Ride sharing and sexual assaults: protections for women in Ontario
In today’s society, rideshare companies offer an affordable and easy way to get to your destination; but who really is the person behind the wheel driving you or your teenager around? That is a thought that is often overlooked due to the convenience of ordering a driver at a discounted rate at the touch of your phone.
I am often out with parents on Friday or Saturday evenings, who use the Uber app on their phone to order rides for their teenagers to get to and from whatever event is going on that evening. The mother will comment to me that they feel that their child is “safe” when they see the vehicle pick them up and then drop them off on their phone, but I always ask myself…”what types of safety precautions are put in place for these teens, especially young women, who are entering the vehicle? What types of background checks are done to ensure the teen is safe to ride alone or with a group of other young women? These types questions are being asked about ridesharing companies like Uber, which has been in the media as of late due to recent allegations of sexual misconduct and physical assaults between their drivers and female passengers.
Previously, if you had been sexually assaulted or harassed as a passenger or driver in an Uber, the incident was dealt with behind closed doors by way of an arbitration. This, for the most part, kept any past incidents quiet and confidential, which left the public unaware of what occurred. Recently, Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi has been working on making changes within the company and repairing Uber’s image. Starting in the summer of 2018, Uber USA will be changing their policy regarding allegations of sexual assaults so that a private arbitration will not be the only avenue a victim can choose to pursue her claim. This means that cases can now move forward in open courts, which will, in turn, bring about more public awareness and accountability to this important issue.
I am sure Uber Canada will follow suit, shortly; however, it is unlikely that such a “closed door” clause would have been upheld in Ontario as it conflicts with s. 7 of the Consumer Protection Act. In addition, more protection has been added to victims of sexual assault in Ontario. In March 2016, the Limitations Act was amended to remove the time period for which civil claims based on sexual assaults can be brought. In other words, if you have been sexually assaulted but have yet to come forward about it, you have the opportunity to do so and not be limited to the two year period after the assault occurred. This is especially important to keep in mind because many sexual assaults that take place go unreported.
In the wake of all this reporting of sexual assaults by female passengers using rideshare companies, something positive is on the horizon in Toronto; the latest ride-sharing company called DriveHer Transportation. DriveHer is serving the Greater Toronto Area and uses only female drivers, who all undergo a screening test with background checks. The company aims to make women feel safe within a male-dominated industry and at times when they enter these cars alone and in a vulnerable state.