One taxi driver convicted of a criminal offence got his licence back while another will have to stay off the road after Halifax’s License Appeal Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The three-member committee — currently made up of Mark Everett, Ryan Baxter, and Carine O’Brien — was created following sweeping changes to the taxi industry’s regulations passed in 2019. It’s taking taxi licensing appeals over from the councillor-comprised Appeals Standing Committee. This was the committee’s first full meeting after it deferred the entire agenda at the last one in July, and the two taxi licence appeals on the agenda came forward to Wednesday.
First up was Kirk Withrow, who applied for a taxi driver’s licence in August 2020. The municipality’s licensing authority denied Withrow’s application because he was convicted in 2019 of laundering proceeds of crime, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and trafficking in schedule substances, in this case cannabis.
Withrow was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and he told the committee he served seven months and he’s still on parole for another four months. He said he was driving a cab for Bob’s Taxi the whole time he was on bail awaiting trial, from 2015 to 2019, and now that he’s served his time, he thinks he should be able to drive again.
His role in the conspiracy to traffic marijuana was overblown, Withrow told the committee. He said he had picked a man up from the airport, dropped him off again a few days later, and done that same routine a few times. He later noticed a “tracking device” in his vehicle, Withrow said, and stopped picking up the passenger. Withrow said he was offered immunity if he testified against the fare, but he refused and ended up pleading guilty to the charges.
“I never saw one bit of marijuana, I never sold any marijuana. I just picked a guy up and got charged in the overall conspiracy,” Withrow said.
Though it acknowledges “Withrow was not the architect of this enterprise,” the sentencing decision from Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady tells a different story.
“The investigation established that Mr. Withrow played a critical role in Halifax and Dartmouth. Essentially, he worked with other conspirators in Halifax and Vancouver to meet couriers at the airport and collect suitcases of cannabis for delivery to the purchasers. He then collected suitcases of cash and drove that cash and the courier back to the Halifax airport,” Coady wrote.
“When the police curtain came down, Mr. Withrow acknowledged knowing what was in the suitcases going each way.”
Coady also makes mention of the device in Withrow’s car.
“The probe in Mr. Withrow’s car tells the Court that he knew in 2015 that this day would ultimately arrive. It was a calculated gamble,” Coady wrote.
Baxter, the committee member, said he doesn’t think cannabis trafficking should make someone ineligible to drive a taxi, given it’s a less serious controlled substance.
“I would anticipate the goals of sentencing have been achieved here. He’s been deterred from engaging in future conduct of this behaviour, I would anticipate, having served seven months imprisonment,” Baxter said.
Everett, who chairs the committee, agreed, though he had some concerns about Withrow’s story.
“I am a little bit concerned from some of the comments that did I hear from you Mr. Withrow, that despite the significant convictions under the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that, for lack of a better term, you were an unwitting participant in the entire thing but yet served some significant time and continue to be on parole,” Everett said. “Those are concerns that I do have as well with your forthrightness to the committee this afternoon.”
Despite those concerns, the committee voted unanimously in favour of Withrow’s appeal. That means he’ll be able to get his licence back and start driving a taxi again.
Third time not the charm for driver with long list of convictions
The second appeal heard during Wednesday’s meeting came from Douglas James Brine.
Brine applied to renew his taxi driver’s and owner’s licences in March of this year, and the municipality discovered two new criminal charges, one for assault causing bodily harm in November 2020 and another for failure to comply with undertaking while at large in January 2021. As a result, the licensing authority denied Brine’s application.
He appealed the denial, writing in a letter to the committee that he’d been in a fight with his girlfriend, who he said abused him, and he ended up getting charged with assault. Appearing by telephone on Wednesday, Brine told his story again, alleging that his ex-girlfriend has substance abuse issues that caused her to lash out at him.
While it was his first time in front of this new committee, it wasn’t Brine’s first appeal. The Halifax Examiner summed up the history ahead of the committee’s July meeting, when Brine’s case was on the agenda:
In 2016, Brine was sentenced to five months in jail for assault with a weapon, two counts of uttering threats to cause bodily harm, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and failure to comply with court conditions. Brine was also convicted of assault with a weapon in 2013.
This is Brine’s third licence appeal. He’s been successful two other times.
As StarMetro Halifax reported in May 2019, Halifax regional councillors on the Appeals Standing Committee gave Brine his licence back after he was charged with assault just months after being convicted of resisting or obstructing a peace officer:
“The new charge, I was a little intoxicated walking home,” Brine told the committee.
“I still attend (Alcoholics Anonymous meetings) every day. I was having a bad night there. I had a little too much to drink, was walking home.”
Councillor David Hendsbee argued Brine’s licence should be renewed because he wasn’t driving a taxi at the time of the offence.
“If he had an obstruction or resisting police and he was operating a motor vehicle or his taxi at the time, I would have no problem with this,” Hendsbee said.
“But this being the situation, where he was on private business, intoxicated in a public area on the sidewalk, nothing to do with his job, not endangering any public in regard to operating a taxi under any influence, I find this a little far-reaching, and I’m prepared to grant the appeal.”
Brine said the assault charge stems from an incident with a former roommate and he told Star Halifax after the meeting that he expects the charge to be withdrawn.
He then went on to tell the Star “at least I didn’t rape anybody or assault anybody in my cab.”
The committee voted 2-1 in favour of allowing Brine’s appeal. Councillors Hendsbee and Russell Walker voted yes, and Councillor Matt Whitman voted no.
It’s the second time the committee has given Brine a break. In 2017, following his convictions in 2016, the committee voted in favour of a motion from Hendsbee to overturn the licensing authority’s decision to deny Brine’s application for renewal, according to the minutes for that meeting.
In researching for that meeting in July, the Examiner also discovered another criminal charge against Brine, from June 2021. Municipal staff at Wednesday’s meeting told the Examiner they were unaware of that charge.
Given the municipality didn’t know about that charge, the committee didn’t hear about it either. And none of Brine’s past criminal convictions were divulged to the committee.
Municipal solicitor Karen MacDonald told the committee that past criminal convictions had already been dealt with through previous appeals processes, so they weren’t relevant to the committee’s discussion on this appeal.
Baxter asked Brine about his criminal history anyway, and Brine lied, telling the committee he only has one conviction, for resisting arrest in 2012. Municipal staff didn’t correct the record.
Even without the facts, the committee voted unanimously against Brine’s appeal. If he’s found not guilty of the assault charge, which returns to court in February, he’ll be able to reapply for his licence.
Brine’s appeal package included a letter from Satellite Taxi saying it would dispatch for him if he got his licence back.