Nearly two dozen people registered to speak at a committee meeting on Wednesday, opposing a motion to remove a code of conduct and new fines for taxi and vehicle-for-hire drivers from a proposed bylaw change.
On March 8, the City of Winnipeg’s infrastructure renewal and public works committee approved an amendment to the vehicles for hire bylaw, which laid out rules explicitly forbidding drivers from sexually harassing passengers, and imposed fines up to $250 for violations.
At last month’s city council meeting, however, councillors voted 8-6 to send the proposed bylaw amendment back for the committee to review with the sections including the code of conduct and fines removed.
On Wednesday, committee members Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Coun. Markus Chambers put forward a motion endorsing the proposed changes from council to delete the sections containing the code of conduct and fines.
Committee chair Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) said he intended to vote for the amendment as it was originally written, while Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) was absent.
Sandra Delaronde, an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, told councillors she was there to express “disappointment and shock” and to urge councillors to pass the bylaw changes as originally written.
“We think that the code of conduct is important and that, definitely, further work needs to be done,” she said in an interview with CBC News.
“Taking those measures out of the motion really doesn’t create any level of safety for Indigenous women and girls and gender-diverse people, in fact, for anyone who decides to take a vehicle for hire.”
Other speakers, many of them Indigenous women, shared experiences of uncomfortable encounters they or their relatives and friends have had with drivers, which included inappropriate comments and demands for payment upfront.
In the public gallery, dozens of supporters sat, some of them wearing ribbon skirts.
The committee also heard from a lawyer representing the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association, which had advocated at city council for the removal of those sections of the bylaw amendment.
Andrew Buck, with Pitblado Law, acknowledged there have been problems between drivers and passengers, and said the industry wanted to work with the city to craft new rules to address concerns.
“It would be helpful if we could have a broader interest-based discussion about actually coming up with wording,” instead of the city telling the industry what it intended to do “without any consultation or suggestions as to potential improvements of bylaws.”
Buck said removing the code of conduct is not about “winning a delay for the industry,” but Delaronde said that’s exactly what it does.
“There’s no weight to the bylaw and in the community, there will be nothing in the next year or so that will protect women that they can rely on to support their complaint process.”
Delegates repeatedly called on Chambers and Browaty to withdraw their proposed changes.
Chambers defended his motion to delete the sections, saying his intention is to improve relations between drivers and passengers.
“These are things that should be common civility and here we are codifying them. These are things that we should be treating each other with the respect that is due,” he said.
The committee is set to vote on the proposed changes later on Wednesday.
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