Halifax taxi driver accused of sexually assaulting female passenger
A Halifax taxi driver is accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger.
Halifax Regional Police responded to a report of a sexual assault around 3:20 a.m. Saturday.
Police allege the taxi driver drove a woman to a residence in Halifax and sexually assaulted her while she was in the vehicle.
Officers arrested the 44-year-old man at police headquarters in Halifax on Wednesday.
Lesianu Zewdiewas Hweld of Halifax has been charged with one count of sexual assault. He was released to appear in Halifax provincial court at a later date.
It's the latest of several sexual assault charges against taxi drivers in HRM and it has some people questioning the safety of catching a cab in the city.
"I think it's a little scary as a woman who lives in the city and kinda counts on either public transport or taxis to get around," said Mirna Gerges.
In the last two years, at least four drivers have been accused of sexual assault.
"I'd definitely feel hesitant about it or feel uncomfortable," said Andrea Mayo. "Sometimes, I notice that I do the key ring thing where I put keys between my fingers or have my mom's number already in my phone and I just need to press."
The charge against Hweld has not yet been tested in court.
"The investigation provided that a female passenger had been assaulted by a male taxi driver when being driven to a residence in Halifax," said Halifax Regional Police spokesman Const. John MacLeod.
According to city documents, Hweld drove with a suspended provincial license last year and was unable to renew his taxi license as a result.
He was only back on the roads for a few months before being charged with sexual assault.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage was blunt.
"It angers me," he said. "As a mayor, but also as a father of kids who take taxis."
Mayor Savage says the municipality is working to add more checks and balances to keep people safe in cabs.
"We do criminal records checks on drivers and potential drivers," Savage said. "We look at things like cultural sensitivity, as well as what kind of sexual training people should have we just have zero tolerance for sexual assaults of any kind."
Jackie Stevens with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre says more needs to happen to ensure women feel safe using all forms of public transportation.
"A safety audit needs to be done and work with the community and people who provide public transportation," Stevens said. "How can we work to improve those services but also to send that strong message that this is a criminal offense and that this is not going to be tolerated."
Many women say they are nervous to get a taxi and many say they would rather walk long distances alone than to get in a taxi by themselves. With the municipality adding new licenses to taxis here in HRM, we could see more on our streets and that's making a lot of people nervous. Many are calling for tighter restrictions and an overall safety audit of the industry.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Amy Stoodley.