Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Ottawa Courthouse Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Cornerstone contentOpinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Can government ignore its own laws to benefit select businesses? Ottawa court case asks

Ottawa City Hall Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This column originally appeared on the True North news site and ran in Taxi News on January 2nd, 2023. It is being re-published November 27th in advance of final legal arguments which will be heard in the Ottawa Taxi trial beginning on November 28, 2023.

*****

Are governments in Canada subject to the laws they write?

If so, what are the consequences (if any) when the very bodies that write the statutes willfully ignore them?

Two court cases are proceeding right now. Both are against municipal governments who wrote and ignored laws so cavalierly that they put consumers at risk, and cost thousands of small business people virtually everything they owned.

Although they may seem small and industry-specific, these cases should matter to every Canadian whose work, business and life can be decimated by government on an ephemeral whim.  Or those whose safety could be endangered in a regulated business simply allowed to ignore regulation. Or those who expect the services required by Disabilities Acts to be available.

In Toronto, Beck Taxi has launched a civil suit against the City for its training policy, which refuses to recognize the City’s own three-week training course while accepting an internet program a few hours long.

In Ottawa, a class-action lawsuit alleges that City negligently enforced its former Taxi by-law and unlawfully amended its by-law in to permit rideshares like Uber to operate.

Further, this suit claims that in failing to enforce its by-law and in changing the by-law, the City discriminated on the basis of race, colour, ethnic origin, or language, contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code.

Ottawa’s actions also fly directly in the face of its own “Equity and Inclusion Lens Handbook,” which directs staff “to be consistent and coherent in our efforts to move equity and inclusion forward in our services.”

If equity and inclusion doesn’t matter in a case where 90 per cent of industry members are immigrants, does it matter anywhere at all?

If Diversity, Inclusion and Equity doesn’t matter in an industry in which 90 per cent of members are immigrants, does it matter anywhere? Photo: Taxi News

The Ottawa taxi court case was certified in January 2018, five long years ago. Both Ottawa and Toronto re-wrote their by-laws in 2016 to legalize ridesharing, which until that point had been operating illegally but was never prosecuted for doing so.

A lot has changed in five years, including the election of a new mayor in Ottawa and new councillors in both cities. An even bigger change has been the attitude toward Uber with the release of the Uber Files in July, 2022 by the International Consortium of Independent Journalists.

As revealed in the Uber Files, politicians around the globe were targeted by Uber lobbyists “spending gobs of cash on a global influence machine deployed to win favors from politicians, regulators and other leaders.”

Let’s be honest: municipal officials were duped. Just as there are no free lunches, there are no free rides. Costs including vehicle purchase and maintenance, fuel, insurance, and a driver’s living wage did not drop to half when rideshare entered the transportation market loaded with venture funding strategically spent to subsidize rides and eliminate competition.

Now, markets muse thatLyft may go bankrupt, Uber has never turned a profit, and rising interest rates are encouraging the venture capitalists that subsidized rideshare to look for better investments.

Taxi operators who diligently obeyed every law governments decreed did not deserve to see their hard work and lifetime investments made worthless by schemes based on fantasy and spin.

This is not just an issue for the Taxi industry: Canadians need to know if governments are compelled to abide by their own laws. If they are, what happened when rideshare arrived was wrong and needs correction.

If not, let’s admit it and stop misleading law-abiding business owners and investors before they sink any more resources into a capricious Canadian system.

Canadians also want to know if diversity, inclusion and equity guidelines actually mean anything.

If they do, Ottawa is clearly in violation of its own guidelines and needs to correct the situation. If they do not matter, let’s just admit it and stop misleading immigrants we invite here to build the very nation that will wipe out all their work on a whim.

Let’s be honest.  

*****

This column originally appeared in True North.