Robbers tried to put rope around my neck, says Iqaluit taxi driver

On March 31, Seble Woldegebral became the victim of the seventh robbery of an Iqaluit business since October.

Escalating violence in spate of robberies concerns RCMP

A taxi pulls into the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit. An Iqaluit taxi driver who was robbed March 31 says two men tried to put a rope around his neck and threatened him with what he believes was a weapon. (CBC)

Sitting in his Iqaluit taxi where it all happened, Seble Woldegebral rubs his hand over his knee, shakes his head and winces as he recounts how two masked men attacked and robbed him of $300.

On March 31, the cab driver became the victim of the seventh robbery of a local business in Nunavut's capital since October, and the first taxi robbery in recent memory.

Michel Gilbert runs the cab company Woldegebral works for. He says this is the first robbery in his seven years in business. (CBC)

Michel Gilbert runs the cab company Woldegebral works for. He says this is the first robbery in his seven years in business. The owner of the other major taxi company in Iqaluit said it's been at least 10 years since one of his cabs was robbed. 

Woldegebral recalls the two masked men jumped into his cab outside Iqaluit's Storehouse bar. He didn't expect them to get in and says the whole ride was uncomfortable.

When they got to the destination, he turned on the ceiling light. Both his passengers started speaking Inuktitut — a language the Ethiopian-born Woldegebral didn't understand — and he saw one of the men pass something to the other.

Suddenly, the robbery was on.

Rope around neck

"And then one guy took a rope and tried to put it around my neck," Woldegebral recalls.

He was able to get his hands up in front of the rope.

"I said 'Take it easy. Take it easy, guys. What are you looking for?'"

The men replied they wanted money. And when Woldegebral was able to protect himself from the rope, the other robber threatened him with what he believes was a weapon.

"I said 'OK, take it, take it. Easy. Take it,'" Woldegebral says. "I closed my eyes ... and he took the money."

The two men then ran off toward Joamie School.

Eight robberies

Now, the search is on for the robbers who were dressed in black — as has been the standard-issue uniform for most of the robberies that have occurred in the last six months.

Chief Supt. Mike Jeffrey of RCMP 'V' Division. (CBC)
Back in February, the RCMP held a press conference to brief the public on their investigations into the six robberies to that point and said they'd solved five cases. Convenience stores were targeted in four of those. A gas station was also hit in November when robbers stole the cash deposit bound for the bank, worth more than $5,000, and the Arctic Ventures marketplace was held up for a small amount of money.

A week after Woldegebral was robbed, two men robbed the KFC/Pizza Hut Quickstop carrying what appeared to be a firearm.

Cabs as targets

Gilbert of Caribou Cabs worries taxi may become targets.

"We're pretty concerned because we don't know know how far it's going to go," Gilbert says.

"If one night they catch one driver that's willing to do something about it on his own, well, where is it going to end? We've had a few fights and stuff where drivers had to go help another driver. But more [serious] than that? Never."

RCMP have laid charges in the first few robberies, but V Division's commanding officer says he is concerned the crimes are becoming more violent.

"In cases like that, it's never good," says Chief Supt. Mike Jeffrey. "The reason why is that the police when they get information about a robbery and the use of a firearm, the response has to be equal to that type of threat."

The Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce says a few of the ways businesses can protect themselves include doubling up staff, making sure they're trained and limiting the amount of cash on premises at any given time.