Globe and Mail
Toronto, ON, Canada
4 January 2000

How to make the job safer for cabbies

Each time a taxi driver is killed, people discuss various options:
protective plastic shields, in-car cameras, a cashless payment system.
But nothing happens

by TIMOTHY APPLEBY
Gay Abbate and Allison Hanes also contributed to this report.

U.S. Shield - payment Once again, a taxi driver has been killed -- two in fact, within a three-day span, both stabbed to death in the greater Toronto area. And once again, Terry Smythe anticipates a flurry of brief interest.

It happens every time, says Mr. Smythe, a retired member of the Manitoba Taxi Cab Board who from his Winnipeg home maintains a Web site promoting safety for Canada's estimated 12,000-plus cab drivers.

"There is intense agitated reaction for about a week; it's a fairly standard cycle," he said. "Intense media reporting of how dangerous it is to drive a taxi cab and all the safety measures. Then all goes quiet until the next tragedy."

While there is plenty of talk, Mr. Smythe said, there is painfully little progress in implementing solutions, whether these be the installation of protective plastic shields, in-car cameras or -- his preferred option -- the adoption of a cashless payment system.

In all instances, he suggests, the reticence about safety measures boils down to a single factor: cost.

As far as can be gauged, just three taxi drivers were slain in Canada last year -- in Vancouver, Fredericton and Toronto. (Across the United States, there were about 40 such killings.) Then, sharp on the heels of last Thursday's killing of Mahommadullah Saighani in Toronto came the New Year's Day slaying of Baljinder Singh in nearby Brampton.

In the absence of any comprehensive national data, it is hard to assess how many scores of other cabbies have been assaulted, robbed or otherwise ripped off.

What is clear, however, is that a sizable majority of those who drive a cab -- working long hours for notoriously low pay -- are drawn from the ranks of the economic have-nots.

Step into a cab in one of Canada's largest cities, for instance, and the chances are high that the driver will be a recent non-white immigrant who has been unable to find other work.

Men are overwhelmingly likely to be behind the wheel, for reasons equally easy to discern.

"It's because of some of the safety considerations," acknowledged Al Enders, owner of Calgary's Checker Cabs Ltd. and a past president of the Canadian Taxicab Association, the national owners group.

In an increasingly cashless society, taxi drivers are perhaps more and more vulnerable.

Whereas most taxi drivers in western cities such as Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Regina are owner-operators, the great majority of cabbies in Toronto and Montreal lease their vehicles and thus have no say about safety measures.

Mr. Smythe and Mr. Enders have strikingly different views of the efficacy of the various safety options available.

Mr. Smythe believes stepped-up safety is long overdue.

Mr. Enders, who thinks driver education is the best solution, likens the situation to that of gun control: Wholesale reform entails a cumbersome, expensive procedure that penalizes the law-abiding citizen while providing little deterrent to the determined criminal.

Where all can agree, however, is that the implementation of meaningful safety measures has moved at a snail's pace.

For all the discussion about protective plastic shields separating driver from passenger, Mr. Smythe said he is unaware of a single shield having been installed in Canada.

It has not been for lack of interest. In Winnipeg, a city regulation has been in place since 1989 making the installation of such shields mandatory -- as soon as the local industry can agree on a design.

More than a decade later, no prototype has yet been adopted, and an explanation for the reluctance is not hard to deduce.

All concur that no one likes shields very much -- not the owners, not the drivers, not the passengers.

In contrast with London cabs, which have long been constructed with built-in shields, North American cabs have to be retrofitted, creating a cramped space that many passengers find unpleasant.

Add to that the cost factor. A simple, cheap divider can be installed for $400 to $1,200. But a shield allowing heat or air conditioning to flow into the back of the vehicle will run the owner up to about $1,800.

Given that shields are unpopular, their installation would probably have to be universal within a city.

However, even if they were mandatory, such dividers would offer scant protection, Mr. Enders said.

"Anybody who wants to rob [a cabbie] will find a way to do it. What they do is entice the driver out of the car. If they believe the cab driver is worth hitting they'll find a way to hit, and they've been fairly ingenious about that in the U.S."

But that's not the picture to emerge in Baltimore, Md. In 1996, after similar initiatives in New York and Los Angeles years before, shields were made mandatory among the city's 1,151 licensed drivers. Assaults on drivers in that year fell by a dramatic 56 per cent compared with 1995, when only about half the cabs had shields, research found.

A more long-term study spanning from 1991 (when just 5 per cent of Baltimore's taxis had plexiglass shields) to 1997 recorded an 88-per-cent decline in attacks on cab drivers.

Even allowing for the general fall in crime seen in virtually all U.S. cities, the drop still appears striking.

But even among cab drivers in Calgary, which has suffered a small wave of savage nighttime attacks on drivers in recent weeks, enthusiasm for the shields appears muted.

"There's a segment within Calgary that wants the shields and there's a segment that doesn't," Mr. Enders said.

In Toronto, similarly, taxi owners overwhelmingly rejected the installation of plexiglass shields about seven years ago, partly because of the cost -- then about $450 a vehicle -- but partly because they said it would make their job very dull if they could not talk to passengers, Toronto Councillor Howard Moscoe said.

A second solution is the installation of in-car video cameras, costing $1,000 to $1,600 apiece, which are also all but non-existent in Canadian cabs.

Here, too, Mr. Enders is unconvinced there would be much tangible benefit.

Many drugstores, gas bars and banks have such devices, he noted. "Has that deterred [criminals] from hitting them? I'd say the answer is no."

Mr. Smythe thinks otherwise.

In Australian cities, he said, the use of such cameras has been "a total success. . . . In many cities, like Perth for example, it's 100 per cent mandatory and they have some hard data on would-be robbers caught on camera, with an image of sufficient clarity, the time and date stamped, to support adequate evidence for court purposes."

But there is a third option available, Mr. Smythe said. "The single most decisive action the industry can take to protect its own drivers is the cashless taxi."

To a great extent, such a system is already functioning, in the shape of credit cards and debit cards. But because there are still plenty of consumers who do not use either, Mr. Smythe advocates the adoption of a system of chits, or vouchers, such as are already dispensed by some government agencies.

By making cab rides a mostly cashless business (aside from tips perhaps) and by heavily publicizing the change, would-be robbers would at a stroke be deprived of a major target.

The long-term decline in bank robberies has almost certainly occurred for precisely the same reason: diminishing returns. Rarely does a modern bank have more than a few hundred dollars in its tills at any given time.

There is, however, a major catch in the adoption of a cashless taxi-payment system: It leaves an easily audited paper trail that some drivers will be reluctant to leave behind.

No one suggests that more than a small minority of cab drivers are dishonest. Nonetheless, in line with plenty of other areas of the economy, there exists an informal, underground payment system whereby driver and passenger agree on a fixed rate for a journey, the meter stays switched off and the driver pockets the money.

"This is an issue that hasn't received a whole lot of attention," Mr. Smythe said. "For every fare that is hidden from the meters, from the records, there is a companion theft of the GST embedded within it. Since 1990, when GST was introduced, the amounts of money must by now be mammoth."

With that said, he still thinks cashless transactions would be an improvement on the status quo.

Steps to upgrade cab safety in Toronto will be the top priority of the city's new licensing committee once it begins to implement its mandate of overseeing the taxi industry, said Mr. Moscoe, who chairs the committee.

The committee, born about a year ago when the Metro Licensing Commission was disbanded, has yet to meet. Consisting of five councillors and the chairman of the Taxicab Advisory Committee, which represents the industry, it has spent the past six months squabbling but has now sorted itself out, Mr. Moscoe said.

He said the largest obstacle in implementing any safety measures is that ownership of cabs in the Toronto area is spread so widely, with some companies comprising just a handful of vehicles.

In the meantime, taxi drivers must largely rely on their own intuition in deciding whom to pick up.

In Toronto for the past three years, all licensed cab drivers now get help on how to make that decision through a compulsory three-week training course that teaches them how to detect potentially unsafe situations and protect themselves.

Burnett Shaw, an independent Toronto driver with 23 years experience, said a cabbie's best defence is instinct. "You have to pick and choose. You don't know who is who and who is a crook and who has a gun, but you develop an instinct."

Tomy Stathopolos, another Toronto cabbie, said that since he was robbed at knifepoint, he has learned to be selective about whom he picks up. "For me, you don't pick up just anybody."

But that can help only so much. Danger may just be part of the business.

"Can cabbies have risk-free rides?" asked Richard Mucha, manager of the taxi unit for the city's municipal licensing division. "I'm not sure that's feasible."

Timothy Appleby is a national crime reporter with The Globe and Mail.


Globe and Mail
(Toronto, ON, Canada)
5 Jan 2000

DRIVERS CONCERNED ABOUT JOB SAFETY

Assaults, slayings from Halifax to Calgary frightening cab operators

by SUSAN BOURETTE and ALLISON HANES
With reports from Gay Abbate and John Saunders

Toronto -- Paul Murray has had too many brushes with violence.

After 13 years on Calgary's streets, where five taxi drivers have been brutally assaulted in as many weeks, he is surrendering his cabbie licence.

"No job is worth risking your life for," said the 37-year-old Calgary resident, who called it quits after his Monday-night shift in favour of a job with a trucking company. "There were lots of times when I was scared out of my mind and I really had to keep my wits about me or who knows what could have happened?"

It has become an all-too-common refrain from taxi drivers from Halifax to Toronto to Calgary after a series of violent slayings and assaults cast a long shadow over the industry.

Yesterday, that refrain turned into an angry chorus in Toronto. Cries of "We want justice" and honking horns filled the air as drivers took turns voicing their fears about safety on the job.

Drivers, their families and friends of murdered cab driver Mohammadullah Saighani, one of two drivers slain in Toronto in less than a week, came out to support calls for better security in the cab industry.

"I am here to stand up and support my father," Mr. Saighani's daughter Yasamin, 26, said, sobbing. "I want justice. I want them to find my father's killer."

"I think it's going to continue if we don't stand up and do something about it right now," another daughter, Khatira, 15, said.

Eight-year-old Masood Ajiz, whose father drives a cab, said he is worried. "I don't want my dad to die," he said.

A visibly angry Pirooz Fateh, a driver for Beck Taxis, went one step further, saying that it's getting to the point at which drivers will have to arm themselves.

"If the police can't protect us, we have to protect ourselves. We'll have to bring a gun or something else," he said.

Yesterday's rally in Toronto after 2,700 outraged cab drivers threatened strike action in Calgary the week of New Year's Eve and came together to protest against a string of savage nighttime attacks on drivers. The latest victim received a deep cut to his hand after driving four youths to a northeast Calgary address on Monday night.

It's much the same story in Halifax, a city also beset by assaults in recent months.

Tim Auld, general manager of Satellite Taxi/Arrow Cab in Halifax, said most attacks have been connected with robberies, including a murder three months ago.

"It was really difficult to get anyone to work over the recent holiday. We're having difficulty servicing customers at night because [drivers] don't want to put themselves at risk because of the violence," Mr. Auld said.

Still, many are searching for an explanation for the recent upsurge in violence, which some people say is the worst in nearly a decade.

"There appears to be no rhyme or reason to it," said Jim Bell, general manager of Diamond Taxi in Toronto, where two cabbies were murdered last week. "Most of the violence appears to be random."

In Calgary, Roger Richard, president of Associated Cabs and chairman of a newly formed industry task force looking into improving driver safety, said most violence begins with a simple fight. Battles over whether clients can smoke or eat in the cab, or the driver's knowledge of the city, often escalate into violence.

"More than 98 per cent of the incidents start with an argument. It's hardly ever related to a robbery," Mr. Richard said.

The recent attacks in Calgary began on Dec. 12. One driver who was bludgeoned with a hammer and robbed is still in a coma.

A task force studying the problem in Calgary announced yesterday that the city's taxi companies are now considering installing partial plastic shields in their cabs, a security measure also being bandied about as a possible solution in Halifax and Toronto.

However, Mr. Bell blames police, in part, for the rising violence in the industry. He said police aren't doing enough to help drivers.

"Police and drivers need to work as a team, and right now that's not happening," Mr. Bell said, adding that police often turn up an hour after an attack.


Globe and Mail
(Toronto, ON, Canada)
5 Jan 2000

POLICE PROBE LINKS IN
ASSAULTS ON TAXI DRIVERS

Beatings, stabbings part of job, cabbies say

by JOHN SAUNDERS
The Globe and Mail

Toronto -- Until this past week, no Toronto-area cabbie had been killed on duty since 1993, but robberies, carjackings, beatings and stabbings were hazards of the job.

Abuhana Quraishi, who was attacked and robbed in North York two months ago, almost became a homicide statistic alongside an Etobicoke driver who was found slashed to death on Dec. 30 and a Brampton driver who was fatally stabbed on Jan. 1.

Mr. Quraishi, 42, was stabbed 15 times but survived, losing a piece of intestine and partial use of his right hand.

The crime is unsolved. Detective Phil Bratton of 33 Division, who is still investigating, described it last night:

Mr. Quraishi, driving for Able-Atlantic Taxi, was flagged down on the night of Nov. 7 by a man who told him to go to Railside Road, near Lawrence Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway. When they got there, "the fellow grabbed him by the hair, pulled his head back and held the knife to the side of his head -- that's when he made the demand for money," Det. Bratton said.

"The fellow then poked Mr. Quraishi in the left side of the head by his ear with the knife, and that's when Mr. Quraishi felt that he was going to get stabbed right into his head and he made a grab for the knife and the fight was on."

It is amazing that he did not die. "He was stabbed once in the face, which went through through his chin, deflecting off his chin bone and coming out underneath his chin, and then he was stabbed twice in the chest, once in the abdomen and then about 10 times in the back," the detective said, not counting the original head wound and defensive wounds to his hands.

The Etobicoke and Brampton killings do not appear to be connected, but Det. Bratton said there may be a connection between the attack on Mr. Quraishi and the Etobicoke case. He talked to the investigators on that case by phone yesterday and will meet them today or tomorrow to compare notes, he said.

Mr. Quraishi, who had been robbed twice before, did not return to taxi driving. "No, he didn't come back at all," Able-Atlantic general manager Joe Than said last night.


Globe and Mail
(Toronto, ON, Canada)
5 Jan 2000

TORONTO CABBIES DEMAND
JUSTICE AND PROTECTION

Dozens gather to glare at the two men accused in slaying of 'very nice man'

by GAY ABBATE
With reports from Susan Bourette and Allison Hanes.

Toronto -- The two young men ignored the dozens of eyes glaring at them in anger through the chain-link fence.

But the hostility of about four dozen cab drivers followed the two teenagers as they got out of two police vehicles and took the few dozen steps that led them into a Brampton courthouse for their first court appearance in the death of taxi driver Baljinder Singh Rai on New Year's Day.

Dressed in white prison-issued jumpsuits, Michael MacDonald, 18, and Stefan Miceli, 19, appeared briefly at the provincial courthouse on Clarence Street on charges of first-degree murder. They were remanded in custody until their next court date on Jan. 20.

The two teens, who showed little emotion as they arrived in handcuffs, were a study in contrasts: one stocky, his hair cropped close at the top, with the sides shaved; the other lean, with straggly dark hair almost to his shoulders.

The cab drivers shut down their meters yesterday and stood for several hours in the bitter wind and cold for a glimpse of the men who stand accused of killing the friend and colleague they described as a "very nice man."

One of those drivers was B. J. Singh, who has driven a cab for City Taxi for the past four years. "I came here to see the men," Mr. Singh said as he waited by the fence where prisoners are brought to the courthouse. "In two or three years they'll come out. That's not enough punishment," he said, expressing the same bitterness about the justice system as fellow cab drivers, although the two men have not been convicted of the killing.

At a news conference yesterday, Inspector Tom Slinger of Peel Regional Police's homicide bureau, described the final minutes of life for the 48-year-old father of two sons, aged 18 and 21.

Mr. Rai was driving a Brampton-Bramalea Kwik Kab shortly after 10:45 p.m. on Saturday when he picked up two men in the transit- terminal area in downtown Brampton and drove them to the rear of the Gateway Plaza on Queen Street near Gateway Boulevard.

Insp. Slinger said that when Mr. Rai stopped the cab to let out his fares in the parking lot behind a restaurant, one of the men took out a knife and stabbed him twice, once in the neck. They took his wallet, leading police to believe the motive was robbery, and fled on foot.

Despite his wounds, Mr. Rai managed to drive the cab to the front of the plaza, where some people came to his aid. He died a short time later in hospital.

Insp. Slinger said the intense news-media interest in the stabbing death generated tips which eventually led to the arrest of two men at an apartment on Lisa Street in the Dixie and Queen Streets area of Brampton on Monday night.

The two teenagers are known to police, Insp. Slinger said.

Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Miceli were both raised in Brampton but had no fixed address when arrested. Both were unemployed.

Mr. Rai did not know the two accused, Insp. Slinger said.

