MLS policies regarding PTC and taxi criminal background checks riddled with troubling questions and inconsistency
by Mike Beggs
(Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in Taxi News’s series on veteran industry observer Gerry Manley’s monthly letters addressing the many flaws and outright failures inherent in the City of Toronto’s calamitous 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw. Readers interested in reading the Manley letter discussed in this article will find it here).
In this month’s letter, Manley pursues the issues relating to the Criminal Background Check process prescribed under Bylaw 546.
Since the arrival of its’ notorious ridesharing service in 2011, Uber has handled background checks for its’ driver/partners all over the world, outsourcing them to a third party. And the driver screening process for both Uber and Lyft have come under scrutiny as a contributing factor in the alarming number of sexual assaults, murders, and other crimes committed against passengers in their vehicles.
This is a particularly critical issue in the U.S., where both companies have resisted pressure to put drivers through the more rigid FBI fingerprinting process, which would block serious felons from getting behind the wheel.
“I think (background checks) certainly are a deterrent to any criminal coming into this industry -- if in fact the City enforces it,” Manley says.
But of the Toronto situation he observes, “I don’t know whether they’re being done diligently (by the PTC’s).”
He alleges the changes made to background check regulations under the VFH bylaw reflect MLS’s perennial lack of common sense and smoke and mirrors, resulting in unfairness, expense, and inconvenience for the cab industry.
“In dealings with the MLS over my 45-plus year career, almost without exception when you begin to roll back the layers of the issue you are investigating, you find the original answers you were seeking are only the tip of the iceberg. And that certainly was the case regarding this issue,” he writes.
According to Manley, an MLS information sheet released last November stipulated in big red letters that, “Checks completed by a third party will not be accepted, and must be obtained directly through a Canadian Police Service.”
However, he notes this conflicts directly with Chapter 546 regulations, which state that the PTC should provide the Criminal Reference Check for each driver, to be submitted in an electronic format to the MLS Executive Director. He suggests this is no longer acceptable (according to the MLS notice), “as the PTC should be considered a third party”, and that PTC’s would require a letter of authorization from each driver to forward his/her check to the MLS.
“Is the MLS getting these two documents when receiving the new criminal background check from each of the 72,000-plus PTC drivers? he asks.
“I will guarantee you they aren’t. So what good is setting up this system -- it’s only words on paper. This City of Toronto party line that public safety is their No. 1 concern is b.s. If you cared, you’d have never allowed this number of drivers on the road.”
He stresses the taxi industry was informed several years back that it would be “illegal” for the City to handle driver checks, as a third party -- and that checks have to be done though an accredited police force. He feels the same rules should apply to PTC’s.
“The law says they’re supposed to. Are they? I doubt it. You’ve got to ask the City if they’re enforcing it.” he adds. “They’re doing the same job as taxi drivers. You would think they’d be subject to the same standards. But they always have special dispensations, not given to the taxi industry.”
And, he points to another fundamental problem stemming from the City’s decision (effective November 1, 2018) to upgrade its’ requirement from a Level 1 Criminal Background Check, to a Level 2 Criminal Background Check and Judicial Matters Check (which requires disclosure of every criminal offence for which there is an outstanding charge, or warrant to arrest in respect to the individual).
“The good part of that is, they can tell if you have any criminal charges pending in the courts,” he says.
The bad part is, he alleges the Toronto Licensing Tribunal allows people with serious charges pending to keep driving while awaiting their hearing.
“You’re not supposed to get a Toronto license, if you have a criminal record. But impaired driving is a criminal record, yet you have lots of guys like that driving taxi and PTC,” he observes. “So why do you want this particular background check, if you’re not going to use it?”
He notes the powers-that-be are going even further in Mississauga, and Oakville.
“They’re making them get the Level 3 background check (which also includes a Vulnerability Search). We’ve only gone from Level 1 to Level 2,” he adds. “There are a lot of issues that have come up with this. There’s just no uniformity. They all seem to work at different levels.”
From there, he says procedural changes to background check regulations have bred confusion amongst cabbies.
For example, when the MLS implemented the Level 2 requirement, notice was posted four days AFTER it took effect on November 1, 2018.
“This information should have been made available weeks before the change, not four days afterward, because it created a larger problem,” he relates. “This information sheet was never sent out to our membership, and was only available at the MLS offices at 850 Coxwell Ave. So, when drivers showed up with their old criminal background check -- which they believed was the correct one, and which they already paid for-- they were informed it was no longer acceptable, and here is what you now require, which will, again, cost you money and time to obtain.”
What’s more, under the previous rules the driver could apply on-line if he/she wanted the TPS to do the check for them, and then pick up the certificate at the police division closest to them in 10 to 15 business days.
But with the new checks, this on-line capability is unavailable for the time being, forcing taxi drivers to appear in person at a Canadian Police Service office. And if the TPS is conducting the check, that means it has to be done at their headquarters at 40 College Street.
“Does the MLS know how difficult it is to find a parking spot anywhere near 40 College Street? Plus, you have to empty all of your pockets before entering Police headquarters, and then line up behind many others applying for a criminal background check,” he continues. “It’s getting to be quite a problem. Again, different parts of the City not working together.”
“What’s so important that the new check could not have waited until it became available online, making it easier on everyone involved?”
This online capability was originally slated to be available in the first quarter of 2019.
But in response to Manley’s recent follow-up inquiry, Nadine Rambharack, TPS coordinator, records release, responded, “We are in the testing phase for the online solutions. We did not meet our target date, but we are working towards getting the product out as quickly as we can.”