Taxi drivers angered by mayor’s remarks
Jake Rupert , The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Anger verging on violence erupted at city hall Wednesday after taxi drivers interpreted remarks from Mayor Larry O’Brien as disrespectful.
Just before council voted to maintain its requirement for all taxis to have security cameras installed by July 1, Mr. O’Brien said for him, the matter is primarily a question of public safety – and driver safety second.
This prompted outrage and shouts of “f— you” as about 60 drivers filed out of council chambers before the vote was taken.
Union leader Yusef Al Mezel immediately called the remarks demeaning and insensitive and accused the mayor of treating cab drivers as “second-class citizens” during a heated moment outside council chambers, while several police officers looked on.
“This is too much,” Mr. Al Mezel said. “We are hard-working taxpayers, and they are treating us like criminals.”
Mr. Al Mezel and other union leaders said the camera decision, which will cost each car owner $1,500, will contribute to an expected strike in the spring. They say contract talks with Blue Line, the city’s largest cab company, are going poorly, and the drivers are fed up with the company and the city’s management of the industry.
After the vote, Mr. O’Brien said he didn’t mean any disrespect. He said his meaning was that the cameras would protect the public and drivers equally and apologized for “any confusion” his comments may have caused.
But by that point, the drivers said, they were beyond apologies. They said they will not install the cameras, and if the city wants to try to punish them or take their licences, the city will have a fight on its hands.
Taxi drivers and company owners say the cost of the cameras is too much. They also say the city has left the door open for invading drivers’ privacy by not guaranteeing any information collected by the cameras would only be used in criminal investigations.
Cabbies threaten no fair, no fare
Drivers vow to strike unless city reverses decision on security cameras
By DEREK PUDDICOMBE, CITY HALL BUREAU
Ottawa Sun [Ontario]
Thu, February 14, 2008
Ottawa’s cab drivers stormed out of a city council meeting yesterday angry, disgusted and threatening to strike.
Seconds before council voted to force taxi drivers to have security cameras installed in all city-licensed cabs by July 2, about 100 drivers stood up and walked out.
They were offended by a comment made by Mayor Larry O’Brien.
“The key issue in terms of my decision-making related to public safety, of secondary issue was the safety of the drivers,” said O’Brien.
It was after that comment the drivers left the meeting.
Yousef Al Mezel, president of Canadian Auto Workers Union Local 1688, led the charge out of council chambers, yelling he didn’t appreciate being called a second-class citizen.
“We are taxpayers and we should be respected,” said Al Mezel. “We should be respected in that chamber.”
On scene all day, members of the police tactical unit and patrol officers stood close by as taxi drivers began to protest loudly through the corridors of city hall.
“He’s a racist,” yelled one driver.
“He’s calling us second-class citizens. We are not. We are taxpayers,” yelled another.
Al Mezel also questioned why so many police were stationed at City Hall.
“They think we are criminals,” he said.
As taxi drivers left City Hall, they said they wouldn’t respect any bylaw that forced them to install cameras in their vehicles and repeatedly threatened to go on strike.
“The whole city will be shut down,” said Al Mezel. “We will not accept this and we will take action. We will not install the cameras.”
O’Brien attempted to clarify his comments after the drivers left and said he’s concerned with the public safety of all citizens, including drivers.
“I don’t know how they could have taken my comments otherwise,” he said. “There are benefits for passengers and drivers.”
O’Brien was also quick to point out that the night before the vote, a cab driver was assaulted and robbed by two men who then stole his vehicle and that if a security camera was installed the crime might have been prevented.
Mohamed Alsadi, national representative for CAW Local 462, said the mayor’s remark was regrettable and a strike is a possibility.
“It’s very real,” he said, and added there is $70 million in the union’s strike fund. “If I tell you it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” he said.
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