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'Sense of fear': Victim services worker calls for changes to Halifax taxi sexual assault appeals

The caseworkers wrote that reinstating accused taxi drivers' licences, even with conditions, leaves the public vulnerable.

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A Halifax Regional Police victim services caseworker said Thursday conditions placed on taxi drivers accused of sexual assault “cannot be monitored.”

Angela Jeffrey-Haynes made the statement in a letter written to Halifax regional council’s Appeals Standing Committee – the one tasked with ruling on appeals from taxi drivers who have lost their licences due to allegations of sexual assault.

Jeffrey-Haynes wrote that while police can't stop an accused driver from driving, they commonly place conditions that prohibit them from having female passengers in their vehicles, or having passengers in the front seat. After the Appeals Standing Committee reinstates a driver’s licence, it usually applies similar conditions.

“Unfortunately, the limited conditions that police are allowed to place on taxi drivers cannot be monitored,” she wrote, adding that Halifax Regional Municipality's taxi compliance team is in the same boat, and it’s especially difficult to regularly check whether drivers are adhering to conditions at night.

“Therefore there is no way to properly hold these offenders accountable and to ensure public safety.”

Jeffrey-Haynes wrote her letter to educate committee members on their role after attending two appeal hearings earlier this year.

The committee has allowed multiple appeals in the last year for drivers currently moving through the justice system, and in one case, left the door open for a convicted driver to reapply to get his licence back this September.

Jeffrey-Haynes wrote that, given high rates of recidivism among sexual assault offenders, and the level of trust afforded to taxi drivers, reinstating their licences, even with conditions, leaves the public vulnerable.

“I can say overall that allowing taxi drivers who display such behaviour to continue working in this role creates a sense of fear for women in HRM,” she wrote.

“It limits their freedom both psychologically and physically.”

Committee not the ideal venue: victim services caseworker

A Halifax Regional Police victim services caseworker is calling for changes to the way the municipality deals with appeals from taxi drivers who’ve lost their licences due to allegations of sexual assault.

Angela Jeffrey-Haynes will make a presentation to Halifax regional council’s Appeals Standing Committee at its next meeting this September after a letter she wrote hoping to educate the committee on its role was accepted at its meeting on Thursday.

“Preferably, cases that involve taxi drivers and sexual harassment/sexual assault where criminal charges have been laid, would not be heard at the committee at all,” she wrote in her letter.

Jeffrey-Haynes wrote that, after attending two appeal hearings, it was clear to her that “the complexity of sexualized violence was very difficult to address in a council appeal setting,” and some councillors were confused about their role.

“I understand that hearing an appeal involving crimes related to sexual assault is not the same as hearing appeals related to whether a property is safe or is considered an eye-sore,” she wrote.

She addressed concerns about better accommodating victims who attend the hearings, suggesting that those cases be dealt with in camera, or that the accused driver be asked to leave if the victim is asked to speak. She also said that councillors should not assume that victims that don’t attend hearings don’t care about the outcomes, as attending is potentially traumatic.

Coun. Gloria McCluskey, one of the committee’s members, said she appreciated the letter.

“We think we’ve done it the right way, based on the information we’ve had, but this adds a little more sensitivity to it,” she said after Thursday’s committee meeting.

“It’ll be helpful,” said Deputy Mayor Matt Whitman, the committee chair. “With so many of these coming before us, any additional guidance will be helpful.”

Coun. Brad Johns welcomed Jeffrey-Haynes to come speak to the committee, but worried that the letter moved into more moral than legal territory.

“As a quasi-judicial committee, it’s what our legal responsibilities are, and a lot of this goes into some moral as well,” he said during the meeting.

“I would like to ensure that she has had an opportunity to meet with legal services as well as bylaw and everybody else, so that when she comes forward, and we have this discussion, we’re well aware that staff have already met and are providing good advice and correct advice, you know what I mean? Not an opinion.”

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