Indigenous leaders and advocates in Manitoba are reacting after a new bylaw was passed in Winnipeg that looks to keep passengers safe when they travel by taxi or other vehicle-for-hire services.
“The issue of violence and discrimination at the hands of vehicle-for-hire drivers in the taxi industry has long plagued First Nations in Manitoba,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Acting Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in a statement reacting to the news that Winnipeg city council unanimously voted last week to pass the Vehicle-for-Hire Bylaw.
The bylaw, which is now in effect, sets new rules and codes of conduct for those who are operating taxis and other vehicle-for-hire services like ride-sharing as well as limousine services.
Vehicle-for-hire drivers in Winnipeg can now receive a $250 fine for misconduct, even if their actions are not considered criminal, while they can also be reprimanded, instructed to be re-trained, or possibly have their license taken away.
Back in March, First Nations leaders in Manitoba warned Indigenous people to “be vigilant” when using taxi services in Winnipeg, after two concerning incidents in less than a year involving city taxi drivers and Indigenous women were reported and one led to the arrest of a driver.
On Oct. 6 of last year, Winnipeg Police charged a Unicity Taxi driver with forcible confinement and assault in the case of 19-year-old Serenity Morriseau, an Indigenous woman who claims the driver assaulted her, locked her in the car, and dragged her with the vehicle during an incident on Sept. 26. Those accusations have not yet been tested in court.
A second incident on Feb. 15, saw a Winnipeg cab driver allegedly start taking Mathias Colomb Cree Nation resident Loretta Caribou to a destination in Winnipeg while she was visiting the city, but then suddenly stop after driving a few blocks and demand upfront payment from her, and threaten to throw her out into the extreme cold if she did not pay him.
Caribou did pay the driver and was taken to her destination that day, but has since said publicly she wonders what would have happened if she did not have cash on her to pay him.
She also took a video of her conversation with the driver that day that circulated online and in the video she asks if race and her First Nations background played any part in his demands.
And some advocates in Manitoba have been saying for years that Indigenous citizens and specifically Indigenous women often do not feel safe when travelling in taxis in Winnipeg.
“We have heard so many times through word of mouth where women and often young girls have felt vulnerable in a taxi,” Winnipeg-based advocate for Indigenous women Albert McLeod said in an interview with the Winnipeg Sun last fall.
“It is something that we hear all the time, and we’ve been hearing it for a long time.”
McLean said he hopes the new bylaw will make Indigenous women feel safe when in taxis, and prevent them from being put in dangerous situations.
“The issue of First Nations citizens being victimized when utilizing taxi services is too often underreported, and has gone on for too long,” he said.
First Nation Family Advocate Cora Morgan said she believes that the bylaw may not have passed in its entirety if it were not for the work of Indigenous leaders and advocates, who she said have been pushing city councillors to get it passed.
“First Nations leadership in Manitoba have been very vocal about this issue, and often empower us to raise our voices,” Morgan said. “I truly believe that our collective efforts helped to ensure accountability and that together we made a difference.”
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to both Duffy’s Taxi and Unicity Taxi for comment but did not hear back from either organization.
— 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