Hamilton cab drivers rally for increased safety

About 40 cabs drive from Dundurn Castle to City Hall to increase public awareness of the dangers of their job and get help from the courts and elected officials after July's brutal attack on a colleague.
About 40 cab drivers drove from Dundurn Castle to City Hall to raise awareness of the everyday dangers of their job. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Rogers Musgrave wears an everyday reminder of the day he was attacked on the job in 2006.

"I picked up a passenger... and he asked me to drive him across the street to pick up his girlfriend," the Hamilton cab driver said. "We waited and he said to me, my girlfriend is coming and I said 'I don't see her'... there was a big silence for about a minute and he shouted 'Get out!' I turned back and he slashed me with a machete."

Musgrave bears a scar that spans right across his left cheek and another on his left forearm. He said he's scared every day when he goes to work.

Musgrave was one of roughly 40 cab drivers who staged a protest Tuesday afternoon to get the public's attention about the dangers of their work. Drivers drove from Dundurn Castle along York Blvd before driving south to Main Street to stop at City Hall.

The demonstration was staged just weeks after cab driver Anwar Sajad, 55, was allegedly beaten by a passenger on July 16 outside a townhouse complex on Limeridge Road. He is still in hospital with a dislocated shoulder, a broken pelvis and a broken leg, said Assif Abbas, one of the protests organizers.

"We're still shocked," Abbas said before Tuesday's protest. "We hear Sajad is going through a lot of pain, his family is going through a lot of pain. It's shocking, it's petrifying."

Abbas said the drivers want to get the attention of the public, police officers, elected officials, anyone who can help make their day to day lives safer.

"But what's more shocking is that he is out on bail," he said, of the 19-year-old alleged attacker who was released on $5,000 bail in late July. "Most of the drivers haven't even seen the face of this guy so the condition he cannot take a cab, I don't know if that's going to be effective.... We wouldn't even know who is sitting behind our seat."

Many of the signs taped to cabs or held by drivers called for justice and an upgraded charge to attempted murder.

One of the signs used during Tuesday's protest. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

"We're demanding that the people who have done this type of thing shouldn't get away so easily," Abbas said.

Coun. Sam Merulla plans to introduce a motion at an Aug. 12 city general issues committee meeting. He'd like to see a compulsory pre-paid fare system where people pay for their rides in advance during the high-risk hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Most confrontations happen at the end of rides and are related to the fare, Merulla said. Drivers could use GPS to calculate the amount in advance.

"This is timely, it makes sense and it's proactive," he said. "With credit cards, debit cards and cash, there's no reason why someone should have a problem with this."

Pain and nightmares

Sajad's oldest daughter Zunaira told CBC Hamilton she's not sure when her father will be released from hospital. He remains in extreme pain and has nightmares about the July 16 ride when he was attacked.

"Everything is just upside down," Zunaira told CBC Hamilton. "This is the most terrifying thing that has ever happened in my life."

While leaving the Dudurn Castle parking lot, Abbas directs traffic stopping drivers along York Boulevard while his fellow drivers pull out in one long stream. Cars and busses are backed up past the High Level Bridge. He yells 'Thank you' back at drivers who honk in support and those who not-so-nicely tell him he "can't block traffic!"

It's that same aggressiveness that Hamilton cab drivers fear, and are hope to change with Tuesday rally, Musgrave said.

"I don't know what it will be, but I hope for some change," he said.

with files from CBC's Cory Ruf, Matt Moir and Samantha Craggs