Friday, January 22, 2010

Man gets 90 days in jail

From the Kingston Whig-Standard Online:

A 24-year-old man who behaved outrageously toward a Kingston taxi driver after a night in Kingston's entertainment district more than a year ago has been sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Kushwinder S. Brar spent 16 days in pretrial custody after he threatened to "poke" the cabby with a small knife on his key-chain when ordered out of the car.

He has also been given 12 months of probation and ordered to abstain from alcohol during that time. He's prohibited from frequenting bars, taverns and other places where alcohol is dispensed, except licensed dining rooms between noon and 2 p.m. or 6 and 8 p.m., for the purpose of consuming meals.

Brar pleaded guilty in Kingston's Ontario Court of Justice in November to threatening an Amey's Taxi driver a year earlier and possession of a weapon -- his pocket knife -- for a purpose dangerous to the public peace. He also pleaded guilty to a subsequent violation last June of the alcohol abstention condition attached to his bail while the first two charges remained outstanding.

His sentencing was put over to this week to allow for the preparation of a pre-sentence report.

At the time of Brar's pleas, assistant Crown attorney Ross Drummond told the court that his victim, on the night of Nov. 16, 2008, had been working the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift when he picked up Brar and a male companion at Princess and Division streets.

The two passengers initially asked to be taken to Bayridge Drive and Front Road, but Drummond told Justice Rommel Masse they began to debate en route about a possible change in destination to Denny's restaurant.

The taxi driver kept driving while they were trying to work it out, which apparently enraged Brar, who, according to Drummond, grew increasingly belligerent with the cab driver.

Ultimately, he said, Brar's insults expanded to include the driver's mother, who he called a whore.

By then, Drummond said, the taxi was near Palace Road and the driver pulled over around Wright Crescent and ordered both men out of his cab.

Brar wasn't inclined to co-operate, however, and, according to the prosecutor, instead of getting out of the taxi, he pulled out a small pocket knife attached to his key chain and brandished it at the driver, asking: "You don't want to get poked, do you?"

Drummond said the cabby immediately raised his hands in a gesture of surrender but managed to also hit his panic button, which summoned fellow drivers.

Masse was told that Brar was arrested but subsequently released on bail.

Seven months later, on June 9, 2009, he was charged with violating the terms of his release.

According to Drummond, Kingston Police investigating a complaint about a possible impaired driver that night pulled over a small silver car traveling north on Princess Street. Brar was a passenger in the car and appeared to have been drinking, which a quick computer check revealed was a contravention of his bail conditions.

The prosecutor told Masse that Brar disclosed to police following that second arrest that he'd had five beer because he was scheduled to make a court appearance the following day to "figure out if I go to jail."

After hearing the facts of the matter, which Brar didn't dispute, Masse demanded to know why he'd treated the cab driver so shabbily.

Brar told him that the man had refused to pull his cab to the side of the road and wait while he and his friend settled on their destination, which led to an argument.

"So, you were willing to waste his time?" Masse snapped at him. "He's a busy man."

Brar's defence lawyer, John Ecclestone, requested a pre-sentence report, telling Masse that he expected it to support his contention that "this ugly incident is not who my client is, or, more importantly, who he's going to be."

By the time that assessment was completed and in the hands of the judge, however, Ecclestone had to admit the report was less positive than he'd hoped.

Masse observed that it was, in fact, "not favourable," and Crown attorney Bruce Griffith, who handled the sentencing, recommended 90 days of jail and probation for a year, based in part on its findings.

Still, Ecclestone told Masse that his client is basically, "a decent young man who's turned things around." He advised the judge, for example, that Brar assists his family by taking on tasks like the household cooking. His mother, according to the defence lawyer, has rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, health problems that forced her to retire and severely limit the scope of her activities.

Ecclestone further suggested that "alcohol was a key factor in this negative behaviour" and he told the Masse that Brar's father intends to relocate with his wife and son on the West Coast.

