Man arrested for assaulting taxi driver

Taxi driver assaulted twice in two weeks in downtown Nanaimo.

A Nanaimo taxi driver was assaulted twice in as many weeks.

The AC Taxi driver was dropping a fare off on Wallace Street at about 11 p.m. Saturday. When the passenger refused pay, the driver threatened to call police and was beaten by the passenger so severely he had to be treated at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Other taxi drivers who witnessed the incident helped Mounties locate the suspect in the Cambie Pub, where he was arrested.

O’Brien said police recommended a charge of assault against the suspect who was released that night on a promise to appear in Nanaimo provincial court at a later date.

But before the police can forward the case to the Crown, the driver will have to give them a statement, which Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said he was unable to do the night of the attack because of his physical and emotional state.

“At some point, we’ll still need a statement from the taxi driver when he’s ready physically and emotionally to give a statement,” O’Brien said Wednesday.

The same driver was beaten in a similar incident two weeks earlier after driving another client, who also refused to pay, to the Cambie Hotel.

O’Brien said violence and threats of violence are common from clients who are intoxicated and will suddenly refuse to pay fares after being driven to their destinations.

Karminder Gill, a driver with AC Taxi, has driven taxis since 2009 and said most passengers are nice, but he had one incident when a customer refused to pay and became violent.

“He started yelling at me, so I got out of the cab and he took the headrests and just threw them out,” Gill said. “I stopped in the downtown because there was public there. Everybody can tell you these same things.”

Sam Sidhu, a taxi driver for one year, has not been assaulted, but said there are clients he picks up who make him nervous and has had his share of clients run off without paying.

Sidhu said he would feel more comfortable with a security screen between the driver and passenger and possibly a security camera watching the back seat.

Garry Smith, president of AC Taxi, said he has been in the taxi business 35 years does not think it is more dangerous than when he started.

“I really don’t think it has changed a lot in all these years,” Smith said. “Some of the drugs cause grief out there.”

Smith said improving safety has a lot to do with the training drivers are given to deal with clients.

“I’m not saying that this man did anything to bring this on, but smiling and nodding and saying, ‘Yes, sir. Yes, sir. No, sir. No, sir,’ goes a long way to not getting in trouble, whether you agree with them or not,” Smith said.

Smith said adding security screens and cameras between the passenger and driver might only aggravate violent occurrences.

“I think, in the long run, that would probably make things worse,” Smith said. “But I’m just speaking for myself. You put somebody into a cage in the back or you put the driver in a cage it kind of brings that atmosphere forward in the first place.”

“Taxi drivers are often dealing with unruly clients who are often intoxicated,” O’Brien said. “There’s been a strong debate for a number of years about putting screens up, but I know a number of taxi drivers who still like having contact with their clients.”