July 2017

Aggressive enforcement of bandit cabs a lesson Toronto might consider

A recent decision on a taxi case in Mississauga is fascinating. I’ve received a copy of the decision of Justice of the Peace V. Fisher-Grant in a case where Mississauga charged J and G Taxi Co. Ltd. of Toronto (the taxi owner) and Ramanuj Bhomik (the lessee/driver) of operating a taxi in Mississauga without a license on April 15, 2015.

In her written decision the JP said there were two issues before the court: whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt the cab was being operated (available for hire) in Mississauga without a license and whether J and G Taxi violated Mississauga’s bylaw by owning the cab operating in the city that day.

There was no dispute that the cab was not licensed in Mississauga.

A Mississauga Enforcement Officer, Roy Montgomery, testified he followed a vehicle he believed to be a taxi to a named address, where the driver picked up a passenger, activated a meter, and started to move away. The cab was flagged down and the driver could not produce a Mississauga taxi license.

The JP noted Montgomery was “extensively” cross-examined. More about this in a moment.

The driver, Mr. Bhomik, well-trained and a nine-year veteran, said that day he got a message through his in-car computer to pick up a fare on Bloor St. in Toronto and drive the passenger to Mississauga. On the undated message printout were notations that he should “wait and return” and indicating a “chit” was involved for payment.

But the JP, on examining other confirmatory evidence relating to the order, accepted that it referred to the incident in question.

Bhomik dropped off the passenger and while waiting to do the return trip went to get a coffee and use a restroom, about a 45-minute break, then returned to the passenger’s address. He turn off the meter so the passenger would not be overcharged and he was not available for hire by anyone else.

When he arrived at the passenger address another car “cut him off”. The JP noted “He felt like he was in a movie and he was scared.”

When the officer told him he could not pick up fares in Mississauga, Bhomik said he was doing a return trip and had been waiting about 45 minutes. The flat rate for the whole trip was $120 and the meter was on but the time was off.

The JP stated in her decision, “I believed Mr. Bhomik. His evidence was fulsome and detailed. It was not exaggerated. His document supports his version of events. That document is further supported by the prosecution’s own photographic evidence. I found Mr. Bhomik to be credible and his version of events makes sense.”

The JP went on to state, “I should further note I had some difficulty with the evidence of Inspector Montgomery. His testimony was riddled with ‘I don’t knows’ and ‘I don’t recalls’”. She said there were “some 20 or more instances” of these answers, which “cause the court to be unable to rely on much (of) his evidence in a meaningful way.”

In the decision portion of the judgment, the JP wrote that while there was a roof sign on the cab, there was no proof that it was lit, indicating that the vehicle was available for hire.

She accepted the driver’s evidence about the 45-minute wait time before the return trip and that the passenger’s final destination was in Toronto.

She rejected a prosecution claim that the passenger leaving the cab temporarily meant the cab was then available for hire. She ruled, “So although Mr. Bhomik was available, he was not available for hire as he had already been hired by the passenger in Toronto.”

The JP also decided in favor of the taxi owner.

She said “Under a strict reading of the bylaw J and G Taxi cold be liable for the infraction while the actual driver of the taxi could be found not guilty. The owner of a taxi cab could further be liable if he happens to live in Mississauga and operates in Toronto with a Toronto license. The bylaw does not provide an exception for these circumstances.”

She continued, “To have such an interpretation in my view causes an absurd result. Surely the City of Mississauga did not intend for an owner to be liable in these types of scenarios. Whilst an owner can be reasonably held responsible when their drivers commit an offense to hold them liable where the actual driver has not committed an offense or they simply live in the area seems absurd.”

To justify this decision she cited a Supreme Court of Canada decision, and said in this case to hold the taxi owner responsible “produces an unreasonable and unequitable result… (it is) illogical and cannot be seen as just in my view.”

As I write this, Mississauga still has a couple of days to file an appeal. If there is no appeal, other JPs, as I understand it, are bound by this decision.

A huge outstanding question is whether the City of Mississauga will modify point of pickup bylaws to reflect this decision. I hope so, as in my view the JP was absolutely correct.

I’d also hope Mississauga (and all other) enforcement people take note that all the circumstances of a pickup must be investigated and assessed before the laying of charges.

I recall some years ago a Toronto taxi was charged for being available for hire in Mississauga when the driver was simply going to his union head offices. As I recall he was actually accosted by the enforcement person while parking in the union office parking lot! Ridiculous.

At the same time, I do wish Toronto enforcement people, including police, cared enough about Toronto’s cab drivers to be as aggressive in enforcing the rules against out of town, illegal, competition.

Have a good summer.


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