Both of Brar's older sisters are psychiatrists, he disclosed, and the family's plan is to have their son enroll in university in Seattle, where one of his sisters lives.

Masse, in passing sentence, told Brar simply: "You have to go to jail," and made a point of stressing to him, "your behaviour toward this man was completely unjustified."

Copyright © 2010 The Whig Standard

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cameras in cabs ineffective, expert says

From the Whig-Standard Online:

When Aaron Doyle arrived in Kingston last week for a conference on closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance in Kingston, he was immediately presented with a tough audience for his argument that taxi cameras don't protect drivers: a Kingston cabbie.

Doyle is a Carleton University criminologist who has been part of a team evaluating how such cameras are being used in Ottawa, their privacy implications and their effectiveness.

On his way downtown, he told the driver briefly about his research, and the next thing he knew the cabbie was taking him slowly down the street where driver David Krick was murdered last year and hotly arguing in favour of the tiny in-car cameras that some city cabs carry.

"We drove past where it happened, on a street not far from here, and the driver pointed out where it happened and he was asking me, 'How could you argue against these cameras?' " Doyle recalled.

"It was a very interesting conversation, to say the least."

But like other experts at the Camera Surveillance In Canada workshop, held by the university's Surveillance Studies Centre and partially underwritten by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, he argued such cameras are a knee-jerk response to crime that people think should be effective, and which divert money and attention from more effective strategies.

In the case of cab cameras, Doyle noted that there has been no study out of any city that uses them showing that crime against cabbies falls when they are installed or that they act as a deterrent when passengers know they are being watched.

Taxi drivers -- whose working conditions involve working alone with their backs to often-intoxicated strangers and who regularly travel to isolated areas while carrying cash after dark -- face 20 times the amount of violence that an ordinary citizen does and are four times as likely to be murdered on the job as a police officer.

While it seems logical that no one in their right mind would attack a cab driver in front of a camera, Doyle noted the problem is that no one in their right mind would attack a taxi driver, period.

He noted the argument for cameras assumes potential criminals have thought things though first and are not desperate for cash, mentally ill or drunk or stoned -- all big ifs when it comes to the kind of people who think armed robbery of taxi drivers is a good idea.

"You would have to be a fool to assault a driver in front of a camera, but put bluntly, you'd have to be acting pretty foolishly to attack a driver in the first place."

The cameras are often aggressively marketed to cities and cab companies by the companies who sell them. Often they are marketed with little consultation with drivers, who face a four-figure bill for installing them and who fear they could be used by their supervisors to spy on them and discipline them for minor infractions, all issues in Ottawa.

And Doyle noted the public, on whom the cameras are trained, are not consulted at all, even though a legitimate fear is that videotaped drunken escapades in the back seat could wind up on the Internet in the manner of shows likeTaxi Cab Confessions.

Doyle's experience with the cabbie cam is not unusual as people generally believe that surveillance cameras are more effective than they are and record everything, even though in a typical multi-cam array, only a few seconds of data are saved each minute in order to conserve storage space.

Danielle Dawson, a master's candidate in sociology at Queen's University, presented the findings of a multi-national survey that found the majority of people believe the cameras are effective.

And although people don't know much about how they are actually used, most also believe they have a sophisticated understanding of such cameras' use and capabilities.

"People feel that they are experts in it because of what they have seen on the media," she said, pointing to CCTV crime footage aired on the news and shows likeCopsorBig Brother.

"[These shows] hype up the capability of CCTV and contribute to why people think CCTV is so effective."

Dawson also noted that while the overwhelming majority of people believe cameras deter crime even though there is no evidence to support that belief, people also don't want that supposed crime-fighting capability looking at where they live, according to the survey.

"Even the people who believe that CCTV is effective don't want it being used in their neighbourghoods," she said.

Copyright © 2010 The Whig Standard

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Accessible Taxi Report

In early October, a draft of the Accessible Taxi Report was posted here. The report has been prepared by BMA Management Consultants. A final version of the report is now available. Click the link below to read the updated report.

Accessible Taxi Report - Kingston