Death of 'Uncle' Ahmed Mahamud Ali shines spotlight on taxi driver safety

The death of a Yellowknife taxi driver has thrust the issue of drivers' safety into the spotlight, as a local company comes to grips with the loss of one of its own.

City Cab does not have emergency buttons in taxis, protocols for drivers to follow in dangerous situations

Shirley McGrath, left, the general manager of City Cab, and driver Abdullah Ali, say they will remember deceased driver Ahmed Mahamud Ali as a hard worker, an honest man and a devout Muslim who was known as 'Uncle' to his co-workers. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

The death of a Yellowknife taxi driver has thrust the issue of drivers' safety into the spotlight, as a local taxi company comes to grips with the loss of one of its own.

Ahmed Mahamud Ali was found unconscious early Monday morning in the backseat of a City Cab vehicle he had been driving. He was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

An 18-year-old from Yellowknife, Elias Schiller, has been charged with murder in relation to his death.  

Abdullah Ali, another City Cab driver who is not related to Ahmed Ali, said it's not uncommon for drivers to get punched while on the job. He, too, has been beaten up while working, he says.

But in 20 years, Abdullah has never heard of a cab driver in Yellowknife being killed.

"This is your job," Abdullah said at the offices of City Cab on Tuesday. "You can't stop to say 'I'm scared.'" 

"It's not [only in] Yellowknife. Everywhere in Canada or Northwest Territories or North America. We do it. We don't have a choice."

City Cab says taxis used to have emergency buttons on their meters, but when the company changed devices, it lost those buttons.

Now, if drivers find themselves in a dangerous situation, they are on their own.

"What do we do? How much you can, run away, nothing else," said Abdullah.

'He was very kind-hearted'

Shirley McGrath said Mahamud Ali had worked for City Cab for more than 10 years and remembered him as a hard worker, an honest man and a devout Muslim.

"He was known as 'Uncle' to everyone. He was an older man," she said.

"He was good natured, he was a good driver. We never had complaints about him. He was very kind-hearted and polite with the customers."

Ahmed Mahamud Ali, shown here in his chauffeur's permit, has been identified as the driver who was found at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife Monday morning. (Randall Mackenzie/CBC)

McGrath said the company doesn't have specific protocols for how drivers should handle dangerous situations, saying that they can get in touch with the dispatcher or drive to the RCMP detachment.

"If they think they may be robbed, their best bet is to just hand over the money," she said.

Some taxis in City Cabs' fleet have cameras, but the one Mahamud Ali was driving did not.

The City Cab dispatcher lost GPS contact with Mahamud Ali in the area of Wilkinson Crescent between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, said McGrath.

You can't stop to say 'I'm scared.'- Abdullah Ali, City Cab driver

RCMP said they responded to a report of an unconscious man inside a City Cab taxi outside of Stanton Territorial Hospital at around 4:47 a.m.

McGrath said being a cab driver in Yellowknife is "safe enough ... But there are exceptions, and these kinds of incidents and the occasional violence make it a not safe job."

"But again, these are the exceptions, not the rule."

Drivers' safety will be a topic at City Cab's board meeting on Wednesday, said McGrath.

The Northwest Territories Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) is "monitoring the incident" with City Cab, spokesperson Sarah McLeod said in an email.

She said WSCC is not investigating at this time as the matter is with the RCMP.