October 30, 2014 | by Evelyn Reid - The safety of Montreal taxis recently came under scrutiny when media reports of sexual indecency and sexual assault surfaced in the summer followed by a startling revelation in September 2014 that Montreal taxi cab drivers were not being uniformly subject to mandatory criminal background checks.
To quote a CTV Montreal report, "there's a law in place that says "no person may obtain, maintain, or renew a taxi driver's permit if the person has been convicted in the last five years of an indictable or criminal offence," but there is no province-wide standard for background checks in place so the law isn't being enforced."
Finally, another wave of sexual assault reports came through in October after a woman who claimed she was attacked by a taxi driver the Saturday prior contacted local radio station CJAD to tell her story.
Are Montreal Taxicabs Safe?
Montreal police commander Ian Lafrenière appears to believe so, citing that Montreal’s 12,000 taxi drivers complete approximately 37 million trips annually and that among those, only 29 reported sexual assaults occurred in 2013.
Reported Vs Reality
The problem is anyone who’s taken time out of their busy life to dig deeper into North America’s rape culture beyond the reported figures quickly discovers that “reported” cases of sexual assault represent but a fraction of reality. According to Statistics Canada, only 10% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. In spite of this disturbingly low report rate, Lafrenière does have a point that the risk of being sexually violated in a Montreal taxicab is quite low, at least theoretically.
If one were to guestimate the "real" number of sexual assaults by adjusting the 10% reported rapes to reflect the 100% claimed reality, then roughly 290 sexual assaults occur annually across 37 million trips.
One can then conclude that the chance of being the victim of a sexual assault in a Montreal cab is about 8 in 1 million trips.
Push the math further (divide 37 million cab rides by 365 days, then applying the 290 sexual assaults/year estimate to that number) and that equates to about 8 guestimated sexual assaults in Montreal cabs every 10 days. That's not too far off from one assault every day. Lafrenière points out that those 29 reported sexual assaults in 2013 figure among the up to 1,500 sexual assaults reported in Montreal annually.*
Even If the Risk Is Allegedly Low, Is There Anything I Can Do To Increase My Safety?
In the wake of media reports on the recent spate of alleged sexual assaults, the Montreal Police responded to requests for guidance by recommending:
- that women avoid taking taxis alone, especially if inebriated, specifying that women should reduce their alcohol consumption accordingly to maintain a form of control,
- that women call for a cab using the phone instead of hailing one off the street, and
- that women get into the habit of taking a photo of the driver's identification badge when entering a taxi, which is usually located to the left of the driver's head.
These recommendations caused an uproar with the public as well as select media pundits who accused the Montreal Police of victim-blaming, of implying that women who do not take these measures are thus acting irresponsibly, with no apparent mention in the same breath of attacking the ROOT of the the problem, the aggressors, with no explicit mention of demanding immediate mandatory criminal background checks of every Montreal taxi driver that has not been properly screened.
Why the obvious lack of proper police checks was not addressed first and foremost as an immediate priority is distressing, offensive, and devoid of practical consideration.
The above "recommendations" coupled with the government's obvious passing of the buck over who should be doing the background checks to begin with only serve to further empower a rape culture that leaves it up to women in allegedly free countries to completely change their lifestyles and restrict their day-to-day movements to the point of oppressive absurdity rather than disempower predators by placing the onus on the government and law enforcement to IMMEDIATELY and properly enforce the letter of the law with mandatory criminal background checks, as it's done in countless other cities.
NOVEMBER 16, 2014 UPDATE: roughly two months after the scandal emerged, Transport Quebec and the City of Montreal finally announced that taxi drivers will now have to undergo criminal background checks, as per article 26 of the law concerning taxi drivers.
My Risk-Reducing Solution
One word. Uber. I absolutely adore Uber's on-demand taxi dispatching service and have been using it religiously since it debuted in Montreal in November 2013. Why? For its transparency and accountability.
There's no need to "take a photo" of the taxi driver's badge since the app keeps a detailed record of the driver, which includes their photo, the trip route and the exact amount paid for future reference.
Drivers and customers can even rate each other, alerting both future customers and drivers of any potential problems. As per Uber spokesperson Lauren Altmin, "rides on the platform are not anonymous - riders know who their drivers are and drivers know who their rider is, including their ratings. In addition to riders having to create a profile with a credit card for a seamless experience, each receipt has a log of the trip route and riders can even share their ETA with friends.''
My Other Risk-Reducing Solution Was Declared Illegal
And as of October 28, 2014, Uber introduced its UberX service in Montreal, to the ire of taxi companies and even city hall. A service that offers everyday non-taxi-driver residents the opportunity to make some extra cash with their cars while giving Uber customers the option to save 20% to 30% on regular cab fare by calling on non-professional drivers, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre denounced the UberX service as illegal. But here's the irony. Uber's UberX service claims that it requires any and all drivers undergo what's arguably the most stringent and complete criminal background check imposed on the market. The Uber X background check procedure is also claimed to be more thorough than for its regular Uber service featuring professional drivers.
If an allegedly illegal service can claim to coordinate the most exhaustive criminal background check on the market, then why weren't competing taxi companies and our government capable of doing the same until publicly shamed?
More on Uber and Montreal Taxis
*Important note: it's difficult to extrapolate a clear estimate on how many actual sexual assaults occur in cabs. Even though I used Statistics Canada's 10% sexual assault reporting rate as the basis for my calculations, it's entirely possible that the reporting rate is higher with sexual assaults that occur in taxis, thus reducing the extent of my guestimate. It's been proposed on multiple occasions that sexual assault victims who know their aggressor are less likely to report the crime, hence my speculation that I may have overestimated sexual assault prevalence in cabs. Why? Chances are high that a taxi driver is a stranger to the victim.