Nova Scotia

Arrest prompts Halifax council to look at changing taxi appeals committee

The idea of making changes to Halifax's taxi appeals committee comes after taxi driver Lesianu Zewdie Hweld, 44, was charged with sexual assault last week. The arrest was the latest in a string of Halifax taxi drivers charged with sexual assault in recent years.

Committee would include members with a legal background and would exclude councillors

A Halifax regional council staff agenda item says the proposed changes to the taxi appeals committee 'will help increase the safety of women and vulnerable passengers.' (Shutterstock)

Halifax regional council agreed on Tuesday to look at setting up a new taxi appeals committee that wouldn't have any councillors on it, but would instead have three to five citizens with legal backgrounds.

The move comes after taxi driver Lesianu Zewdie Hweld, 44, was charged with sexual assault last Wednesday. The arrest was the latest in a string of Halifax taxi drivers charged with sexual assault in recent years.

Hweld's licence was recently reinstated after it was suspended last spring over other driving infractions.

Coun. Waye Mason said a new appeals body is needed to regain public trust.

"I'm not blaming anybody," he said. "The issue is making sure the public believes this is not a politicized process."

'We are failing the women of our municipality,' says councillor

Coun. Shawn Cleary agreed changes are needed.

"We have been and we are failing the women of our municipality," he said.

Coun. Steve Adams voted in favour of the report, even though he isn't sure the existing appeals committee did anything wrong.

He pointed out the licence wasn't reinstated until after a provincial judge dismissed the charges under the Motor Vehicle Act.

"They really had no choice," said Adams. "So, we could put an independent committee in place with five Supreme Court judges if you wish and they'll come up with the same recommendation."

A string of Halifax taxi drivers have been charged with sexual assault in recent years. The most high-profile case was that of former driver Bassam Al-Rawi, who was recently acquitted in a retrial. (Robert Short/CBC)

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who was the only member of the appeals committee who voted against reinstating Hweld's licence in July, sees it differently.

"The bottom line for that case: the driver failed to report his licence suspension to the taxi authority," she said. "That was the non-starter for you — if you don't follow our rules, you don't get the privilege of driving a taxi."

Coun. David Hendsbee suggested the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board should deal with appeals involving taxi drivers, or a sub-committee of Halifax's police commission.

"We should be out of the taxi business altogether," said Hendsbee.

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca