Indigenous women in Whitehorse say they have been coerced for sex in taxis

    “I don’t think it should be on women to make themselves feel safer," says co-author of newly released report on taxi safety in the Yukon's capitol.

    Indigenous women in Whitehorse are experiencing a higher severity of violence in taxis compared to non-Indigenous women. That’s according to the newly released “Taxi Safety Report” by the Yukon Women’s Coalition.


    Out of the 160 people surveyed for the report, 49 were Indigenous. 82 percent of them expressed experiences of feeling uncomfortable or scared because of something said in a taxi and around half of them said they felt targeted.


    22 percent of Indigenous respondents said that they have been coerced to exchange fares for sex and 31 percent said that they experienced harassment in a sexual way.


    Elder abuse, aggressive drivers, dirty and beaten-up cabs, and being asked for jewelry as collateral to get a ride are among some of the other things Indigenous women have had to deal with when using taxis in the capitol city.


    “The survey really kind of highlighted for us what we’ve already known to be an issue and it was really kind of of shocking to see it laid out like that and we really tried to prioritize those findings throughout the report,” Yukon Women’s Coalition coordinator and co-author of the report Jonna Reaume told CHONfm.


    Reaume said that they know Indigenous women in the Yukon experience violence and they wanted to shine a light on what happens in cabs. The survey was prompted by a young woman who posted about her experience with sexual assault in taxis on the Yukon Helpers Network Facebook page a year ago. Reaume said that a lot needs to be done to make cabs in Whitehorse safer.


    “I don’t think it should be on women to make themselves feel safer and to take all these safety steps just to get home at night or you should have to have that fear in the back of your head like ‘oh I’m taking a taxi late at night, I better text someone and take a picture of the driver's ID.’ We’d like to see it so that everyone doesn’t have to take those safety precautions,” said Reaume.


    The report contains over 14 recommendations on how to improve cab safety. Recommendations like increasing enforcement, random checking of drivers, new technology like panic buttons and GPS tracking, and the establishment of a transportation safety committee in the city.


    One other key finding was that 55 percent of respondents didn’t know that incidents could be reported to city bylaw services - 14 percent were aware but didn’t feel comfortable reporting. The report states that those numbers indicate that the City of Whitehorse needs to put more effort into awareness of the role bylaw services plays in the taxi industry.


    In 2020, the Yukon Women’s Coalition provided sexual assault awareness and prevention training to every driver and manager with Yellow Cabs and Whitehorse Taxi, as well as two bylaw officers. The women’s coalition said that many suggestions drivers gave in the training mirrored what they heard from women in the safety report.


    At this evening’s Whitehorse city council meeting, councillor Michelle Friesen addressed the report.


    “It’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do here and I know the safety of all Whitehorse residents is a priority to myself and this council,” said Friesen.


    “I’m looking forward to administration having the chance to digest the report,” she added.


    The Yukon Women’s Coalition will present their findings to the mayor and council in two weeks and they have arranged a meeting with bylaw services and the RCMP to hopefully get their recommendations implemented.

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