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January 6, 2000
Teens Arrested For Murder of Toronto Cabbie
R S Shankar
When one thinks of violence against cab drivers, the stories that generally come to mind are those of drivers in New York and Washington who constantly complain of crime-ridden neighborhoods and their reluctance to go into dangerous areas.
You are also likely to think of 25-year-old Kuldip Singh, who was shot in the head on New Year's night in New York, and whose killer is still at large. Singh was driving over-time to earn extra money for his wedding near Amritsar in a few weeks.
But in recent weeks, Toronto and the neighboring towns are also drawing attention for their escalating crime rate and the dangers cabbies face.
More than a quarter of the 7,000 taxi drivers in Toronto and neighboring towns can expect to be victims of crime while on the job, said Nabil Charbel, a trade union leader. Nearly 40 per cent of Toronto cabbies are immigrants.
"There is a lot of drugs in the city, and it is becoming dangerous day by day," says an Indian trader who left New York thinking that he was moving to a safer city. "Of course, Toronto is much safer than New York," he continues. "But you will find a lot of trouble-makers around you in Toronto and other nearby towns and cities.
Baljinder Singh Rai and Mohammadullah Saighani, both in their late 40s, were killed in the same week. Police on Wednesday said their slayings were not related, after they arrested Michael MacDonald, 18, and Stefan Miceli, 19, charging them with first-degree murder of Rai.
Many south Asians believe that robbers target immigrant cabbies because they look like easy targets. A substantial number of Toronto cabbies are south Asians, and with refugees from Afghanistan joining them in recent years. There are about 100 Afghani doctors and engineers who drive cabs because they cannot get license to practice their trade in Canada. Saighani was a medical doctor in Afghanistan. Many Indian students drive cabs on the weekends.
Rai, who drove a cab in Brampton, thought he was safe in the small city. He was stabbed many times and left to die in a deserted parking lot, allegedly by the teenagers, but he managed to alert passers-by who called police. He died in the hospital.
It is suspected he was killed after the teens robbed him. The father of two sons -- one of them being a polio victim -- Rai worked as a courier and drove a cab on the weekends to earn extra money. He had started his night shift after having dinner with his family and friends. Some of his friends suggested that he might not have had more than $ 25 on him when the alleged killers got into cab and forced him to drive to a lonely spot. The absence of a significant amount of money must have angered them, leading to murder, family members speculate.
About 125 cab drivers attended Rai's funeral. Many of them voiced their anger and frustration against violence. For every violent act that is reported, a cabbie said, over a dozen violations including fare beating, are not given serious attention.
Many taxi drivers demonstrated on Monday against the increasing violence; some had their meters down for many hours. And some went to the police headquarters demanding stronger protection.
Some protesters were also reminded of Abu Quraishi, 42, who decided to quit driving a cab after he stabbed 14 times in November during a failed robbery. He spent nearly three weeks in a hospital with wounds on his right arm, back, stomach, and chest.
Quraishi, who has been driving a cab for nearly five years, had been beaten up and robbed several times but it is the recent attack that led him to reconsider his options.
"There are not many options available to immigrants with little education in Toronto or Montreal," says Gurbhir Singh who decided to be a cabbie in New York after living in Toronto for a few weeks. "Even educated immigrants are doing badly. Naturally, many people are afraid to quit driving cabs."
The police vehemently deny the charge by some cab drivers that they don't get enough police protection. Police officials thought the criticism sprang from misplaced anger. Some cabbies said that while the police were quick to cite them for traffic violations and fine them, they took several hours to respond to crimes against cabbies.
But cabbies are coming under criticism, too.
Toronto Councilor Howard Moscow, chair of the new Toronto Licensing Committee, told reporters that nearly five years ago taxi-owners and drivers had rejected a proposal to the install shields separating them from passengers. The TLC may consider ordering the installations if most drivers and fleet owners change their minds.
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