The city of Toronto will do more frequent criminal record checks on taxi drivers, says a top official.
The move follows a Star investigation published Wednesday that revealed the city’s policy of only checking every four years allowed drivers with criminal convictions to remain on the road.
“Two years might be sufficient. If it isn’t we might do it annually,” said city licensing chief Bruce Robertson.
“What our goal would be is to make sure that we don’t let things fall through that we should know about.”
The Star obtained five years of data on drivers and found that some drivers with convictions for sexual assault, assault, drunk driving and threatening death continued to hold a taxi licence. In some cases, the city was not aware a driver had run-ins with the law because checks are only done every four years.
Current rules state a taxi driver must produce a criminal background check and driving record when they first apply for a licence and once every four years thereafter.
Robertson said he does not yet have a timeline for the change but it is now a priority.
He said the city is also examining how to formalize communication with police and the provincial Crown attorney’s office to ensure drivers with serious charges don’t fall through the cracks. The city relies on the honour system for drivers to report convictions (criminal and driving), but Robertson said they rarely self-report.
Beck Taxi driver Bernard Koranteng was convicted of assaulting a female passenger in 2007 and dangerous driving in 2005, for an incident involving a police officer. He was also convicted of threatening death in 2002.
The city did not know about any of those convictions until a complaint against Koranteng sparked an investigation. Koranteng is still driving. The city instructed him to attend a hearing where he appeared before an oversight tribunal and ultimately the city and Koranteng’s lawyer agreed to putting his licence on probation for three years and giving him a 10-day suspension.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong wants to go farther and examine whether decisions made by the city and tribunal are putting the public at risk.
“When a customer sees that little plate on a taxi, they’re led to believe it’s safe to get in. And I’m not just talking about the driver, I am talking about the car too,” Minnan-Wong said.
“I’m going to continue to drill down in terms of what the nature of this problem is,” he added.
The Star used public documents to show that of almost 340 drivers who appealed the city’s decision to refuse or grant a new licence in five years, only 53 were denied.
The majority remained on the road, as a result of a deal struck between city lawyers and a driver’s lawyer and approved by a civilian tribunal.
Among the drivers who kept their licences: seven who failed to remain at the scene of an accident; 16 who failed to stop in a school bus zone, and seven with convictions for drinking and driving.
One driver who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old disabled girl remained on the road for almost four years after the city became aware of his record in 2008. He was convicted in 2005. The tribunal revoked his licence in March 2012.
In Toronto, roughly 10,400 drivers staff about 5,000 vehicles. When drivers first apply for a licence to drive a taxi they must produce a criminal background check and driving records. After that, licences are renewed annually, which can be done by phone or mail.
If a driver is convicted of a crime or Highway Traffic Act violation that city council has defined as unacceptable a driver will be informed that the city wants to refuse the granting of a new licence or intends to refuse or revoke an existing licence to drive a taxi.
The tribunal is charged with evaluating whether the crimes that resulted in a licence being denied or refused mean the driver is a danger to the public.