Police in Peel and in Toronto say there is no connection between Mr. Rai's death and the killing of Mohammadullah Saighani, a self- employed driver with Beck Taxi, some time between 5 p.m. on Dec. 29 and 8:45 a.m. Dec. 30.

The body of Mr. Saighani, who was buried on Monday, was found in an industrial area in northwest Toronto on Thursday morning. His throat had been slashed and a thumb cut off. He was the first driver in the Toronto region to be killed while on duty since 1993.

Defensive wounds on the body indicated that the 48-year-old father of five tried to fight back in what Detective Cory Bockus of Toronto Police described as an "extremely violent and brutal murder."

She told reporters yesterday that police believe that given the brutality of the attack, in which the murderer used a very sharp knife, it's likely the killer fled the scene with noticeable wounds to the upper body or face. A forensic team is now scouring the cab for DNA evidence, she added.

While the cab drivers waited outside the courthouse yesterday, about 150 other drivers protested in front of Toronto Police headquarters on College Street. They gathered to demand justice for their two slain colleagues and better protection for themselves.

While the drivers vented their frustration outside the pink marble edifice, police were calling on the cab community to help solve the Saighani murder.

Det. Bockus asked the demonstrators to call police if they had seen Mr. Saighani's green-and-orange cab between 6 a.m. Dec. 30 and 7:15 a.m., when it was spotted at the Kipling Heights plaza.

"There is one hour when we don't know where the cab was," she said. "We need information from the cab community. A lot of people who might have been driving might be able to help," she said.


Globe and Mail
Toronto, ON, Canada
4 January 2000

Arrests made in Brampton taxi murder

Toronto driver 'didn't deserve to die this way,'
daughter says as fellow cabbies flock to funeral

by ALLISON HANES and GAY ABBATE
With a report from John Saunders

Toronto -- Two men were arrested last night in connection with the New Year's Day stabbing death of a taxi driver in Brampton. Earlier, hundreds of drivers gathered to say goodbye to a colleague slain last week in Toronto, and to share their fears about what many say is Canada's riskiest profession.

The Brampton arrests came at about 8 p.m., less than 48 hours after Baljinder Singh Rai, a 48-year-old father of two, was found bleeding to death.

Homicide investigators withheld details last night except to say that an apartment was being searched on Lisa Street, roughly halfway between the bus terminal where Mr. Rai picked up his last customers and the commercial-industrial area where he was found.

At Brampton-Bramalea Quik Kab, for which Mr. Rai drove, night dispatcher Verma Sarbjeet called the arrests good news. "It's very good for the community here in Brampton. It's good for the taxi industry -- at least the police caught the two suspects very soon. The police worked very hard. We appreciate the Peel police for this."

Mr. Rai's sister, Harmeet Dhaliwal, agreed. "This is good for all the citizens. It's not [only] for us, you know. My brother is not going to come back."

There is no indication the two killings were connected, although both men were stabbed or slashed and left in empty parking lots in commercial or industrial areas northwest of downtown Toronto.

Yesterday afternoon, drivers and their cabs clogged a section of the Toronto's Kipling Avenue north of Highway 401 as about 800 family members and friends prayed for Mohammadullah Saighani inside the Ummah Nabawiah Mosque.

The 48-year-old father of five was found stabbed to death on Thursday morning. After a traditional Muslim funeral service, his flower-laden casket was carried out of the mosque by a crowd of men chanting "Allah Akbar" -- "God is Great." As the body was whisked away for burial, many of the taxi drivers accompanied the funeral procession.

Mr. Saighani's children expressed shock that their gentle father would meet such a violent end.

"My dad wouldn't hurt a fly. He didn't deserve to die this way," 15-year-old daughter Khatira said.

Mr. Saighani was found with his throat slashed. His cab was found abandoned a few kilometres away.

Nine years ago, he traded his career as a doctor in war-torn Afghanistan to drive a cab in what he thought was a safe, secure Canada.

Yesterday, Khatira said her father put his family first at his own peril.

"Imagine going from being a doctor to being a taxi driver. He accepted the situation because he wanted safety [for his family]."

Ramin Saighani, 18, called his father his "best friend" and said that the family wants the killers caught.

"Every single person who was here probably feels the same way as I do. They feel fire inside," the teenager said after the funeral.

Another daughter, Yasamin, 26, expressed outrage as she propped up her pale mother on the carpets inside the mosque. "I want for them to find his killer and then cut his throat like they did my father," she said.

