Cabbie Defends Right to Keep Jewish Items in Taxi

Published: April 29th 2010
in News » Local

Montreal cab driver Arieh Perecowicz.
Pic: Arieh Perecowicz

A veteran Montreal taxi driver is challenging the constitutionality of tickets handed to him for adorning his cab with personal items, saying fines for Jewish objects amount to an attack on his religious rights.


Arieh Perecowicz, 66, has been driving a taxi throughout Montreal for the last 44 years and never received complaints from his customers about the personal items he keeps in his cab.


In December 2006, seemingly out of the blue, Montreal’s taxi bureau began issuing him tickets, saying he was in violation of section 98 of the city’s taxi bylaws that stipulates cab drivers cannot leave objects in their taxis that are not required for service.


“Why now and not before? That question you’ll have to ask (the taxi bureau),” Perecowicz told Shalom Life.


 The cab driver said he was stunned when he was initially ticketed as he is regularly inspected four to six times per year and the same inspectors had given his cab a passing grade in the past.


“They inspected me previously but they never said anything. It was not an issue,” he said.


The religious items include two mezuzahs embedded in the post between the front and rear doors, a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the official Jewish prayer for the road (on a small piece of paper held by a clip screwed into the dashboard). The non-religious personal effects are photos of his daughter, son and wife, two poppies and a Canadian flag.


Since the first ticket, Perecowicz has received six more tickets, the last one in October 2008. He is challenging the fines on the grounds that religious items are a charter right, guaranteed under freedom of religion and freedom of expression. His case is currently before a Montreal judge.


“It came to me as a shock. I’ve never had a complaint. I’ve never had anyone mentioning that they were offended,” he said. “I’ve never had anyone questioning why I have them there. Most people don’t even know they are there.”


During his decades-long career, he has driven in all areas of the island of Montreal, picking up passengers from all backgrounds and walks of life without any negative comments, he added.


If the fines were for having an unclean taxi, he would have paid them and moved on. In fact, Perecowicz is claiming that suspicious timing has led him to believe he was targeted for spearheading a two and a half year campaign to publicize the Montreal taxi bureau’s laissez faire attitude towards illegal taxis.


A few days before the first ticket was issued, Perecowicz’s criticism of the bureau was featured on CTV News.


“In my opinion, the whole motive was to shut me up and it ended up rolling down the mountain and now it has become an issue,” he said.


On April 21, Perecowicz spend the day in a Montreal courtroom. The cabbie is defending himself. For two hours he launched questions at a taxi bureau inspector who insisted that the fines were for having a taxi cluttered with personal belongings and not related to the fact that they are Jewish items.


After Perecowicz and the prosecution were not able to reach an agreement, the judge scheduled seven more full days for the trial, which will last into 2011.


Related articles: (Arieh Perecowicz, taxi, cab, Montreal, charter, religious freedom, mezuzah, rebbe, prayer for the road)
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