The city of Toronto has launched a probe of current taxi rules to determine why drivers with serious criminal convictions are allowed to remain on the road.
On Thursday, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker moved a motion directing Municipal Licensing and Standards staff to investigate how the city and a civilian staffed tribunal decide which drivers can obtain or keep a licence and if changes should be made to “maximize” public safety.
De Baeremaeker, who sits on the city’s Licensing and Standards Committee, told the Star he wants an overhaul of a system he says has “handcuffed” staff and fails to protect the public. The motion passed and city staff will report back in September.
Among the proposed changes: that licensing staff be given the power to immediately suspend or revoke a licence with no right for a driver to appeal the decision before the Toronto Licensing Tribunal, and that convictions for serious crimes like sexual assault, murder, confinement, terrorism or robbery prevent someone from obtaining a taxi licence, or result in the immediate revocation of a licence.
“There is only one offence you can commit, that is a sexual assault against a minor, that means you can never drive a cab again,” or that current rules dictate will result in an automatic refusal by the city for a licence, De Baeremaeker said after the meeting.
“You can be convicted of hate propaganda, robbery, extortion, assault, harassment, murder. Any of those offences you can be convicted and after a period of three to five years, you can actually go get your licences and get a cab.”
In February, the Star reported that taxi drivers with convictions for assault, death threats, drunk driving and sexual assault had been allowed to remain on the road.
In some cases, the city was not aware the drivers had been convicted of a serious crime.
Taxi drivers must produce a police background check only on applying for a licence, and every four years after that. In between those times, authorities rely on the honour system, asking drivers voluntarily to report any criminal or Highway Traffic Act convictions.
The city immediately pledged to shorten the time to two years, potentially one.
On Thursday, executive director of licensing Tracey Cook said that while the current process is fair and thorough her staff will carefully investigate and “there is always opportunity to improve.”
The challenge with background checks, she said, is balancing “public safety with the process,” and they are discussing the ways to improve the process with police.
When a driver produces a background check some criminal convictions will result in their licence being refused by the city. In most cases the time between convictions and applications is considered.
Drivers can then appeal before the civilian staffed licensing tribunal. De Baermaeker also wants that process to be scrutinized and all records from hearings to be made public.