Yellowknife City Hall sounded more like a court of law than a municipal chamber on Monday as councillors heard an appeal by a cab driver facing revocation of his taxi permit.
Found guilty of common assault by a Yellowknife judge in November, taxi driver Abdullahi Ali faced the loss his permit under rules set out in the City of Yellowknife’s livery licence bylaw.
“Administration had no choice but to revoke Mr Ali’s chauffeur’s permit,” said Keith Sulzer, a City of Yellowknife lawyer, on Monday.
Ali, however, appealed – asking councillors instead for a one-year suspension. He argued this would allow him to prove he was trustworthy.
Pleading his case, Ali said he had been driving a taxi in Yellowknife for 22 years. He said the job was the only way he knew to support his wife and his three children, all born in Yellowknife. Fifteen of Ali’s supporters accompanied him to Monday’s hearing.
According to Sulzer, Ali’s version of the incident at the heart of the matter differs significantly from the judge’s interpretation when convicting Ali of common assault and handing down a suspended sentence.
Reading from a court transcript provided to councillors, Sulzer said the judge found Ali had placed his hand on a boy’s thigh while in the cab. The judge decided this constituted assault, Sulzer added, but had doubts about the sexual nature of the assault and did not find him guilty of sexual assault.
Sulzer, still reading from the transcript, said Ali argued the youth had invented the story to justify not paying the fare. The judge did not find that believable and rejected Ali’s testimony. (The identity of the youth is protected by a publication ban.)
“Administration submits that council should come to the same conclusion: that it would not be in the public interest to allow Mr Ali to drive a taxi,” Sulzer said.
Ali, defending himself to councillors, characterized the incident as an act of self-defence – an “unfortunate incident with a bad passenger.” In a letter to council, he said a passenger refused to pay him and became aggressive after Ali’s card machine ran out of paper to print a receipt.
“When he grabbed my arm to take his card back from me – as I was discussing taking him to an ATM machine – I felt threatened and pushed him away by putting my hand against his chin,” Ali said. He said the person ran away without paying, later making a complaint of sexual assault to the RCMP.
Ali said he now knows better and would let a passenger who doesn’t want to pay leave, rather than the actions he says he took. He related the realities taxi drivers face, including having to “sometimes fight, sometimes die” when on the job. During his presentation to council, he brought up the killing of fellow Yellowknife resident Ahmed Mahamud Ali, found dead inside his cab in November 2018. A father and son pleaded guilty to charges in connection with that case.
Despite the competing versions of events, councillors were asked to decide not on what happened that night, but on whether Ali’s appeal should be granted. Council voted unanimously to uphold revocation of the permit, which administration had argued was the only suitable course of action given the judge’s verdict.
Ali declined to comment when approached by Cabin Radio after Monday’s vote.