Cab company assures women taxis safe despite 2 sexual assault claims

The taxi industry is trying to assure women it’s safe to take a cab following two alleged sexual assaults in seven days.

Cabbies move 20,000 people daily, and when it comes to reports of sex crimes, annually, “I can probably count them on the fingers of my left hand,” said Hanif Patni, president and CEO of Coventry Connections, adding “I’m uncomfortable with even one occurring.”

Coventry Connections owns a number of local cab companies, including Blue Line and Capital Taxi.

A 20-year-old woman reported flagging down a taxi around 2:30 a.m. Saturday and was allegedly attacked in the vehicle near McCarthy and Walkley roads.

A Nov. 2 incident involved a 17-year-old girl who hailed a cab in Gatineau.

She was driven to Sandy Hill then allegedly assaulted by the driver around 11 p.m.

The taxi number — located inside and outside of the vehicle — wasn’t reported in either case. If it had been, or if the vehicles were dispatched instead of flagged, the driver would’ve been identified “within three seconds,” said Patni.

“It makes the task a little more complicated and arduous.”

Julie Lalonde, of the anti-street harassment group Hollaback Ottawa, said it’s “outrageous” advising women to call, not hail, taxis.

“Are we trying to protect these companies and their bottom line, or are we trying to protect women in Ottawa?” said Lalonde.

Generations of women “have been told that ‘if you’re drinking, you take a cab,’” she said.

With women being targeted on buses and transit properties, “at this point, it sounds like you driving in your car is probably the safest way,” to get home, Lalonde said, noting it’s a “sad state.”

Ontario Taxi Union Local 1688 president Amrik Singh said cab drivers are professionals who take these types of incidents very seriously.

“They have families; they are good people,” said Singh.

“You have any group of 1,800 people, you may have some bad people in there.”

Registered cabbies must complete a criminal background check as a condition of employment, then produce a police records check every three years, said Singh.

He points out drivers are often the victims of robberies, assaults, and other crimes.

“We don’t know the person sitting in the backseat,” Singh said. “Everybody who gets in our car is a stranger to us.”

Both suspects are described as dark-skinned.

The Nov. 9 incident involved a driver in his 50s with a chubby build and crooked teeth, while the man in the Nov. 2 case is in his 40s with a medium build, brown eyes and short dark hair.

Anyone with information can contact Ottawa Police at 613-236-1222, ext. 5944.

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