A Winnipeg woman who is a paraplegic said she is afraid to leave her house and take Handi-Transit after an alleged sexual assault inside a wheelchair van.
“My nights are full of nightmares. My days at home when I'm by myself, there's a lot of tears, wishing I could go out, but I'm not there yet,” she told CBC News.
A driver for Winnipeg’s Handi-Transit service is facing charges of assault and sexual assault after the woman complained to police.
The alleged incident happened last July and involved a 72-year-old driver and a passenger in her forties.
The passenger spoke to the CBC News I-Team because she wants other Handi-Transit clients to know what happened.
“I can't let it happen to anybody else. If I can help one more person or stop many people from this happening to them, that will make me feel better,” the woman said.
CBC News is not naming her to protect her identity.
The woman said she relied on Handi-Transit several times a week to get around.
She said over the years, the man had been her driver on a number of occasions.
“He was very courteous, very nice man,” she said. “There was no indication that anything was ever going to happen.”
Then one day last July, after not seeing him for a few months, he was again dispatched to her Handi-Transit call.
She said on that occasion he behaved strangely.
“On the way home he was really fidgety and stuff and he was asking questions, asking me why I hate him. And I’d say I don't hate anybody. I said I may not like people sometimes but I don't hate anybody,” she said.
“And he was starting to tickle my neck then like lean over and rub the back of my neck. He’d say ‘you're so silly, I don't know why you like me’. He was just weird,” she said.
“Then he dropped me off at home. That was it. I thought, that was strange. That's not him at all.”
The woman had another trip booked for the following morning and when the van pulled up it was with the same driver.
“I should have just known my instincts and stayed home,” she said. But she took the trip anyway and said she soon regretted it.
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‘What did you hit me for?’
“I don’t think he even got around the corner before I got a back hand to the head,” she said, adding her motorized wheelchair was beside the driver on the front passenger side.
“It wasn't a hard back hand to the head, but enough for me to say 'what did you hit me for?''', she said.
“He kept telling me I had no control of what was going on. And I think that was the hardest thing to hear, because he was right,” she said. “Because I'm strapped in and I can't do anything except sit there, that I can't go anywhere, that it was all up to him if I made it anywhere,” she said.
The woman said she froze, not knowing what state of mind the driver was in. She said he groped her breasts.
“The whole time we were going he was still doing the neck thing and telling me I was bad and that he had control. And by the time we got to the other main road he was leaning over and going down my shirt and almost driving off the road,” she said.
She said he then stopped and bought her a coffee.
“And I said ‘I don’t want coffee, I just want to go’, and he said ‘you don’t have control, I do.’ I didn't think I was going to my destination because of how many times he told me he had control. I really thought I wasn't going to go home. I had tears already and I know he knew, even though my sunglasses were on. And he just looked at me and I said ‘thank you for the coffee’.
The woman said after the driver made the stop for coffee, he started heading toward her destination where he eventually let her out of the van.
She reported the incident to Handi-Transit and the police. Police arrested the driver July 23 and he appeared in court in September.
Handi-Transit would not discuss the case.
But CBC News has learned the driver is no longer working for Handi-Transit and that one of the conditions imposed on him by the court is not to work with disabled or vulnerable persons.
The allegations against him have not been proven in court.
His taxi driver license has also been suspended, said Joan Wilson, secretary of the Taxicab Board, adding the driver provided a criminal record check in 2011 and it showed no record.
Handi-Transit did say it is in the process of reviewing and updating its driver training program.
It said that process was underway prior to receiving this complaint.
Incident recorded on camera
Most of the incident was caught on camera inside the vehicle.
CBC News has learned the camera was not operating during the minutes when the driver shut off the vehicle to go and buy coffee.
The city said it is working to install a new surveillance system in its new fleet of vans — one that will keep recording when the vehicle is shut off.
The victim said she wants Handi-Transit to improve safety, re-evaluate its drivers and provide more training on how to properly put safety belts on passengers in wheelchairs.