Mr. Saighani's wife, Nafesa, who fainted several times yesterday, said, "I don't know if I'm alive or I'm dead," and then broke into tears.

She said that the night before he was killed, her husband came home from work shaken after a man had approached his cab while he was counting his fares, knocked on his window and asked whether he made good money.

Fear is something that cab drivers said they live with as part of a job they say is more dangerous than policing.

Driving a taxi was recently rated the most dangerous job in Canada, said Nabil Charbel of the Ontario Taxi Union, which has 1,300 members in Toronto. About 23 per cent of cab drivers become the victims of crime on the job, compared with about 7 per cent of police officers, he said.

"What the problem is, is we are treated as third-class citizens, not just second-class citizens," he said.

Mr. Charbel said he wants legislation to improve safety, although he didn't say specifically what kind of law he would like to see.

"You can't help but wonder how many tragedies like this one it will take for government bodies to legislate safety into the workplace, which in this case is the car," he said.

Cabbies waiting in the damp air outside the overflowing mosque agreed that something must be done to improve safety, but there was no consensus on what.

Driver Saed Soltenpour said recent changes to the bylaws that govern the taxi industry, such as mandatory new cabs and meters that spit out receipts, ignore safety. "We need a bill of rights for cabbies, even if we have to take it to the United Nations Human Rights Commission," he said.

Waiss Wali, a driver for Able Atlantic, said the two killings in one week have him worried. "Who will be the third?" he asked.


Globe and Mail
Toronto, ON, Canada
4 January 2000

Hundreds of cabbies
join in mourning of slain driver

Taxis clog road to funeral as colleagues voice fears
about what they say is the most dangerous job in Canada

by ALLISON HANES and GAY ABBATE

     

To see companion CBC-TV News report, click on CBC TV Report
(Needs Real Player installed to view)

Toronto -- Hundreds of cab drivers turned out yesterday to say goodbye to a slain colleague and to share their fears about what many say is Canada's most dangerous profession.

They and their cabs clogged a section of the city's Kipling Avenue north of Highway 401 as about 800 family members and friends prayed for Mohammadullah Saighani inside the Ummah Nabawiah Mosque.

The 48-year-old father of five was stabbed to death last Wednesday, the first cab driver in the Toronto area to be killed while on duty since 1993.

After a traditional Muslim funeral service, Mr. Saighani's flower-laden casket was carried out of the mosque by a crowd of men chanting "Allah Akbar"-- "God is Great." As the body was whisked away for burial, many of the taxi drivers accompanied the funeral procession.

Mr. Saighani's children expressed shock that their gentle father would meet such a violent end.

"My dad wouldn't hurt a fly. He didn't deserve to die this way," 15-year-old daughter Khatira said

Mr. Saighani was found with his throat slashed and his thumb severed behind a factory in a north Toronto industrial zone on Dec. 31. His cab was found abandoned a few kilometres away.

Nine years ago, Mr. Saighani traded his career as a doctor in war-torn Afghanistan to drive a cab in what he thought was a safe, secure Canada.

Yesterday, Khatira said her father put his family first at his own peril.

"Imagine going from being a doctor to being a taxi driver. He accepted the situation because he wanted safety [for his family]."

Ramin Saighani, 18, called his father his "best friend" and said that the family wants the killers caught.

"Every single person who was here probably feels the same way as I do. They feel fire inside," the teenager said after the funeral.

Another daughter, Yasamin, 26, expressed outrage as she propped up her pale mother on the carpets inside the mosque. "I want for them to find his killer and then cut his throat like they did my father," she said.

Mr. Saighani's wife, Nafesa, who fainted several times yesterday, said, "I don't know if I'm alive or I'm dead," and then broke into tears.

She said that the night before he was killed, her husband came home from work shaken after a man had approached his cab while he was counting his fares, knocked on his window and asked whether he made good money.

Fear is something that cab drivers said they live with as part of a job they say is more dangerous than policing.

Driving a taxi was recently rated the most dangerous job in Canada, said Nabil Charbel of the Ontario Taxi Union, which has 1,300 members in Toronto. About 23 per cent of cab drivers become the victims of crime on the job, compared with about 7 per cent of police officers, he said.

"What the problem is, is we are treated as third-class citizens, not just second-class citizens," he said.

