Nova Scotia

Halifax taxis need more oversight, say advocates for women

Advocates for victims of sexualized violence say dashcams alone won't do enough to reduce the risk of sexual assaults from happening in taxis.

Mandatory dashcams would need to be authorized by municipal legislation

There have been four alleged sexual assaults in 2016 taking place in Halifax taxis. (CBC)

In the wake of a series of alleged sexual assaults in Halifax taxis, there have been renewed calls for dashcams in cabs, but some advocates for victims of sexualized violence say technological interventions alone won't reduce the risks.

"[Cameras] can act like a deterrent," said Rebecca Faria, who works with the anti-street harassment group Hollaback Halifax. "But as a passenger, I don't really feel protected by that because [drivers] can turn them off."

Jackie Stevens, executive director of the  Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says without clear municipal oversight to enforce the use and monitoring of dashcams, there's no way to ensure those kinds of measures will be employed properly in taxis.

"It is the municipality that does determine licensing, and so it should be also determining legislation and policies and procedures," Stevens told CBC's Information Morning on Tuesday.

'It's easy to scapegoat'

The president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association has said the incidents were at least partly a result of drivers from other countries not realizing that their behavior is inappropriate.

Faria disagrees.

"That culture of harassment, of violence, of entitlement is homegrown as often as it's imported. It's certainly not something that we need to bring here, we have it already," she said.

Stevens agreed, adding that it's "easy to scapegoat or to stereotype certain people, certain races, certain cultures in situations like this, and that doesn't address the issue. That would imply that white Nova Scotian-born men don't commit sexual offences and we know that's not the case."

Increased awareness needed

Stevens said they've been hearing about harassment and assault by cab drivers for years, and it's not clear whether the recent increase in incidents involving taxis — four in 2016 so far, versus two in 2012 — represents an increase in the frequency of those assaults or just an increase in reporting.

Either way, Stevens said the way the municipality has handled past situations, including a decision by the city's appeals committee to reinstate the licence of a driver who had been charged with sexual assault, indicates that further awareness is needed at the municipal level on how to address sexualized violence.

A right to get home safe

In the meantime, Faria says she doesn't depend on dashcams, even in cases where drivers have them. Instead, she uses mobile apps to call taxis when possible — giving her the driver's name, cab number and the make of their car.

Stevens said that even though there are always risks, that doesn't mean further measures can't be taken so that people seeking a secure way home can confidently choose a taxi.

"People have a right to expect that if they make a decision to call a cab to get home safe, then they should be arriving home safe," she said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning