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'I don't want to face this kind of racism'
A.K. Brar expected his Saturday overnight shift for Dynasty Cabs to be like all the others he’s worked since he started driving a cab 14 months ago.
But the 24-year-old international student from India ended up being violently attacked on Sept. 29 by a passenger who also racially harassed Brar before the ride even started.
“Ninety-five per cent of the people I have met since coming to Cape Breton have been nice, welcoming. I have been invited to people’s homes to eat because they thought I might be lonely so far from home,” said the Cape Breton University student from Punjab, whose full name is Akashdeep Singh Brar.
“I have never had anything like this happen to me before in Cape Breton, ever … I don’t want to face this kind of racism here. It’s 2019. Nobody should. ”
Cape Breton Regional Police spokesperson Desiree Magnus confirmed they responded to a call about the alleged assault.
“CBRPS responded to Needs Convenience on Victoria Road at approximately 3:40 a.m. September 29th, to reports of an assault. Officers heard from a taxi driver that he and a potential customer got into an argument inside of the taxi, resulting in the customer causing damage to the taxi and hitting the driver,” she said via email.
“A 21-year-old male from Sydney Mines was arrested at the scene and faces charges of assault and mischief; he was released on a promise to appear in Sydney Provincial Court at a later date.”
Brar, who has a degree in pharmacy from India and is doing his bachelor of public health at CBU, said the passenger was “agitated” as soon as he got in the car.
“He kept clenching his jaw and his fists,” he recalled. “When I tried to speak to him, to be friendly, he wouldn’t talk.”
When the passenger told Brar he was going to Sydney Mines, Brar asked for the $35 fee up front, explaining it’s company policy. Brar said the man seemed to get angrier and told him “Look at my face? Do I look like I’m going to run?”
Dynasty Cabs owner Wally Hines confirmed it is a company policy for drivers to request fees upfront for longer riders.
“I think most of the companies do that now,” he said. “We’ve had little old ladies who we pick up from the casino, going to North Sydney, who say they just have to run in to get the money and they’re jumping fences in the backyard.”
After explaining he wouldn’t drive the man to Sydney Mines without payment first, Brar said the man told him he only had $25 but could get more from a bank machine.
Deciding to go to the closest bank, Brar was getting ready to exit the parking lot when he said the passenger started insulting him.
“He started to get angry and yelling at me … “You guys are coming here taking our jobs” and “you guys” did this. It was all “you guys” like he was talking about me and our community,” Brar paused. “I don’t think I need to say (the profanities).”
Because of the passenger’s outburst, Brar called dispatch to report he wouldn’t take the man. That’s when the man grabbed the mic from Brar’s hand, ripping the cord from the unit so he couldn’t communicate with the office.
At this point, Brar took his keys, phone and left the car. The passenger also got out and Brar said this is when the passenger started physically attacking him.
“The whole time he was just trying to hit my face. He wasn’t acting humanly, like it was a personal grudge, but like he wanted to (seriously hurt me),” he said.
“He was coming at me again and again, trying to hit me in the head, like it was some sort of vengeance. He kept coming at me with more aggression.”
Able to defend himself from his alleged assailant who was smaller than him, Brar got away from the punches and the cashier on duty at the Needs let him in the store, after calling police.
While inside, Brar watched the man go into his cab and destroy everything he could, including a khanda that Brar had hanging on his rear view mirror.
“It’s a religious symbol, like a Sikh cross,” he explained. “(By doing that) he was able to disrespect my religion, disrespect my nationality … all while he was alone in the car.”
Hines, who has been in the taxi business for 25 years, said he does warn the international students working for him “to be careful because there are ignorant, uneducated people out there.”
He also said some other international students working for him have reported incidents of racial harassment but haven’t reported it to police.
“They’re all nice boys and they’re all polite, hard-working kids who are going to school,” he said. “I think with the international students they don’t want to ruffle any feathers.”
For Brar, the incident left him with an injury to his knee that will keep him off work for about a week – stressful as he’s close to his tuition deadline which is $15,000.
But he’s not letting the incident change his perspective of Cape Breton and he’s thankful for the support he’s received from Hines, other Dynasty staff and the cashier at the Needs store.
“I just hope by telling what happened to me it will stop it from happening to someone else, from another country,” he said.