Mr. Charbel said he wants legislation to improve safety, although he didn't say specifically what kind of law he would like to see.

"You can't help but wonder how many tragedies like this one it will take for government bodies to legislate safety into the workplace, which in this case is the car," he said.

Cabbies waiting in the damp air outside the overflowing mosque agreed that something must be done to improve safety, but there was no consensus on what.

Driver Saed Soltenpour said recent changes to the bylaws that govern the taxi industry, such as mandatory new cabs and meters that spit out receipts, ignore safety. "We need a bill of rights for cabbies, even if we have to take it to the United Nations Human Rights Commission," he said.

While friends and colleagues were saying farewell to Mr. Saighani, Peel Regional Police were appealing to the public for information about the death of another taxi driver.

Baljinder Rai of Major Oaks Drive in Brampton, was stabbed to death in his cab on New Year's Day.

Police said the 48-year-old father of two picked up two men in the area of the bus terminal on Nelson Street in Brampton and was stabbed when he took them to an industrial area at Gateway Boulevard and Queen Street.


Globe and Mail
Toronto, ON, Canada
3 January 2000

Toronto cabbie second killed in days

Area taxi drivers shaken by loss of 'really nice person,'
lack of protection

by KRISTA FOSS and JOHN SAUNDERS

Brampton, Ont. -- A deeply religious taxi driver who "never argued with anyone" became the Toronto area's first homicide victim of 2000 and the second cab driver slain in three days.

Baljinder Singh Rai was working the night shift on Jan. 1 for Brampton-Bramalea Quik Kab after passing up the most lucrative evening of the year to spend New Year's Eve at a Sikh temple. He was waiting at a cab stand at the bus terminal in Brampton, a city of 300,000 northwest of downtown Toronto, when one or more people got into his car some time after 10 p.m.

"We wanted to give him a [radio] dispatch fare," said Verma Sarbjeet, Quik Kab's night dispatcher. "He said he had a pickup." After that, nothing. "He never touched the radio."

The 48-year-old father of two was found mortally wounded at about 10:45 p.m. near a pub in a restaurant strip on the edge of an east-side Brampton industrial park. The strip was closed for the night.

Police gave no details, but business people in the area said yesterday that they believe he was stabbed. Police "were looking for a knife, anyway," said Boris Lantman, co-owner of the pub.

With the plaza encircled in yellow tape, it seemed as though the entire police force was there, he said. "They were searching the whole area. They were in line, searching every inch."

Quik Kab's Mr. Sarbjeet said the driver survived long enough to talk to police, then died in hospital at about 12:30 a.m.

Peel Regional Police are looking for two men, both described as white, in their early 20s, 5 foot 9 and about 175 pounds (175 centimetres, 79 kilograms), one in a black jacket and light-coloured pants, the other in blue jeans.

A police spokesman said the motive was not obviously robbery, but Mr. Sarbjeet was in no doubt. "Police were asking us for his ID. If he had his wallet with him, why would they want us to identify him?"

On Thursday, the body of Beck Taxi driver Mahommadullah Saighani was found dumped in an industrial area of northwestern Toronto, about 11 kilometres from where Mr. Rai was found. His throat had been slashed and a thumb cut off. A funeral is to be held today for Mr. Saighani, a 48-year-old father of five.

Investigators were not ready to say whether they believe the two deaths were related.

Drivers at Quik Kab, where Mr. Rai had worked for about four years, were "very upset" yesterday. "He was a really nice person, a person who never argued with anyone, but who was quiet and kept to himself," one said.

Friends and relatives gathered last night at Mr. Rai's residence in a street of attached houses in northern Brampton. He leaves his wife and two sons, 18 and 21, the elder handicapped by childhood polio.

In Toronto, taxi drivers greeted the news with apprehension.

"I'm very worried," said Melese Berkele, who has been driving a cab for four years. "We don't have any type of protection, other than checking the person out in our rear-view mirror."

Azam Abdul, who has been driving a taxi for 11 years, said he feels it is just "luck or chance" whether a cab driver gets hurt on the job.

Winnipeg resident Terry Smythe, a former provincial bureaucrat who now runs a Web site tracking safety concerns for taxi drivers, said the availability of cash from taxi drivers makes driving a taxi "one of the most hazardous occupations in the world" because of the risk of assault, robbery and death.

