A Brokenhead Ojibway Nation woman was left scratched and bruised after an alleged assault by a Winnipeg cab driver early Sunday.
Now, the woman, her family and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs want to shed light on what they allege is a common occurrence in city taxis: drivers targeting and attacking First Nations people, particularly women.
The taxi company, meanwhile, said its driver was assaulted by the passengers.
During a news conference Tuesday, 19-year-old Serenity Morrisseau said she was at The Forks skate park with friends at about 1 a.m. Sunday, when the three of them called for a Unicity Taxi to get home to Arlington Street.
The driver, Morrisseau alleges, demanded payment up front: $25 or $30, when she wanted to pay $10. She paid $20, she said.
Then, at a red light on Portage Avenue at Carlton Street, Morrisseau said the trip took a bizarre turn.
Morrisseau said a passenger in an adjacent taxi yelled over to ask the girls to get in his cab to go to a party, which the friends laughed at. She claimed her cab driver told the driver and passenger in the other cab they should take the young women along.
"Basically pawn us off on the cab that was right beside us," Morrisseau told reporters at the downtown offices of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. "My first reaction was... you don't even know if we're all over the age of 18."
She alleges the cab driver then got angry, and she began to videotape him, wedging her phone in the safety shield between the driver and the back seat.
At Portage and Arlington the driver slammed on the brakes, Morrisseau said. Her friends and the driver all got out of the vehicle, and she alleges he punched her in the face four times through the open back window. Her friend then attempted to stop the cabbie from getting back behind the wheel, but he drove away with Morrisseau still in the back seat, she said.
She unlocked the door and partially fell out.
"I was just hanging outside the cab, I could feel the burning on my feet coming from being dragged at, like, 30 kilometres an hour down Arlington," she said, adding she considered letting go, but saw a vehicle driving behind the cab. Instead, she screamed for help.
"I decided that, 'OK, he's not going to stop, I need to actually do something,'" she said.
Nearing the intersection with St. Matthews Avenue, Morrisseau said she jammed her hand through the gap between the safety shield and the cab's ceiling, grabbing the driver's head and his eyes.
Her long nails were visibly broken Tuesday.
"If I hadn't stuck my hand in there and grabbed his face, and made him stop that car, I probably would not be sitting here," she said, adding she was worried she would be abducted.
Passersby, including a couple in a car and a cyclist, followed the cab, where it stopped on St. Matthews Avenue. She alleges the driver pulled her out of the car, and she was helped by others.
Unicity Taxi manager Satwinder Shahi said his driver is an honest man with a family who has worked for the company for 11 years, and that he was assaulted by the passengers.
He noted the cab had a camera, per regulation, and that the footage and audio is accessible to police through the city vehicle-for-hire bylaw.
"Everything is documented. We have very honest drivers," he said.
Officers responded to Arlington Street and Portage Avenue just before 1:10 a.m., Winnipeg police said.
"Officers met with each party. Both reported an assault, and both had injuries," Const. Jay Murray told the Free Press, noting the investigation is ongoing.
The incident was not an isolated event, said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.
"It is something that has been occurring for quite some time, despite some of the obstacles that impact victims. I want to... acknowledge the courage of Serenity to come forward and to highlight this issue," he told reporters, adding taxis should be a place of safety.
Morrisseau's mother, musician Tracy Bone, said there will be a gathering near the camps on the grounds of the Legislative Building at 5 p.m. Wednesday for people with similar experiences in taxis to share their stories and discuss possible resolutions.
Dumas said he planned to speak to his colleagues in the province and to police about the safety of Indigenous people in taxis.
"There's governing bodies that have allowed this culture where you can actually decide whether this young woman is disposable or not," he said.
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.