All charges dismissed in West Edmonton Mall water park assault case

All charges against a man accused of sexually assaulting six teenage girls last year at the West Edmonton Mall water park have been dismissed.

Teen complainants upset by ruling, but their assault allegations were believed, Crown says

Video surveillance from West Edmonton Mall Water Park shows a suspect pointed out by a group of teenage girls walking to the change rooms. (Edmonton Provincial Court)

All charges against a man accused of sexually assaulting six teenage girls last year at the West Edmonton Mall water park have been dismissed.

Soleiman Hajj Soleiman, 40, was acquitted on six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual contact with a child.

He was alleged to have inappropriately touched girls between 13 and 15 years old in the water park's wave pool on Feb. 4, 2017. 

In Alberta's provincial court Friday, he was found not-guilty.

Judge Joyce Lester said it's not that she didn't believe the complainants or whether "something untoward" had occurred that evening, but "I have not received sufficient evidence" that the offender "is the person before me.

"I must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt and I am not."

She said "it would be an injustice to convict Mr. Hajj Soleiman" given all the inconsistencies in the testimony.

As Lester delivered the last few minutes of her decision, at least two of the teen girls and their mothers tearfully left the courtroom.

Throughout her decision, Lester pointed to inconsistencies in descriptions of the offender including whether he was bald, the colour of his swim trunks and whether he was wearing clear or "rainbow-coloured, zebra-patterned goggles."

Lester raised concerns that some witnesses unintentionally influenced the testimony of others leading to the "cross contamination of evidence."

For instance, said Lester, the teens spoke together before reporting the incident and some of them had the opportunity to discuss the case at a sleepover later that night. 

The judge also noted that during the trial not all the witnesses identified Soleiman as the offender and even for those who did, there were only a few people in the courtroom of a different cultural background to choose from.

Lester noted Soleiman's use of an interpreter throughout the trial "would also have an impact on who would be identified as the accused."
Dave Trautman, who co-sponsored the Soleimans, says the ruling addressed all his concerns. (CBC News)

After the decision, a supporter whispered, "It's over," to Soleiman's wife, who was sitting in the front row of the packed gallery.

Soleiman and his wife and supporters tearfully hugged as seven sheriffs stood by to escort them from the gallery and pass dozens of bikers with the Urban Bulldogs Against Kid Abuse.

Defence lawyer, Adam Karbani, said the judge's decision was a carefully considered, well-reasoned judgment as Soleiman's wife smiled beside her relieved-looking husband.

Outside the courtoom, supporter Dave Trautman, from the River City Refugee Project which sponsored the Soleimans and their six children from Syria, praised the judge's decision.

"I think it was a perfect ruling in that she addressed every one of my concerns," Trautman said.

'Canada can be trusted'

He said the ruling showed what they've been telling the family all along: "The court system is fair. Canada can be trusted."

Crown prosecutor Laurie Trahan expressed disappointment with the decision and said the victims were upset when she spoke to them.

"They know what happened to them and they wanted to see a conviction today," Trahan said. "It's regrettable that the logical rational reaction to being sexually assaulted is not something that the court appreciates."
Crown prosecutor Laurie Trahan says she is disappointed by the decision.

Trahan said it's not unusual for a victim of sexual assault to talk to friends, but the court decided that put the identification of the accused on a path "where evidence might have been contaminated by the girls talking to one another."

Still, what's important to take away from the verdict is that "all of these complainants were believed," Trahan said.

"There's no doubt that all six of them were sexually assaulted that night at the water park. The issue was whether or not the Crown could prove it and the court today decided that we did not."

Trahan has not yet decided whether she will appeal the decision.

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar is based in Edmonton. She reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, policing and radicalization. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca