Sarah Stoodley is the minister of Digital Government and Service N.L., the department responsible for ride-hailing companies. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)
Digital Government and Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley says the owner of a ride-hailing company who stands accused of sexual assault was not backgrounded by her department because he wasn't going to drive for his company.
Stoodley spoke with CBC News on Thursday, nearly two weeks after her department granted the province's first ride-hailing licence to Redsea Riding and promptly suspended it when "new information came to light."
The man is facing charges of assault, sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, making explicit material available to a child under 16 and exposing his genitals.
Stoodley said the company met all the requirements at the time of its application. The department only needed background checks on the drivers, and not on the owner of the company.
"In this instance, the licensee was not a driver and it would not be lawful for that person to have interacted with the public in person in a driving capacity," she said.
The province announced on Jan. 19 that it was granting a licence to Redsea Riding. It learned about the "additional information" — believed to be the criminal charges — that same day.
The province told media outlets it had suspended the licence on Jan. 23.
Vulnerable sector check vs. criminal record check
While the onus is on companies to provide criminal record checks on their drivers, the St. John's Status of Women's Council doesn't believe that's the best approach to minimize the potential for harm.
Bridget Clarke, advocacy coordinator for the council, said more care should have been taken given previous cases of taxi drivers and police officers accused or convicted of assaulting passengers.
"It's especially disappointing, given the kind of local culture and the prevalence of violence happening in these kinds of spaces," Clarke told CBC News. "I also think this situation is an opportunity to think critically about criminal record checks."
Listen | Bridget Clarke speaks with On The Go host Anthony Germain
Clarke believes the use of criminal record checks is problematic for a few reasons: They only show a list of someone's criminal convictions and no other context for those offences, and they are often used to disqualify a person from a role without considering the kind of context that can come with a vulnerable sector check instead.
"[A vulnerable sector check] doesn't automatically eliminate anyone who has a criminal record, but rather it is a chance to kind of explore the nature of somebody's record, and identify patterns that could be really dangerous and problematic in this kind of industry for example," Clarke said.
Bridget Clarke, advocacy coordinator with the St. John’s Status of Women Council, says the situation is disappointing given the province's track record for allegations involving taxi drivers and police officers offering rides. (CBC)
Vulnerable sector checks can also turn up more information, such as any outstanding warrants, unresolved court cases and pardoned convictions.
Clarke said this is a complex issue, but she hopes it isn't used as an example to exclude anyone with a criminal record from working for a ride-sharing company.
"It doesn't mean that they shouldn't work ever," she said.
"But what we're saying is that for this particular situation, it's a really good example of an industry that needs some careful consideration of someone's background and the kind of pattern we're seeing here."