​Montreal police now say they are investigating 17 cases of sexual assaults in taxis for this year alone.

Those numbers were released a day after the police issued a public warning about four sexual assault cases involving taxi drivers that they believe could be connected. The first incident took place in March and the latest last weekend.

In those four cases, the victims hailed a cab downtown and were driven to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière​ told CBC's Radio Noon the warning wasn't issued earlier because of the nature of the complaints. 

"There's a reason we never went public with this before this week because, in cases of a possible sexual aggression, normally we don't go public with this."

Lafrenière​ acknowledged that the description investigators are working with is broad. The suspect is described as a male in his 30s, around five feet eight inches tall. He speaks in French with a strong accent.

"We're talking about 12,000 taxi drivers," he said.

"If we're talking about an incident that took place at the same location, for instance, people were waiting for a cab on a specific street and they could be targeting a group of individuals.

"But this is people (hailing) a cab downtown, so it's pretty large in terms of possible suspects."

He said police are hopeful more leads will come in now that the public is aware they are looking for information on the incidents.

Minimizing risk

Yesterday, after police issued a warning that included advising that the risk for assault could be diminished if people didn't ride in a cab alone after drinking, there was swift reaction on social media from people criticizing law enforcement for victim-blaming. 

Lafrenière​ said that it's clear the victim is never to blame in situations like this, but it's still important to take all measures possible to minimize risk.

Two years ago, the police launched a campaign advising anyone hitting the town to make sure they started and ended the night in groups and didn't leave intoxicated friends behind.

"It wasn't mentioning that people shouldn't go out and it's not correct to have a good night, it's just to say that you can be in a position that people could take advantage of."

Last year, Lafrenière​ said, Montreal police investigated 29 cases of sexual assault involving taxi drivers. It's still an extremely safe way to travel, he said, when you consider they provided 37 million rides in that same year. 

Anyone with information on the alleged sexual assaults, or anyone who has experienced a similar incident but hasn't reported it, is asked to contact Montreal police. 

Today on CBC's Radio Noon, host Shawn Appel heard from some reaction from Montrealers about the police's reaction. Take a listen: