April 2017

Everyone should think twice before getting so drunk they have to be poured into the back seat of someone else’s car

by Rita Smith

When I was a young mom – 21 years old – my big sister Jeannie came to visit me in Toronto. She already had three kids and was considered a role model of parenting in our family.

As was the social convention of the time, we had cocktails in the late afternoon and wine with dinner. Around 9pm, my infant son David was crying and in fact, had spiked a fever. I did not have any Tylenol in the house; my sister insisted we needed to drive to the drug store to buy some. I was concerned that I had consumed too much alcohol to drive.

“What would you do if David had to go to Emergency?” she demanded to know.

“Well, I guess I would have to get someone else to drive or call a cab,” I stuttered.

“No,” she replied. “You can just never get that drunk.”

In March, I was interviewed on CBC Radio’s “The Current” by Anna Maria Tremonti. The focus of the show was an interview with a woman – a lawyer – who got completely plastered drunk, was poured into a cab by her male co-workers, passed out, and woke up to find she was being fondled and kissed by her cab driver. CBC refused to identify the city in which this occurred. I doubt it was Toronto; Tremonti seemed to know nothing of the fact that Toronto requires a security camera in every cab.

The lawyer sued the taxi company, which settled out of court and gave her a cash settlement.

I had two days of pre-interviews to discuss this show. I was assured by the producer that I would be able to listen to the assaulted woman’s interview before I went on, and that “personal responsibility” would be a component of the show.

I listened to the lawyer’s interview with mixed parts sympathy and disbelief. What occurred with her taxi driver never, never should have occurred: he took advantage of a drunk, passed out woman. Such a man should NEVER have been allowed to drive cab and all Toronto taxi drivers must submit to criminal record checks for such proclivities. In an ideal world, he should have been screened out many steps earlier in the process, by the city, or the police, or the taxi brokerage. Full stop, end of story. I have never worked with a brokerage, fleet garage or taxi owner who would not have kicked this guy out on his butt the minute it became apparent he was prone to such behaviour. I made this very clear to Anna Maria Tremonti.

Then, I made a media mistake. Given that the producer had told me that Tremonti wanted to discuss “personal responsibility,” I made reference to a complaint I had received from a woman in Ottawa, who got into a taxi when she was so drunk that she could not say where she was picked up; when she was picked up; the number of the cab; the name of the taxi company; or the colour of the cab.

“Are you actually sure there was a roof light on the car??” I asked in amazement.

WHOA!!!! Anna Maria Tremonti did NOT like this line of thought. The interview got quite combative, quite quickly. So much for “personal responsibility.”

“But we are all told that if you are drinking, you should call a cab!” She cut me off quickly. “That is what we are told, that we should trust the taxi industry to get you home safely!”

Using the exact figures the CBC provided to me, I pointed out, “And you can trust the taxi industry. Using the stats you gave me, the chance of being assaulted by a taxi driver is .0000003 – about one in four million rides.”

Actually, the number was .00000027, but I rounded it up to .0000003 because we were live on air and I was trying to save time.

Anyway, that was the end of THAT interview – Tremonti cut me off so quickly that my final comment was, “That’s it?” I got half of the time that the lawyer who successfully sued the taxi company got.

What’s my point here?

1) Riders CAN count on the taxi industry to get them home safely, and sexual assault is NOT a significant concern in the taxi industry. As opposed to, say, in an Uber car (Australia has had more sexual assault charges against Uber drivers in the past two years than it had in THIRTY YEARS of licensed taxis before that).

2) No industry is perfect, but a .00000027 record is pretty good.

3) Women need to realize that a ride home after three glasses of wine is not the same thing as getting so plastered that you pass out in the back seat of a cab.

As my sister Jeannie would tell them: “You can just never get that drunk.”

Rita Smith is the former executive director of the Toronto Taxi Alliance


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