York Regional Police charged Uber driver with alleged sexual assault of a female passenger in Vaughan.
In a move that could have ramifications for the ongoing regulatory battle between Uber and the City of Toronto, police have arrested one of the popular ride-booking app’s drivers for allegedly sexually assaulting a female passenger in Vaughan.
The arrest comes as the California-based Uber, which entered the Toronto market in 2012, attempts to fend off accusations that it’s not as safe as traditional taxi companies.
Prior to the alleged assault, the city had already taken Uber to court to seek a permanent injunction against its operations in Toronto. City officials and the taxi industry allege the ride-booking service is unregulated and poses a threat to public safety.
Since first launching in San Francisco in 2010, Uber has expanded rapidly around the globe, attracting customers with promises of greater convenience and lower fares compared to conventional taxis. But serious safety concerns have trailed the company’s success.
In December 2014, a 46-year-old Boston Uber driver was arrested for allegedly driving a young woman to a secluded location and raping her. The same month, the government of Delhi, India banned Uber when a woman accused one of its drivers of raping her after she fell asleep in his vehicle.
In Toronto, some of Uber’s critics saw Monday’s arrest of a Mississauga man as vindication of their concerns about the company. “Perils of the unregulated sharing economy,” tweeted Tannis Waugh, a North Annex lawyer.
Councillor Jim Karygiannis (open Jim Karygiannis’s policard), one of Uber’s strongest opponents at City Hall, predicted the arrest could turn council against the company.
“I wouldn’t let my daughters or my wife ride in an Uber cab because the (drivers) have not been vetted properly,” he said. “I’ve got great concerns about this.”
Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath, in an emailed statement to the Star, called the alleged assault “disturbing.”
“Upon hearing of these reports, we immediately removed the driver in question from the Uber platform,” she wrote. “We have been in touch with York Regional Police and will continue to assist in any way we can.”
Heath didn’t respond to further questions about how the alleged assault might affect the company’s efforts to convince the public that Uber rides are safe.
Instead she referred the Star to the safety section of its website, which states that drivers with its UberX service must pass background checks more thorough than those required for Toronto taxi drivers, and that the ride-booking app displays a driver’s name, photo and licence plate number prior to arrival to ensure there are “no random pickups.”
While this week’s arrest will likely be used as a political cudgel by Uber’s detractors, existing regulations haven’t prevented similar incidents from occurring in the licensed taxi fleet.
In January 2014 a woman who flagged down a Toronto cab was allegedly followed and sexually assaulted by its driver as she left the vehicle. A 2013 Star investigation found 255 cabbies retained their licences even after the city tried to take them off the road for incidents that included drunk driving and sexual assault.
The latest Uber incident began early Sunday. According to York Regional Police spokeswoman Const. Laura Nicolle, an Uber driver picked up three women near King St. W and Bathurst St. around 3 a.m. He dropped off two at locations in York Region and as he approached the final drop-off, he allegedly told the remaining passenger she could pay by cash or “other means.”
Nicolle said the passenger interpreted the remark as an indication the driver was “looking for some type of sexual contact” and asked to be let out. Police allege the driver then parked, followed her out of the vehicle and assaulted her. Osamah Al-Mandalawi, 25, of Mississauga, was arrested on Monday and charged with sexual assault.
Daniel Tisch, the president of Argyle Communications and an expert in crisis communications, said Uber will take a “significant risk” with its reputation if it doesn’t do more to challenge accusations that it’s unsafe.
“Of course everybody would expect that you’re going to be disturbed by the incident and that you’re going to co-operate with the authorities,” he said. “So the question then becomes: what are you doing beyond the basics?”
Source: Toronto Star