Taxi drivers in Montreal will have to face a criminal record check, Transport Quebec and the City of Montreal announced Sunday.

As of Dec. 1, any aspiring taxi driver will have to submit to the criminal background check, while drivers renewing their permits will do so as on Jan 1, 2015.

Article 26 of the law concerning taxi drivers stipulates that no one can obtain, maintain or renew a taxi permit if they have a criminal record for offences in the past five years, a record related to driving a taxi or a record for an offence linked to any of the aptitudes or conduct required of a taxi driver.

That law has been on the books since 2001, but has by and large not been enforced by the industry, partly because there has been no province-wide standard for background checks in place.

"People said it was a problem with interpretation of the law with the taxi drivers, so I said, 'Make that clear and let's apply the law as it was supposed to be in 2001,'" said Transport Minister Robert Poeti.

"A taxi driver that would be background checked in Montreal, would be also background checked for the rest of the province, so that's what has changed," said Benoit Jugand of the Montreal Taxi Bureau.

Many years ago, the provincial government off-loaded responsibility for taxis onto local municipalities, and Montreal has its own Taxi Bureau responsible for inspecting taxis and issuing permits.

Out of 11,600 taxi drivers in Montreal, only 3,000 have had background checks. Most of those were imposed by the STM or other organizations, for example in the case of adapted taxis, who work with the STM to assist those with disabilities.

The move to enforce it comes now after 46 passengers reported being assaulted by taxi drivers over the past two years.

"There are some inquires," said Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. "We're going to let them do their job. For me, its zero tolerance. I think it's really important to mention that we have to protect all the clients we have to protect our women too."

The taxi industry is currently facing stiff competition from ride services like Uber and UberX, as well as car sharing services, such as Car2Go.

This initiation of the new criminal background check will come at a cost for taxi drivers.

Those seeking a permit must provide a certificate to the automobile board, the SAAQ, attesting that the criminal background check has been obtained. In Montreal, that will cost $105 every two years when drivers have their drivers' licences renewed. 

Some taxi drivers with criminal records may still obtain permits, the news released stipulated, saying that those who have a criminal history but feel they should still be eligible to drive a cab, can submit a request to analyze their case and decide if an exception can be made.

Poeti said taxi drivers that re-new their permits before the new policy takes affect could also be subject to retroactive criminal checks, adding that any driver that doesn't comply could have their licence revoked.

The announcement Sunday also came with a security measure for taxi drivers: taxis will be fitted with cameras to help improve the safety of drivers. A specific date for heir installation has not yet been determined.

The largest taxi coalition in Quebec, RTAM, said it is pleased with the new measures, saying in a news release the criminal background checks are "an important step in the right direction."