TLT grants license despite conviction for sexual assault
By Colin Duffy
Taxicab driver Arafat Bakshi was granted a Vehicle For Hire license with conditions, despite being convicted of sexual assault while in a taxicab.
Bakshi was convicted in 2012 of grabbing the breast of a woman who was alone in the front seat of his taxicab late at night. The conviction has been appealed, unsuccessfully so far. The conviction remains under appeal. He was fined and given a suspended sentence of three years probation. During that time the court ordered that while operating his taxicab he may not have a woman alone in the front seat. He is on the sex offender registry.
The Tribunal granted his license with several conditions. His license will be suspended for seven days. Upon having his license returned he will be on probation for four years. Each year upon renewal of his license he must provide, at his own expense, an updated criminal record. He may not have a passenger alone in the front seat of his taxicab. He may not operate his taxicab at night after 8PM and before 6AM. Finally, during the probationary period if Metro Licensing & Standards has any concerns with any charges or convictions against him in the future then the City can bring the matter back before the Tribunal.
It is extremely unusual for the Tribunal to grant a license to an applicant or licensee who has been charged with sexual assault, let alone convicted. In making its decision, the Tribunal noted that this conviction resulted only in a suspended sentence (which is unusually light for a charge of this kind). It also considered that Bakshi had no prior criminal charges or convictions, and had been operating his taxicab under the court-ordered conditions for approximately five years without further incident. In addition, the restriction that he operate only during the day will limit his contact with vulnerable women.
City lawyer Matthew Cornett read from the police report of the incident, where the victim alleged that Bakshi engaged in “sexual conversation” with her, and that he asked about her sexual history, and that he grabbed at her breast and vagina. Not all of the allegations Cornett noted were brought against him at trial, though, and the allegation for which Bakshi was convicted was for grabbing her breast. Bakshi’s legal representative, paralegal Robert Stewart, wished to bring up inconsistencies in the victim’s account that were the part of the substance of Bakshi’s current appeal. The Tribunal did not entertain any such arguments from Stewart, going so far as to disallow questions that even suggest that the victim’s account is not credible.
The Tribunal does not have the ability to acquit someone of a crime, and cannot act as if a conviction did not happen, though they may look at the circumstances behind the event when giving weight to the factors the Tribunal considers. Convictions that occur in a taxicab while the cab is being operated are the most serious.
The City took the position that a conviction of sexual assault in a taxicab should be lethal to Bakshi’s license, saying: “Sexual assault of a female passenger […] outweighs any need the licensee may have to make a living.”
Stewart argued that “every offense has variations of weights” and that this was “probably at the bottom of the seriousness of this kind of charge”. Cornett took a different view, saying “I don’t think we should be grading sexual assaults.”
Stewart argued that there should be escalation in punishment for misbehavior, and that “I have yet to see a zero-tolerance policy [in licensing].” He argued that automatically denying the license of someone for a sexual crime, regardless of severity, would be “unfair and unjust”. He took the position that Bakshi would be willing to accept any condition on his license, just so long as he is given a chance to work. Stewart recommended the condition that Bakshi only drive during the day, to provide additional comfort to the Tribunal. He noted Bakshi has only been driving during the day for years, and it would be no difficulty for him to could reliably comply with that condition.
Bakshi is 31 years old. He came to Canada in 2004 from Sylhet in Bangladesh. He has a wife who does not work, and 4 children, whom he supports. The Tribunal considers the people who are depending on a licensee’s income when they decide whether a license should be granted, though it was not noted in the verbal reasons for decision in this case.
The chair of the Tribunal that day was Melina Laverty. Also sitting on the panel were Ali Alibhai and Daphne Simon.
This matter was plagued by issues with translation, at least partly explaining why this matter didn’t get a hearing until five years after the incident. Bakshi knows English well enough to operate as a taxicab driver, but wanted the assistance of an interpreter for legal proceedings where the language used can be particularly difficult. He is from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh, which has its own variation of the language spoken by the people of Bangladesh. In previous attempts to hear this matter in February, March, and July of this year, the interpreter provided for Mr. Bakshi was certified by the Ontario system to translate in Sylheti, but Bakshi complained that his translator was translating in Bangla, and that this resulted in errors in translation. Sylheti is recognized as a language by some jurisdictions but only as a dialect by others. Faced with the fact that the licensee before them was unable to communicate accurately through the translator, the Tribunal chose to repeatedly adjourn the proceedings rather than risk making decisions about someone who may not understand what was going on. This meeting of the Tribunal was done with the assistance of translator Khan Choudhary. All parties agreed that Choudhary is fluent in Sylheti, and no difficulty was noted at this hearing.