A group of men held rallies in Winnipeg over the weekend to support Indigenous women and raise awareness after police charged two taxi drivers over violent encounters with their passengers.
On Saturday, a group of people gathered outside Duffy’s Taxi on Notre Dame Avenue, and on Sunday, another group marched from Manitoba legislative grounds to Unicity Taxi on Hargrave Street.
One of the organizers, Jonathan Meikle, says he has lost track of how many times he has personally heard of a woman who has had a negative experience in a taxi.
“I have known the truths about these two organizations – Unicity and Duffy’s – for a long time. I am 32 years old and I have known since my teenage years that our women are abused. That our people are abused, but even more so our women”, a- he said Saturday in front of Duffy’s.
“Our people know the truth about what’s going on and it’s not right. We desperately want something done about it.”
The rallies follow two separate incidents in which taxi drivers were charged by Winnipeg police.
Serenity Morrisseau says a Unicity cab driver assaulted her and locked her in a cab in the early hours of September 26.
Winnipeg police announced later in the week that they had charged the driver, a 44-year-old man from Winnipeg, with assault and forcible confinement.
Then, on October 13, police announced that a 51-year-old taxi driver had been arrested and faced multiple charges after a 23-year-old woman was slightly injured when she was dragged by a vehicle, police said in a press release.
The woman told police she left her cell phone in a taxi and the Duffy’s driver demanded money to return it. When she tried to retrieve her phone, he left and she was dragged by the taxi, police said.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Duffy’s said in an email Thursday that the company immediately suspended the charged driver.
âWe take passenger safety issues very seriously. In addition to the suspension, we have issued a newsletter to all drivers reminding them of the proper response and the need to ensure safe driving practices at all times, under any circumstances, âhe said. -he adds. said the statement.
CBC News reached out to Unicity for comment Sunday afternoon, but did not immediately receive a response.
Bentley Du Bois, another rally organizer, believes Aboriginal women are “devalued”.
He says there are a lot more incidents in taxis that don’t result in fees or media coverage because they aren’t taken seriously.
âIf you are an aboriginal woman, you feel absolutely helpless in these situations, there is nothing you can do. Even if you complain. All the complaints that are happening right now are happening on Facebook, and even then nothing is being done. said Du Bois.
Buffalo Sky Woman drove from Lake Manitoba First Nation on Sunday to participate in the walk to Unicity.
She says she was extorted by a taxi driver and treated badly because she was considered poor and intoxicated when she was not.
She wants to see the change.
“I came down because I was a victim myself this year. I thought this guy was just a jerk, but no, it’s getting worse and worse and worse and worse.”
These questions have been raised in the past, says Hilda Anderson-Pyrz of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a First Nations rights organization.
“Any form of violence against women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender persons is unacceptable,” the director of the MKO’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison Unit said in a press release on Friday.
âWe call on all taxi companies and the City of Winnipeg to step up to ensure that First Nations people can access safe taxi services.
People at both rallies say taxi drivers should receive cultural training, as should police and other groups who work with the public.
Buffalo Sky Woman says newcomers may not understand Indigenous history and the trauma they continue to face.
âGet them through that kind of training so they can see how aboriginal people have been treated here all this time,â she said.
“They need to know the truth.”
Du Bois believes that an external accountability structure should be created to oversee the companies and ensure that violence does not persist.
“We have to be able to create a real accountability process for these taxi companies, because unfortunately they are the two biggest taxi companies, and they continually do these things because they are not being held accountable.”
Grant Heather, rental vehicle manager for the City of Winnipeg, said there had been 35 complaints about these types of transportation services this year at the end of August and 50 in 2020.
He says the city has its own process for investigating complaints and investigating incidents involving Duffy’s and Unicity.
“We take the safety of passengers and drivers very seriously. When we receive a complaint, it is investigated, we examine it and we deal with it within the limits of what is permitted by the regulations.” said Heather.
“Sometimes it’s a fine. Sometimes it can result in a disciplinary hearing, it really all depends on how serious the situation is.”
Heather asks anyone who has encountered a problem that may be related to a bylaw violation to call 311 and file a complaint, even if they have already filed a police report.