Taxi companies vow to improve passenger safety, driver knowledge

Winnipeg’s two major taxi cab companies have publicly acknowledged that Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people often feel unsafe and vulnerable when using city cabs, and are now working with a coalition of Indigenous women to deal with what many say has been an ongoing issue.

On Monday Unicity Taxi, Duffy’s Taxi, and the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association released a joint statement and written commitment that promises greater safety efforts for those groups and acknowledges that in the past they may have felt vulnerable travelling with some city taxi drivers.

“Winnipeg’s taxi industry has heard first-hand and respects the lived experience of Indigenous women and girls and two-spirited people who have experienced unsafe transportation with taxis,” the statement reads.

“We have heard, and are committed to support their calls for change.”

And while they have acknowledged what many Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people have experienced in city cabs, the companies have also said their drivers should now be educated on the history of Indigenous people in the city and province and how that history has left many vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.

“Winnipeg’s taxi industry acknowledges Canada’s history of colonialism, oppression and genocide towards Indigenous peoples,” the statement reads.

“We also acknowledge the intergenerational trauma from residential schools, the 60s scoop, as well as the history and ongoing reality of the oppression and victimization of Indigenous women and girls and two-spirited people.”

A committee made up of Indigenous women, including mothers and grandmothers, recently met with representatives from Winnipeg’s taxi industry and the two sides agreed on the statement and commitments.

One of the commitments the taxi companies have now made is required training for all current and future drivers that would include historical teachings about Indigenous issues, taught from an Indigenous perspective.

They have also pledged to implement a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints and to create a brand new position to ensure Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people have a safe place to file complaints or concerns regarding their experiences in city taxi cabs.

The statement comes after several reports in the last year in the city of Winnipeg about taxi drivers and their alleged mistreatment of Indigenous women and girls, as well as one criminal complaint that led to charges being laid against a driver.

In October of 2021, a Unicity Taxi driver was charged with forcible confinement and assault after Serenity Morrisseau, a 19-year-old Indigenous woman, alleged a driver assaulted her, locked her in his car, and dragged her with his vehicle, during an incident in the early morning hours of Sept. 26 of 2021. None of allegations have been tested in court.

And in February, Loretta Caribou of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation filed a complaint with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) after she said she was travelling in a cab in Winnipeg when the taxi driver suddenly stopped and immediately demanded cash from her, and threatened to throw her out into the extreme cold if she did not hand cash over, a situation she said at the time left her “shaken.” She recorded the incident and it was posted online.

Last winter, the MKO even went so far as to release a checklist of precautions that Indigenous citizens should take when travelling in taxi cabs, which includes taking a picture of the cab number and license plate number, riding in the back seat if possible, enabling GPS tracking on phones and mobile devices, and travelling with another passenger if possible.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine told the Winnipeg Sun at the time that many of the tips that MKO released are already things that many Indigenous women do automatically before getting into taxi cabs in Winnipeg, because of how unsafe they often feel.

“Every Indigenous woman that I know including myself takes precautions and measures when they enter a taxi,” Fontaine said. “Indigenous women will start filming or take pictures of the taxi and the taxi ID, because they just know that’s what they should do.

“As Indigenous women we all experience it, and it’s a huge issue that I’ve been hearing about for more than 20 years.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun