The recent acquittal of a Mr. Al-Rawi of sexual assault against a lady in his cab has rightly sparked outrage in civil society. The details of the case are disgusting and disturbing. However, calls for a review of the judge in this case, Judge Lenehan, are misplaced as censure should lie elsewhere.
I am not a lawyer but reading through judge's remarks published by the National Post it seems Judge Lenehan followed the rules. Mr. Al-Rawi is presumed innocent. The Crown has to prove no consent was given to prove sexual assault however the lady in question has no recollection of events. Mr. Al-Rawi was the only other person present and he kept quiet. Therefore the Crown could not prove sexual assault.
What does deserve censure is the shocking decision made by The HRM Appeals Standing Committee headed by former councilor Matt Whitman to re-instate Mr. Al-Rawi's taxi license. According to a unanimous decision Mr. Al-Rawi can continue to drive a taxi in Halifax with some restrictions. Mr. Al-Rawi, not bothering to show up at his appeal, spoke through his lawyer Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor in his application to the Committee stated there was "absolutely no proof of anything, just an allegation". Regards the formal sexual assault allegation, true. But no proof of anything?!
Police found Mr. Al-Rawi with a passed out young lady in the back seat of his cab, stopped in a secluded area in the opposite direction to which the lady wished to go. She was stripped from the waist down, Mr. Al-Rawi had her undergarments in his hand and the rest of her clothing was stuffed out of sight up front and his pants were undone. This is more than enough proof to show he was violating his fiduciary duty (duty of care) towards his client. Whether consent was given or not is irrelevant. A professional takes care of the client. In the case of a very drunk or unconscious client presumably you take them to Emergency.
Added to this are some further dark antecedents regards Mr. Al-Rawi. Per a 2015 police warrant Mr. Al-Rawi has an alias of Bassam Abdullatif and he has been connected to other alleged sexual assaults. In response, his legal team has labeled those concerned about Mr. Al-Rawi/Abdullatif as racists and injected the issue of Islam by also calling them anti-Muslim bigots.
We agree with Rebecca Faria, founder of Halifax Hollaback, there should be zero tolerance to street harassment. To this end:
- The Crown should appeal the decision in the public interest and leave Judge Lenehan alone. If Bassam Al-Rawi/Abdullatif is found guilty he should service his sentence and then be deported if possible.
- Police must reopen the investigations into the previous taxi harassment cases (including those involving Mr. Al-Rawi/Abdullatif) that have spiked in the last few years.
- An independent public investigation must consider The HRM Appeals Standing Committee responses to previous alleged assaults. Has the Committee returned predators back to the streets?
- Despite the taxi industry’s response (Dave Buffett, President of the Halifax Taxi Divers Association says none of the taxi companies will let Mr. Al-Rawi/Abdullatif drive) they need to expand basic requirements to include a code of ethics and behavior, just having a license and a pulse is not enough.
- For people getting into a cab avoid persons that fit the profile released by police; all the alleged “attackers were men, mostly with dark hair and aged between 30 and 50, most spoke with an accent and many had mustaches”. Start patronizing female taxi cabs such as #HaliLadyCab.
- Join the effort to make all members of our society feel safe and secure not only in our public spaces but also when coming forward with allegations of sexual assault.
Jonathan G Dean