Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Drugs, drinking, sex assault: 12 Halifax cabbies have lost licences in 6 years

Over the past six years, 12 drivers have lost their taxi licenses for a variety of infractions, including convictions for impaired driving and living off the avails of prostitution.

2 levels of government have teamed up to fight a spate of bad behaviour by taxi drivers

New figures obtained by CBC News show 12 Halifax drivers have lost their taxi licences since 2010 for a variety of infractions, including impaired driving and sexual assault. (CBC)

New figures show that 12 drivers have lost their taxi licences in the past six years for a variety of infractions, including convictions for impaired driving and living off the avails of prostitution.

The statistics, obtained by CBC News through an access to information request, shed more light on a spate of bad behaviour that has left some taxi drivers frustrated with their industry.

Earlier this week, Halifax Regional Police revealed that it has investigated 14 reports of young women being sexually assaulted by taxi drivers since 2012, including five in the last few months. Charges have been laid in five cases, while several others have been closed "due to lack of solvability."

Two levels of government have now teamed up to discourage the bad behaviour and push for more protection for passengers.

"There has to be zero tolerance," Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said.

Savage and Joanne Bernard, the provincial minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, have written a letter to members of the Halifax taxi industry, warning of the seriousness of sexual violence.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said the city and taxi industry must do more to protect passengers in taxis. (CBC )

Taxi regulation is the responsibility of the Halifax Regional Municipality, but the headlines have caught the eye of the higher level of government.

"I wanted to figure out … what we could do in support of the mayor or the taxi commission folks in terms of training or sensitivity training or sexual violence training with their cab drivers," Bernard said.

Onus on city, taxi industry to fix problems

Halifax Regional Police issued safety tips to taxi passengers earlier this week, suggesting that women sit farther away from drivers and take notes about the taxi in case something happens.

Police say the majority of attacks have happened at night, targeting young women — aged 19 to 25, in most cases — who were often sitting in the taxi's front seat.

The mayor suggested that women shouldn't have to take precautions when they get into a cab.

"If there's one thing that we know we shouldn't do, it's blaming victims or suggesting that the onus has to be on people who are jumping in cabs," Savage said.

"The onus has to be on us, on the industry, and on those who govern that industry to make sure we provide a safe environment for people."

The fact that 12 people have lost their taxi licences is a good start and "recognition that this an issue," the mayor added.

"But we need to finish the job."

Figures obtained by CBC News show Halifax taxi drivers have lost their licences for a variety of reasons over the past six years. (CBC)

Licence revocation not a lifetime ban

The statistics show that two drivers have lost their taxi licenses after being convicted of sexual assault within the last six years.

Three were found guilty of impaired driving.

Another driver lost his or her licence in 2011 after being convicted of a number of crimes, ranging from assault with a weapon to possession of a firearm and living off the avails of prostitution.

Those people could end up back behind the wheel of your taxi someday.

A licence revocation is not a lifetime ban from driving taxi in Halifax, according to Brendan Elliott, a spokesman with the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The driver can re-apply for the licence at any time. If the city's taxi commission says no, a driver can appeal to the appeals standing committee of regional council.

"We will look at every case on its own merit and make a decision based on that," Elliott said.

That's what happened last year in the case of Bassam Al-Rawi, a taxi driver who had his licence suspended after being charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger. He goes to trial on the charge in August.

Al-Rawi disagreed with the city's decision to take away his licence and filed an appeal. The committee agreed to reinstate his licence, as long as he agreed to install a camera in his cab and only work between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Another driver who had his or her licence revoked in June for failing to maintain the required insurance has appealed the revocation. That appeal will be heard on Sept. 8.

Checks and balances

New taxi drivers must get a criminal-record check and go through other screening to prove they have a good driving record and no criminal past.

They must also sign a declaration promising they haven't been convicted of any offenses in Canada or elsewhere in the last five years.

Those checks are renewed every two years. Drivers are expected to tell the city about any charges laid against them while they have a taxi licence.

Joanne Bernard, the minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, is concerned about reports of sexual assault by taxi drivers in Halifax. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"This is a public safety issue," Bernard said.

"Women, whether they're 15 years old or 52, they have to be safe in a place of business such as a taxi cab. It is not up to a young 20 year old who had a few drinks downtown to make sure that she is safe because she is doing what she should be doing. She's not getting behind the wheel of a car, and she's not walking home."

'We want this to stop'

Bernard wants the problem to be addressed before university students arrive this fall.

"There has to be a stop to this. It absolutely is unacceptable. I've lived in this city all of my life. I have never seen a spate of sexual assaults in cabs as I have in the last two years," she said.

Savage said it's also time for the city to step up.

"I'm sure there's things we can do better and we intend to find out what they are."

Dave Buffett, the head of an association representing taxi owners and drivers in Halifax, said the industry is putting in long hours to deal with a spate of bad behaviour and alleged sexual assault by taxi drivers. (CBC)

On Wednesday, city officials met with the taxi industry and agreed to place decals with a taxi's roof light number inside vehicles.

Some have also called for cameras to be placed in cabs or adding GPS trackers to vehicles.

Dave Buffett, president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association, said the taxi industry is frustrated by the reports of sexual violence and is willing to put in the time with the city to fix the problem.

"We want this to stop," he said. "Yesterday would not be soon enough."