Unreserved

'I know that I'm keeping somebody safe,' says Ikwe Safe Rides driver

Catching a taxi isn't typically seen as a dangerous thing. But according to many Indigenous women in Winnipeg, they are often faced with unwanted advances, comments and discrimination from taxi drivers.
Christine Brouzes, co-director of Ikwe Safe Rides, says it's harder for Indigenous women to get a safe ride because of the pandemic which has led to a shortage of volunteer drivers. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Catching a taxi isn't typically seen as a dangerous thing.

But according to many Indigenous women in Winnipeg, they are often faced with unwanted advances, comments and discrimination from taxi drivers.

From this problem, Ikwe Safe Rides was created — it's a by-donation ride-share company run by Indigenous women, for women.

"Very regularly we hear women sharing stories of times when they've felt judged and rushed [by taxi drivers] — they got out of the car feeling angry, feeling that they had been discriminated against," said Christine Brouzes, co-director of Ikwe Safe Rides.

"We hear women say that the taxi driver asks them, 'Would you like to pay in another way?'"

Ikwe Safe Rides is a non-profit ride-share service, run by women for women. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

The service popped up in Winnipeg shortly after Tina Fontaine's death made national headlines, and Brouzes believes her story highlights the fear Indigenous women in Winnipeg have when trying to get around the city. 

"I think that if they don't imagine themselves being the one that is harmed next, they think that Tina could have been their little sister, could have been their daughter," said Brouzes.

"The fear that I hear from young ladies who take rides with us is great, and it's not occasional, it's very common, and it breaks my heart."

Brouzes first got involved in Ikwe Safe Rides after moderating the national round table of the MMIWG inquiry in Winnipeg.

"After hearing stories from families that have missing and murdered women and girls in their family … I felt so heartbroken and helpless," said Brouzes.

"I felt like I was harming the families even more by having them repeat their story again."

She heard about Ikwe Safe Rides, and decided that it would be the one way she could give back to the community.

"I may not be able to know that I'm saving a woman's life, but I know that I'm keeping somebody safe," said Brouzes.

"In 47,000 rides [Ikwe has provided], I'm sure that we've saved somebody. But beyond that I want to spread kindness and support our sisters, our mothers, our aunties, our community members."

Can't keep up with demand

The popularity of Ikwe Safe Rides continues to rise, so much so that the non-profit can't keep up with the demand.

Brouzes said that in previous years, they would book about 2,100 to 2,300 rides a month, but added that last February that number climbed to 3,000 rides.

"People ask me, 'Are you excited that you're getting more popular, [offering] more rides?'" said Brouzes.

"I'm glad that all those people had a safe ride and a safe experience, but I wish we didn't have to to have to become more popular and I wish we weren't growing."
Christine Brouzes, is the Co-Director of Ikwe Safe Rides for women in Winnipeg. She said the number of volunteer drivers has dropped dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"The intention … was to make a change in the taxi industry because over time they should find a way to be appropriate."

But Brouzes said change is not happening fast enough.

"Women feel unsafe, [and] it's not just one population of women either," said Brouzes, who says that women from all age groups and backgrounds use the service.

"They should feel safe to go to the movies, or to go visit friends, but they don't feel safe because of word of mouth that the taxi drivers and taxi companies are something they should not access."

now