“He wouldn’t turn the meter on.”
Winnipeg resident Tara Williamson was taking a cab home from the hospital at three in the morning, and the driver had begun their trip without turning on the meter.
The driver attempted to barter—ten dollars, then eight dollars, all the while Williamson demands he turn the meter on. Eventually, she opened the door while the cab is in motion and escaped from the vehicle.
Her reasoning was not a matter of pricing.
“In my mind, it’s late at night, I don’t live in the best neighbourhood, and one of the first things that my mind goes to is, there’s no record of this ride. There isn’t a fare counted,” she told VICE.
“Right, like little things like that, where it’s like—never mind the price of it, or whether I’m being ripped off. It really is this little thing in the back of your mind being like, nobody will know where I went. There won’t even be a record.”
Williamson, who is Indigenous, says Winnipeg, Manitoba has a reputation. While no one would argue women aren’t made to feel unsafe in any geographical location you can name, cab drivers in Winnipeg have built a culture of acceptable harassment toward women, but particularly, Indigenous women.
“My experiences, they’re very Winnipeg,” she told VICE. “And people know! People know … you could talk to an Indigenous woman in another city, and they would probably know. Don’t take a cab in Winnipeg.”
Another Winnipegger, Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development project coordinator Valdine Doering, says even when she has taken every safety precaution possible, taking a taxi in Winnipeg is a dangerous situation.
She recalls a time she was attacked by a taxi driver after a night out with friends and chose not to report it to police.
“I was like, you know what, I’m not even going to call and report it,” she told VICE. “Because I’m a drunk, Indigenous woman and they’re not going to believe me. Like, who are you going to believe, right?”
“You don’t have to explain to another woman in Winnipeg when you say, ‘I don’t want to take a cab,’” Williamson added. “It’s like, yep, for sure, no problem, we’ll come pick you up, or whatever.”
There’s another tie that binds these two women—they have both found sanctuary in Ikwe Safe Rides, a Manitoba-based non-profit rideshare service put together by women, for women.
There’s nothing really of its kind in Canada. The rules are simple, yet strict: to access the rideshare service, you must apply over Facebook and answer vetting questions. After being accepted into the group, you must request rides within the Facebook group. There’s no set prices, but donations are appreciated. And every single member of the 18,100-strong group identifies as female. Women can volunteer as drivers, but only after a vetting process that includes training and, if they want to provide rides to children, child abuse registry checks.
Ikwe’s co-director Christine Brouzes says the service came from a great need.
“The purpose of our organization was to provide an alternative for women to taking taxis because of the large number of women that we had heard about, just through our friends and family, who were complaining about their unsafe feelings in taxis, and some of the things we were seeing in the media,” she says.
This need presents itself in the group’s raw data. According to Brouzes, in the just under three years Ikwe has operated, the service has given over 60,000 rides. In a province with Manitoba’s population, with its capital city checking in at around 750,000 people, these numbers are immense.
To be an Indigenous woman living in Canada is to be overrepresented in the country’s plethora of painful statistics. According to 2017 data from Women’s Shelters Canada, Indigenous women here are nearly three times more likely to experience violence than their non-Indigenous peers.
To be an Indigenous woman in Manitoba is especially dangerous. Winnipeg has one of the highest concentrations of Indigenous women in Canada, and, according to Stats Canada, has the highest rate of murdered Indigenous women in the country.
Reports of Indigenous women facing violent mistreatment by cab drivers in this city—be it the 77-year-old senior who suffered a broken collarbone after jumping out of a cab for fear for her own safety, or the Tribe Called Red dancer who, while in the city for a show, ducked into a cab for safety after being chased, where the driver demanded cash upfront—are a regular facet of our news cycle.
Brouzes estimates that between 70 to 75 percent of women who ask for rides with Ikwe identify as Indigenous and says five out of six of Ikwe’s admins are Indigenous, which she calls a “coincidental blend,” adding that women from a wide range of backgrounds use the service.
While regular stops for drivers include hospitals, bars and workplaces in spaces with little or expensive parking, she also notes that Ikwe provides rides daily to Perimeter Aviation, a local airline service that provides transport to First Nations communities up north.
Brouzes says the mission of the service goes beyond protecting women and she hopes it encompasses a wider ethos of grassroots community-building.
“It just also makes sense to share, as humans,” she says.
“I have my car sitting in my driveway 95 percent of the time. Why not share, and during my relaxation time, go and give somebody a ride, rather than them paying for a vehicle that’s paid to be on the road?”
Ikwe’s massive success has been noticed by the province and taxi companies alike. After the Manitoba Taxicab Board—which regulated taxicab conduct—was dissolved, the responsibility of hired vehicle services operating in Winnipeg was transferred from the province to the city, and eventually the board was replaced with the Vehicles for Hire Advisory Committee, which Brouzes sits on.
Representatives from Winnipeg’s two main taxi services, Unicity and Duffy’s, have promised to work toward reconciliation with the Indigenous community in the city, but Brouzes says she has yet to see much change.
“It’s not improving,” she said. “It’s not improving. And it can. It so can. It makes me sad.”
Brouzes says based on her experiences, she advocates for accessible conduct training for taxi drivers on the Vehicles for Hire Advisory Committee. “They need to change the culture of how they treat their customers, drastically, and to make a campaign of that almost,” she said.
Both Doering and Williamson use Ikwe regularly, and Doering now volunteers as a driver.
“I think we have a need and I just was so relieved to have an alternative to a taxi, so I wanted to help as well,” Doering told VICE.
Williamson recommends the service to anyone coming to the city.
“Especially if it’s someone who physically presents as non-binary, or trans, I will immediately be like, please don’t take a cab if you don’t have to,” she said.
She says the success of the service speaks to the strength of the communities that utilize it.
“It’s just one of those testaments to—you know, you see a problem, you fix it,” she says.
“Again, it’s the resilience of Indigenous women. To be like, okay, well, we’ll just fix it. We’re just going to fix it.”
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