Woman Drugged, Sexually Assaulted After Taking Winnipeg Taxi, Says Indigenous Group

CBC News Posted: Dec 08, 2016

A woman says she took a taxi in Winnipeg last month and after being given something to smoke, she woke up the next day in bed with a man she didn’t know.

The 19-year-old university student, who was sexually assaulted, escaped the home and ran to a nearby Tim Hortons to call a friend, according to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO).

Her story was told to reporters on Thursday by the SCO, an advocacy group that represents First Nations communities across southern Manitoba, and Ka Ni Kanichihk, an Aboriginal support services agency.

“Because of the serious nature of the incident, the woman would like to remain anonymous,” a statement from SCO said.

“But she hopes that in sharing her story with the public she can bring awareness and stop this from happening to other young women.”

Randy Williams, chair of the Manitoba Taxicab Board, said his organization takes all complaints seriously.

“It’s important for the public to know that they can file a complaint with the Taxicab Board and that we will take action. We have the ability to suspend or cancel a taxicab driver’s licence for serious breaches of the taxicab regulations and we will continue to do so for the protection of the public,” said Williams in a written statement.

‘You should feel safe taking a cab in Winnipeg. That’s not something up for debate.’– Pamela Davis

According to the SCO, the woman and some friends left a downtown pool hall on Vaughan Street at 2 a.m. on Nov. 3. After her friends were dropped off, the woman was told by the cab driver that his shift was done and he needed to change cars.

She was taken to a parking lot and got into a car that was not a taxi, SCO said. Two other men were waiting in it as well.

The woman was offered something to smoke and after that she doesn’t remember much, the SCO said, adding she woke up the next day in bed with an unfamiliar man in a North Kildonan residence near Henderson Highway and McLeod Avenue.

The woman filed a police report on Nov. 4 and a few days later approached SCO with her story.

‘We need to protect ourselves’

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization and Ka Ni Kanichihk held the news conference at SCO’s Winnipeg office to warn women to be safe and not to ride in cabs alone, particularly in light of the many incidents that have come to light over the past two years.

They’re also urging others to bring complaints to SCO’s newly created Taxicab Community Complaints Advocate.

“You should feel safe taking a cab in Winnipeg. That’s not something up for debate,” said advocate Pamela Davis.

Two days after the 19-year-old was allegedly assaulted, another woman claimed she was propositioned for sex by a taxi driver.

Patricia Nosal, 20, was in a cab on Nov. 5 when asked if she wanted to make extra money. When she was dropped off at home, another cab was waiting there and a passenger got out, asking her the same thing.

Davis said she wonders how many other women there are with similar stories but have not come forward because they are scared or feel ashamed.

“This is why we’re doing this today — to make sure that people out there, if they’ve experienced anything negative, to come forward, because that’s how we’re going to make change,” she said.

“The public has to know that these things are happening and are real. Every other day we are hearing about another missing woman. We need to protect ourselves, our mothers, daughters and sisters.”

She urged people who take cabs to make note of the company and taxi ID number and then let the driver know that information has been documented. Passengers should also call someone up and pass along that info, she added.

“That way, the driver knows that somebody’s expecting you.”

Anyone who experiences violence in a taxi, or encounters a situation that violates their safety or makes them feel vulnerable, needs to file a complaint with the taxicab board and seek support from the SCO, said Shauna Fontaine, the organization’s violence prevention and safety co-ordinator.

“You don’t drink and drive, you take a taxi because it’s the safest way. But we’re not seeing that it’s a safer way to travel,” she said.

Meeting with taxicab board

The Manitoba Taxicab Board and the SCO have met several times in the past to discuss safety concerns in Winnipeg’s cab industry, and changes are coming, Fontaine said.

The board is receptive and “very responsive” to the organization’s recommendations for change and has also completed a consultation with MNP, a business advisory firm, to determine the problems within the industry, she said.

That report will be released this month, Fontaine said.

The taxicab board has also said that, starting this month, new drivers must go through a cultural awareness component in their training as well as information about human trafficking, sexual harassment and conflict resolution.

“I’m going to have a chance to sit in on that section of their training modules, so I’ll be able to weigh to see if it’s maybe enough or not the right amount,” she said.

The SCO says it would like to see surveillance cameras inside the cabs go beyond recording still images. Fontaine has asked for video and audio to be used but was told that due to privacy issues, audio cannot be recorded.

The taxicab board said it is exploring the idea of having driver photo ID cards posted in taxicabs and creating a driver and passenger bill of rights.