No one wants to be the next Tina Fontaine.
That’s why Jocelyn Friesen is becoming a volunteer driver for IKWE Safe Ride.
The woman-only ridesharing service has been operating in Winnipeg for two years as an alternative to taxis.
“Everybody’s heard about Tina Fontaine,” said Friesen, who described why she can’t wait to start helping Indigenous girls and women get where they need to go safely.
“We have to stop it somewhere.”
IKWE is operated by volunteer drivers who donate a minimum of four hours per week. They use their own vehicles and book rides and fare donations via a Facebook page.
“I haven’t had one uncomfortable experience,” said customer Lisa Hodgins, one of 17,000 members of the page.
“Every time I’m with other women and we need to get anywhere, it’s like, ‘Let’s take IKWE’.”
One of the co-directors, Christine Brouzes, said it’s a sisterhood responding to years of complaints about sexual harassment from male cab drivers.
“It has not decreased – the number of stories we’re hearing at all regarding emotional abuse, intimidation that taxi drivers are inflicting on our community (members),” she said.
“Women get in taxis expecting to just get where they need to go. And not get out feeling violated, asked about their body parts, asked about what they’re doing in their private time.”
IKWE, which means “woman” in the Anishinabe language, says demand is not letting up and they need more people to join their force of 43 drivers.
But they won’t accept just anyone.
“They need to want to help our community and help keep women safe,” she said.
Fontaine’s disappearance was not linked to transportation, but to other public services the 15-year-old used while living in Winnipeg before her still-unsolved death in 2014.
Still, passengers have reported being sexually harassed or even sexually assaulted by cab drivers. Especially “vulnerable” people and members “of the LBGTQ community,” said Brouzes.
So along with providing an alternative, she said IKWE is competition with a message.
“We would love for taxi drivers – the existing taxi companies – to have a major overhaul in the attitude of each and every driver,” said Brouzes.
Winnipeg city council has recently opened the public transportation market to more lift-sharing companies like TappCar, Uber and Lyft.
But Hodgins said she’ll stick with IKWE.
“I feel like I know them; they’re like my sisters,” she said.
“It feels good knowing they’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.”