Tensions rise between Winnipeg taxi drivers and indigenous community

Winnipeg's taxi industry says it will meet with indigenous leaders to discuss accusations that some local cabbies are rude, racist, sexist — and mistreating aboriginal passengers.

Industry says it will address concerns, but indigenous groups begin their own ride-sharing services

Tensions rise between Winnipeg taxi drivers and indigenous community

7 years ago
Duration 2:25
Winnipeg's taxi industry says it hopes to meet with indigenous leaders to discuss accusations that some local cabbies are rude, racist, sexist — and mistreating aboriginal passengers.

Winnipeg's taxi industry says it hopes to meet with indigenous leaders to discuss accusations that some local cabbies are rude, racist, sexist  — and mistreating aboriginal passengers.

Representatives are also considering more training for cabbies, including a specific indigenous component, said Luc Lewandoski, spokesman for the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance.

"How can we try to alleviate [the concerns] and bring a sense of confidence? That's the most important part of it," he said.

"Everyone is entitled to get into a cab and feel that they're respected and treated fairly and that they are in safe hands for their journey."

Indigenous women have been complaining for years that they're being mistreated by Winnipeg cab drivers.

But, in the last few months, that anger and frustration has turned into action, as several groups have started free safe ride programs.

Drivers tell CBC News they're embarrassed when they hear aboriginal women tell stories about mistreatment by cabbies.

"It shouldn't be happening," said Joe Majowski, a 40-year taxi driver.

"They're totally safe in Winnipeg cabs, that I can say," added Rahul Bhandari, a four-year taxi driver.

Taxi driver Joe Majowski

7 years ago
Duration 3:08
Joe Majowski has 40 years of experience driving taxis in Winnipeg. He says more than 90 per cent of passengers are courteous.

Some aboriginal people said they feel discriminated against because they're asked to provide cash deposits up front.

The cabbies said they'll make that request if they worry a passenger will skip out without paying, no matter what their racial background may be. 

"I'll get that thrown in my face — 'You're only asking me for cash because I'm Indian,'" Majowski said. 

"No bloody way — I don't care about the colour of your skin — I'm just interested in the colour of your money."

Concerns about the safety of aboriginal women in taxis prompted one man to launch Neechi Rides in December, a free ride service.

More recently, local artist Jackie Traverse started two Facebook groups: "Boycott all Winnipeg Taxi Companies" and "Ikwe (Women helping women safe ride)." The latter is a ride-sharing group in which women volunteer to give safe rides to others.

Both Flett and the Southern Chiefs Organization are gathering indigenous people's stories about their experiences in taxis, including problems with racism, sexual harassment and violence.

"I think it's extremely frightening that these situations are going on because you want to feel secure if you're taking public transportation," said Shauna Fontaine, the Southern Chief Organization's violence prevention and safety co-ordinator.

"You should be getting into a taxi feeling safe, that you're going to get … from where you are to where you're going in a safe way." 

Fontaine is writing letters to all the provincial election candidates, asking them what they'll do to make the situation safer for aboriginal women.

And while there are also safety concerns involved with volunteer ride services, she said it's encouraging to see the indigenous community take action.

"They're not waiting for politicians to fix this, for the city to fix this or the taxicab board, because we're kind of getting the runaround," she said.

Shauna Fontaine, the violence prevention and safety co-ordinator for the Southern Chiefs Organization, says everyone deserves to feel safe when using taxi cabs. (CBC)

David Sanders, chair of the Manitoba Taxicab Board, said he has heard a number of sexual harassment complaints and that several cabbies have had their licences suspended.

He urges anyone with a bad experience to report it.

"It's important for us to get to the bottom of this," Sanders said.

"It doesn't serve anyone that these matters are raised in the public and not dealt with, because then it leaves a cloud of suspicion over everybody, and it's not fair to the 2,000 drivers who are doing a good job every day."


Karen Pauls

National reporter

Karen Pauls covers Manitoba stories for CBC national news. She has worked across Canada, U.S. and Europe, and in CBC bureaus in Washington, London and Berlin. Some of her awards include the New York Festivals for coverage of the Greyhound bus beheading and a Quirks & Quarks question show, and from the Radio Television Digital News Association for stories about asylum seekers, the Michif language, the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, live elections and royal wedding shows. In 2007, Karen received the Canadian Association of Journalist’s Dateline Hong Kong Fellowship and did a radio documentary on the 10th anniversary of the deadly avian flu outbreak. Story tips at