Arrest prompts Halifax council to look at changing taxi appeals committee
Committee would include members with a legal background and would exclude councillors
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."
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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."
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.