UberX court cases will determine if Toronto police lay more charges against drivers, Chief Saunders says

If eight Toronto UberX drivers charged under the Highway Traffic Act are convicted, police will continue to enforce the law against the unlicensed drivers, Chief Mark Saunders said after a meeting with members of the city's taxi industry.

'If the outcomes are successful from a judicial perspective, we will take an active roll in the enforcement'

Toronto taxi drivers shut down the busy intersection of Queen and Bay Streets on Wednesday. Cab drivers warned if a meeting with police chief Mark Saunders doesn't go well on Friday, they may demonstrate again. (John Rieti/CBC)

If eight Toronto UberX drivers charged under the Highway Traffic Act are convicted, police will continue to enforce the law against the unlicensed drivers, Toronto Police Che Mark Saunders says. 

Saunders made the announcement after emerging from what he called "a very constructive meeting" with members of the city's taxi industry.

The eight drivers, arrested by Toronto Police Service officers in March, were charged under Section 39.1 of the provincial act, which states that a driver  "shall not pick up a passenger for the purpose of transporting him or her for compensation where a licence, permit or authorization is required to do so."

"If the outcomes are successful from a judicial perspective, then we will take an active roll in the enforcement against UberX," Saunders told reporters. "Until those laws are properly interpreted, there's not much more we can do."

If the courts throw out the charges against the drivers, Saunders said "we'll be back where we started," and it will be up to lawmakers to craft new regulations.

Saunders said he was unaware of the eight charges before today and hopes the court process will be quicker than waiting for politicians to pass legislation. The courts have previously thrown out local charges against UberX drivers, he said. 

Sam Moini of the Taxi Alliance of Toronto said taxi drivers believe the Highway Traffic Act is clear as it pertains to UberX. 

"We feel that UberX is operating illegally. Charges have been laid and we're thankful to the police officers who have been laying those charges," he said.  "We expressed the desperation of the industry to the police chief and how desperate we are for the law to be abided by."

The fact that cases are before the courts shouldn't stop police from taking action now, Moini said.

"Just because someone runs a red light and he fights it in court, does that mean that we hold off on issuing red light tickets until we get that decision?"

Calling UberX "bandit taxis," Moini said it is unsafe for people to use the raid-hailing app Uber to call unlicensed cabs that may not have the proper insurance.

Moini said passengers who use UberX might also be breaking the law. Section 39.3 of the act states that: "No person shall arrange or offer to arrange for a passenger to be picked up in a motor vehicle other than a bus for the purpose of being transported for compensation except under the licence, permit or authorization that is required to do so."

Not clear if more protests coming 

Earlier in the day, Sajid Mughal, a spokesman for the iTaxiWorkers Association, said Toronto taxi drivers won't rule out another protest if Friday's meeting with Saunders doesn't go well.

On Wednesday, taxi drivers staged a citywide anti-Uber protest that snarled roadways around Toronto. That demonstration also saw one taxi driver pound on an UberX car's window before clinging to the fleeting car and more than 100 drivers shut down the busy intersection of Bay and Queen Streets during rush hour.

It's too soon to say whether there will be further protests, Moini said. First, he said, industry stakeholders will meet to discuss the conversation with Saunders. 

"The demonstration you saw on Wednesday is because people are losing the shirts off their back. The demonstration you saw on Wednesday is because people cannot put food on their tables," he told reporters. 

Saunders wouldn't speculate on the possibility of future protests.

"The City of Toronto handles thousands of protests on a regular basis," he said. "If it is, we'll handle it the best way we possibly can."

Friday's meeting comes at the behest of Mayor John Tory. On Wednesday, Tory assured cab drivers that the city is working toward changing its bylaws. 

In addition to the eight provincial charges before the courts, 294 UberX have been charged by the city with bylaw infractions under the Municipal Licensing and Standards Division.