MONTREAL — Cote St. Luc taxi driver Arieh Perecowicz breathed a huge sigh of relief last March when taxis were finally allowed to carry religious items, an offence he was ticketed for and cost him months in court and thousands of dollars.
But Perecowicz, 67, launched a new battle last week after police were a no-show in an incident last month in which he pushed his vehicle’s “panic button” after two passengers, among other things, mocked the Jewish religious items in his vehicle and said that “Hitler didn’t do his job.”
The police were a no-show, Perecowicz said, because the panic button in his Diamond taxicab did not go directly to the police, as he had been led to believe by his employer, but to company dispatchers who were given the discretion to assess on their own whether to summon them.
“It is unbelievable,” Perecowicz said. “They are the ones who decide, and it will cost someone their life.”
On Oct. 2, Perecowicz picked up two male passengers on Wavell Road. They sat in the back seat and instructed him to take them to an intersection in Verdun, but gave no specific address.
Perecowicz, already suspicious, noticed immediately that both seemed heavily intoxicated on drugs, but showed, when asked, an ample supply of cash to pay for the trip.
Driving north on Westminster Avenue towar LaSalle and then Verdun, the passengers, he said, became abusive and hostile, made references to the Jewish items in his car and the Holocaust, and threatened to “trash” his vehicle.
At 1:40 p.m., Perecowicz decided to hit his “Code 13” panic button, but instead of police being summoned, a dispatcher called him on his cellphone “to see if I was all right.” Perecowicz said he could not talk but left the phone open on the seat so dispatch could listen in.
At 1:45 p.m., he pressed the panic button again.
Five minutes later, to Perecowicz’s utter astonishment, dispatch called one of passengers’ cellphones, a number it had through call display because it was used to order the taxi, and asked the client why he was “bothering the driver.”
“I think I went nuts inside when dispatch did that,” says Perecowicz. “They could have killed me.”
Finally, after slowly driving to Verdun to give police a chance to intervene, the passengers jumped out of the car at 2:03 p.m., 33 minutes after they first got in and 23 minutes after Perecowicz first hit the panic button.
All in all, he had hit the button five times. The police finally met up with him at 2:08 p.m., and he found out they had missed each other because dispatch had mistakenly told police his car was green, not the light silver-grey it actually is. Nor did dispatch provide police with his taxi’s dome or licence-plate numbers. Since the incident, Perecowicz says he has gotten only rationalizations from Diamond and various city and taxi officials as to why panic-button signals in city cabs go to company dispatchers and not directly to police.
“Most taxi drivers know nothing about this,” Perecowicz said, “but one day someone might die because of it.”