A Mississauga Uber driver is facing a charge of sexual assault after allegedly assaulting a female passenger this week.
According to York Regional Police, the assault happened early Sunday morning, after a woman and her two friends used the ride-sharing app to arrange a pickup from a downtown Toronto nightclub.
The charge comes as questions mount over Uber's safety policies and as the City of Toronto turns to the courts to try to shut down the Silicon Valley-based company's operations in Toronto.
Police say that after the driver picked up the three women from the King Street West and Bathurst Street area, he dropped two of them off at their homes in York Region. As he approached the third woman's home around 3 a.m., police say, he told the woman she needed to "pay in cash or by other means."
"I think she felt uncomfortable and got the feeling he was looking for some kind of sexual contact," said Constable Laura Nicolle of the York Regional Police. The woman asked the driver to stop the car and let her out. When she did exit the car, police say the driver followed and sexually assaulted her.
Osamah Al-Mandalawi, 25, of Mississauga was charged Monday with sexual assault.
Susie Heath, a spokeswoman for Uber Canada, said the company has been in contact with police and is assisting with the investigation.
"This is a disturbing incident, and upon hearing of these reports we immediately removed the driver in question from the Uber platform," she said.
The company, which launched its operations in the Toronto area in 2012, has frequently been criticized for its practices of flouting local taxi licensing and insurance regulations. The City of Toronto has filed a legal action against the company, with a court date set for next month.
And more serious questions have also been raised about Uber's safety and driver-screening policies after a string of alleged sex assaults by UberX drivers around the world. UberX – as opposed to a conventional taxi service – allows regular drivers to operate their own vehicles as private taxis.
But the company has often responded to critics by arguing that its service is safer than traditional taxis. As with licensed Toronto taxicab drivers, Uber conducts criminal background checks on all its drivers. The company also argues that, because every trip is logged electronically, using the service is safer than hailing a cab off the street.
Const. Nicolle says this is the first sex-assault report she's heard of related to Uber.
"We've had sexual assaults in cases across the board," she said. "We can't say one company or one means of transportation are dangerous and other ones not."