A new survey from the Yukon Women’s Coalition finds that most victims of sexual or verbal harassment in a Whitehorse cab don’t know how or where to report it.
That’s one of many major revelations from the first survey on taxi safety conducted in the territory.
“People don’t think that their information will be either kept safe or responded to appropriately,” says Aja Mason, the executive director of the Yukon Status of Women Council.
“They don’t believe that any meaningful change will come out of reporting.”
The survey, released online, asked respondents to answer a mix of multiple selection and open-ended questions about their experiences in Whitehorse cabs. The coalition also collected data including the age, ethnicity and gender identity of their respondents — but did not record their names so the survey could stay anonymous.
Over 170 people responded, a “really large” sample size for the Yukon, according to Mason. The vast majority, 160, of those respondents identified as women.
Fifty-five per cent of respondents did not know they could file reports to Whitehorse bylaw services if they were subjected to violence or harassment in a taxi.
Another 14 per cent say they knew they could report it to bylaw, but didn’t want to because they “didn’t feel it was reportable,” or “nothing is ever done.”
These numbers, the report says, show that the city needs to take more action to “raise public awareness of the role Bylaw Services” play in enforcing the taxi industry.
Indigenous women face higher risk of violence
Another major finding from the survey is that Indigenous respondents reported proportionally higher rates of violence, harassment or encounters that made them feel more unsafe than their non-Indigenous counterparts, Mason says.
Indigenous women reported being harassed at almost three times the rate of non-Indigenous respondents — 39 per cent for Indigenous women compared to 13 per cent for non-Indigenous.
Half of all Indigenous respondents say harassment or violence was targeted — almost five times that of all other survey respondents.
Indigenous women also reported more cases of sexual assault or harassment in taxis. Thirty-one per cent of all Indigenous respondents say they had been sexually harassed, compared to 14 per cent of non-Indigenous respondents.
Taxi safety is a community issue that is disproportionately impacting Indigenous women in Whitehorse.”– Taxi Safety Report, Yukon Women’s Coalition
Fourteen per cent of Indigenous respondents reported being sexually touched or assaulted by a taxi driver compared to five per cent of non-Indigenous respondents.
The survey also gives insight into what kind of treatment Indigenous women receive from drivers.
They described drivers changing the agreed-to route to make it longer and altering the pick up or drop off location, and said that some driver IDs weren’t displayed.
“Taxi safety is a community issue that is disproportionately impacting Indigenous women in Whitehorse, and we need to prioritize their well-being in community safety strategies,” the report concludes.
‘The bylaw is still not cutting the mustard’
This survey builds on the work the Yukon Women’s Coalition has been doing for years.
In 2017, they presented a list of recommendations to Whitehorse city council after RCMP charged a taxi driver with two counts of sexual assault and one count of kidnapping. The charges have since been dropped or dismissed by the courts.
A few months later, council passed an amendment to the Vehicle For Hire Bylaw, the document that regulates how taxis operate. It included several new changes, like extending the length that cameras in taxis had to stay on.
The amendment also introduced free, mandatory sexual assault awareness and prevention training for drivers. Jonna Reaume, coordinator of the Yukon Women’s Coalition, says drivers completed that training in 2019.
Still, Mason says the problem isn’t going anywhere.
“The bylaw is still not cutting the mustard, so to speak,” Mason says. “Women are still experiencing a significant amount of violence, in particular gender based violence.”
‘We want them to be safe’
Council should now go one step further and include taxi safety as one of the city’s strategic priorities, the report says.
It also recommends the formation of a committee to work on taxi safety with members from the women’s council, as well as the city and bylaw services.
The report also asks for more changes to the Vehicle For Hire Bylaw, so taxi companies are forced to create policies for if and when their employees are accused or charged with sexual assault.
It’s also unclear how the city’s bylaw services records and stores complaints, so the coalition is asking for the department to release annual reports.
“We hope this report … leads to taxis being safer for all women,” Reaume says.
“We want them to be safe in the sense that … if your aunt, your cousin or your sister is taking a taxi home late at night and the battery of her cellphone is dead … that she’s not going to be uncomfortable taking this taxi alone.”
Myles Dolphin, communications officer for the city of Whitehorse, says bylaw officials will respond to the report after it is presented to council. The report is due to be shared with council later this week.