City taxi bureau’s RCG 08-022

By P.A. Sévigny on July 2, 2009

As the poorest of the city’s working poor, Montreal’s cab drivers are caught between a rock and a hard place. Once a cab driver gets behind the wheel and puts the key into the ignition, city by-law RCG08-022 will define the next 12 hours of his working life. In section 1 of the city by-law, article #59 defines a working taxi as any vehicle on the road with a dome, a working meter, a working radio and a visible pocket number. As article #59 draws the line between the city’s working taxis and everybody else on the road, city cab drivers are warning city authorities there could be serious trouble if police don’t stop their discrimination against them and their business. While everybody is supposed to be equal under the law, several city cab drivers say the city’s by-law turns them into second class citizens subject to a series of rules and regulations which is ruining their business and their means to make a living.

“Why can’t a taxi driver park his car and go have a coffee like everybody else,” said taxi driver activist Gilbert St. Jean. “…and why can’t Montreal taxi drivers stop their car and go to the bathroom like everyone else without risking a ticket?”

While he may not like it, St Jean already knows the answer. Taxi drivers cannot park their cars because of Article #126 in chapter 3, section 3 of city by-law RCG 08-022. Roughly translated, article #126 reads as follows: A driver cannot park a taxi on the streets of Montreal to wait for a fare. While it’s up to the police or the SPVM’s (Service de la Police de la Ville de Montreal) taxi bureau inspectors to decide what a cab driver is up to when he’s not parked on private property or at a taxi stand, the case often ends up in front of a judge in municipal court where it’s the cabby’s word against those of the police. 

“They lie, you know,” said St. Jean. “They say any damn thing and the judge believes them.”

As most of Montreal’s cab drivers consider themselves to be among the poorest of the city’s working poor, few understand why the city administration continues to tolerate a double standard between them and the rest of the city’s driving public. After several interviews at taxi stands all over the city, The Suburban learned several drivers owe the city thousands of dollars worth of assorted fines all because of alleged offenses against the city’s infamous taxi by-law. As many are poor men, they must rent their cars on a daily basis after which they must pay for their gas like everybody else. When all is paid for, it’s a good day if they have $100 in their pocket after a 12 hour shift. For poor men, the mounting fines are an onerous burden and many drivers are leaving the business to go on welfare.

“It’s crazy,” said St. Jean as he pointed to a man discreetly having a pee on private property in the heart of the city. “Even if they’re legally parked at a stand, these men can’t leave their cars to go to the washroom without risking a big ticket.”

St. Jean is right. Roughly translated, article #131, (section 3, chapter 3) clearly states how ‘none can leave a car parked at a taxi stand without supervision’. St. Jean said it’s pathetic to see how the city police and taxi inspectors humiliate and harass honest men who are only trying to make a living by working long hours for very little money.

As an executive of Montreal’s Haitian taxi drivers’ association, St. Jean said several Montreal drivers have gone to see well known Montreal lawyer and human rights activist Julius Grey.

“I’m looking at the case,” said Grey. While the busy lawyer said the case was still in its preparatory stages, he is concerned about how the police seem to be focusing on some groups as opposed to others.

“The law always has to be applied in a reasonable and sensible manner,” he said. “As of now, the evidence suggests the police and their inspectors don’t appear to be too reasonable or sensible when it comes to dealing with Montreal’s taxi drivers.”

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