Women's advocate says proposed bylaw on cab safety in Whitehorse doesn't go far enough
The Yukon Status of Women Council says it has persisting concerns with proposed amendments to the City of Whitehorse's vehicle for hire bylaw.
Those include how long recorded footage taken inside the vehicle is stored for and who gets to hold onto that footage.
The proposed changes passed second reading Monday night before Whitehorse City Council. They would make it mandatory to record audio in Whitehorse taxis — currently, taxis are only required to capture video. They would also make it an offence to tamper with, shut off, or delete recordings.
The proposed amendments also include increased fines for several offences, setting the maximum penalty at $5,000 on the second infraction for some.
Those include failing to capture images or audio and failing to retain the footage.
The goal for the proposed amendments is to improve safety in Whitehorse taxis, especially for those at risk of experiencing gender-based or sexualized violence. They come over a year after a survey of over 170 people showed women, especially Indigenous women, were experiencing sexual harassment or violence in Whitehorse taxis but often weren't aware of how they could report it.
But Aja Mason, executive director of the Yukon's Status of Women Council, said some of the proposed changes are still falling short.
"We definitely want to applaud steps in the right direction," Mason said. "Unfortunately, we feel pretty strongly that there was not a very rigorous gender analysis done on the actual amendments put forth."
Footage should be stored longer, advocate says
One key concern, Mason said, is the amount of time the audio and video recordings would be stored.
Under the proposed amendments, taxi companies would be required to record audio and video inside their vehicles and retain those recordings for seven days. That time period is on par with several other jurisdictions, according to a review carried out by city staff.
But Mason pointed out it's common for people who've experienced sexualized violence to take much longer than a week to report incidents to authorities.
"It places a lot of pressure on victims to report when they may not be ready," she said.
"Or they may not even realize at the time that there is a seven day window, essentially, where direct evidence can be captured."
At last week's standing committee meeting, Kyle Morrison, acting manager of bylaw services for the city, told council lengthening the retention period would have a significant impact on the taxi industry as "current systems do not possess capabilities for lengthier time retention."
"This change will require companies to purchase new cameras with an anticipated cost between $600 to $1,000 per car," he said.
Who stores recordings
Mason also said she'd prefer to have the footage stored by the city itself, and not by taxi companies, out of concern for people's privacy.
"We're seeing a continued trend towards offloading what should be a public sector responsibility and mandate into the private sector," she said.
At last week's meeting, Morrison had noted only RCMP officers have the authority to access the stored footage, and there is a fine to taxi companies if it is otherwise pulled out and misused.
In an email, a spokesperson for the city said it's not looking to store video recordings itself but is working with the taxi industry to find technology that can store recordings for longer.
Councillor Michelle Friesen also brought up concerns with the week-long retention period. In an interview, she said she hopes there's a way to find a solution in the future.
"There's a lot of data out there, there's a lot of information out there that points to the fact that seven days isn't long enough," Friesen said.
"I would really like to continue this conversation, and if we can have those conversations with bylaw and with RCMP and see if there's another way that we can retain those videos without placing that responsibility on the taxi industry."
Friesen had also suggested having a phone line available where passengers could flag footage to be saved before filing a formal report.
The amendments must go through a third reading before they're adopted.