In December, three Calgary cab drivers were assaulted over a four-day period during the period leading up to Christmas. The assaults, which included beatings with blunt objects, so terrorized that city's cabbie community that many were refusing to work night shifts during the busy holiday season.

While there are likely to be calls for more safety devices, such as bullet-resistant shields and New York-style panic buttons, Mr. Smythe said there is one measure that makes the most sense.

"We have the technology, through credit and debit cards and taxi chits, to make a cashless cab," he said. "So the issue should be about removing the lure. You remove the lure and 99 per cent of the risk is gone."


Globe and Mail
Toronto, ON, Canada
1 January 2000

Toronto cabbie who left violent land meets brutal end

by TIMOTHY APPLEBY and NATALIE SOUTHWORTH

Toronto -- Sobs of grief blended with stunned disbelief yesterday at the modest home of taxi driver Mohammadullah Saighani, found slain a day earlier with his throat slashed and a thumb cut off, victim of an apparent robbery.

"He was a good man, it's hard to find a man like that in this world," said a son-in-law, Abdul, shock written on his face. "How could somebody have done such a terrible thing?"

As with all of the elders of the 10 or so ethnic-Afghani families which live at Jamestown Crescent, a complex of low-rent units in northwest Toronto, the life of the 48-year-old former physician and father of five began in a war-torn country.

It ended about 8:50 a.m. on Wednesday, about 2 hours after Mr. Saighani began his early-morning shift for Beck Taxi Ltd., raising Toronto's homicide tally for the year to 48. (The 1998 total was 55.)

An autopsy yesterday found the cause of death to be multiple stab wounds to the neck and body. No arrests had been made as of yesterday afternoon.

"It was a very brutal murder," said Detective Craig Sanson of the homicide squad, adding that the killing appeared to have been random rather than planned.

Mr. Saighani's body was found dumped behind a factory on Iron Street, in an industrial section in northwest Toronto. His abandoned cab was located about five kilometres away in the parking lot of Kipling Heights Plaza, a 15-minute walk from the family home.

As mourners drifted in and out of the two-storey rowhouse yesterday, huddling in the shoe-filled hallway beneath a framed verse from the Koran praising Allah, Mr. Saighani's widow sat on the couch weeping.

"This was a man who didn't have an enemy in the world," another relative said. "He was the best man on the planet."

Mr. Saighani was the first Toronto cab driver to be murdered since 1993. Nonetheless, the killing underlined the inherent risk of driving a cab alone for long hours, especially at night.

Less than three months ago, another Beck driver's throat was slashed, landing him in hospital for several months, office manager Stanley Smith said.

"We don't know what can be done. Cab drivers are vulnerable."

Concern is not confined to Toronto.

In Calgary, three cab drivers have endured brutal attacks by passengers over the past few weeks. Fearful for their lives, drivers have demanded that hammer-proof safety shields be installed in all cabs, in what has been described as a crisis for the local cab industry. About half of Calgary's nighttime cab drivers have refused to go out after dark.

Police believe Mr. Saighani was slashed to death while still in his car, sustaining wounds to both his head and body, and that the killer or killers then drove the vehicle a short distance before abandoning it and fleeing.

Police speculated his thumb could have been severed as he sought to defend himself.

Mr. Smith described Mr. Saighani, a Beck employee since 1996, as well-respected by other drivers in the city, a hard worker who often put in 60-hour to 80-hour weeks.

But he almost certainly had higher expectations. Before securing refugee status in Canada about 10 years ago, along with his wife, three daughters and two sons, Mr. Saighani had been a physician in Afghanistan, a friend said.

As with virtually all doctors from Third World countries, however, his credentials were not deemed adequate, and those skills are hard to upgrade. To practise medicine in Canada, doctors from most non-Western countries have to undergo a form of internship, and in Ontario only 24 such slots are available each year.

Lately, the slain man had been talking about both changing his job and moving out of the graffiti-scarred housing development, the friend said.

Mr. Saighani had plenty of reason to rethink his employment future. Along with long hours and low wages, risk is inherent in driving a cab.

Last year, a Metro Cab driver was severely beaten during a robbery near Lawrence Avenue West, while a second driver was shot in the arm and robbed near Dundas and Yonge Streets, in the downtown core. In a third 1998 incident, someone jammed a gun in a taxi driver's mouth and blindfolded him during a robbery. In 1996 and 1997 in Scarborough, numerous taxi drivers were robbed during a five-month period by the same man.


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