit points and no major convictions. Advocates say a shift back to previous city policies will provide greater protections for passengers, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

Other provinces and states have also recently moved to tighten rules around how ride-hailing companies operate.

Edmonton amended its vehicle-for-hire bylaw in March to deny taxi or ride-hail drivers convicted in the preceding decade of violent crimes — including assault and sexual assault, fraud, or offences related to the unlawful operation of a vehicle — from receiving their licence. 

Earlier this month, South Carolina lawmakers proposed a bill to beef up security for riders by helping them properly identify their ride-hail vehicle. The bill stipulates that all Uber and Lyft vehicles must be outfitted with a light-up sign, or beacon, that can change colour. It also requires the companies and state regulators to keep a detailed register of who has the lights.