Winnipeg taxi, limo, ride-hail drivers will face fines for sexually harassing, assaulting passengers

Winnipeg taxi, limo and ride-hail drivers will face $250 fines for sexually harassing, insulting, abusing or threatening a passenger.

City council unanimously voted Thursday to bring in the fines, as well as a code of conduct for drivers and other bylaw changes to the vehicles-for-hire bylaw.

The issue has come up several times at City Hall this year. It kept getting sent back for more discussion because councillors agreed with the taxi industry, whose representatives stated they didn’t get enough consultation on the matter.

On Thursday, the industry changed its tune. Lawyer Benjamin Hecht, who represented the industry at council, said they met with city officials and supported the bylaw as written.

“We also need to remind council that on almost a daily basis, and despite all the protections that have been mentioned, we are seeing a serious concern of driver safety to its constituents,” said Hecht during Thursday’s meeting.

“We also remind you that being a taxi cab driver is historically one of the most dangerous occupations around.”

The bylaw doesn’t stop at fines for drivers. They can also be reprimanded, have to be re-trained, or have their licence taken away. The bylaw doesn’t prevent police from investigating, either.

Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) said she believes more discussion is needed to make sure the city’s investigation process is fair for all involved, but said the bylaws should become official soon.

In a document sent to council, 24 organizations put their support behind implementing fines and a code of conduct on drivers to keep vulnerable people safe from harassment and assaults.

Rachel Sansregret had been fighting to get the bylaw changes and fines approved for months. She’s appeared six times in front of councillors, sharing her own unsafe experiences with cab drivers.

She told councillors she felt disrespected during the city process, and that she and others who shared their stories should be acknowledged for their pain.

“Trauma is felt for days, weeks, months after reopening,” she said during the meeting.

Some councillors brought up the issue of fare-jumping in cabs.

Sansregret said those are two separate issues.

“We firmly addressed the fact that fare jumping and the monetary well-being of drivers being addressed at this same table — when I’m talking about getting sexually harassed at 19 years old and fearing for my life — are two completely different matters,” she said during the meeting.

“I find this being brought back around in this way to be inherently disrespectful yet again of the lived experience of Indigenous community.”

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