Nova Scotia

Surveillance video examined at former cab driver's sex assault retrial

Footage of a trio of friends leaving a downtown bar was examined in Halifax provincial court on Tuesday at the retrial of a former taxi driver accused of sexual assaulting a passenger in 2015.

Bassam Al-Rawi is accused of sexually assaulting a passenger in 2015

Bassam Al-Rawi appears in Halifax provincial court on Jan. 7, 2019. (Robert Short/CBC)

Surveillance video of a trio of friends leaving a downtown bar was examined in Halifax provincial court on Tuesday at the retrial of a former taxi driver accused of sexual assaulting a passenger in 2015.

Bassam Al-Rawi was arrested after police found a woman unconscious and naked in the back seat of his cab in May 2015. The complainant's identity is protected by a publication ban.

This is the second time Al-Rawi been on trial for the same incident. He was acquitted in May 2017, but last fall the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, citing errors the first judge made in law, including ignoring an ample amount of circumstantial evidence in his decision.

Many people are familiar with the case as the original trial judge's comments that "clearly, a drunk can consent" sparked outrage, protests and complaints.

Former roommate takes the stand

This week in Halifax provincial court, the then-roommate of the woman answered questions about the hours leading up to her friend getting in Al-Rawi's vehicle. Her name is banned from publication as it could identify the complainant.

The 30-year-old said that on the night in question, she and the complainant were at an event at a downtown brewery before heading to Boomer's bar on Grafton Street around 11 p.m. The women were lifelong friends, however, the witness testified they are no longer close.

The witness told the court the complainant hadn't eaten dinner before they left home and had two to three beers at a friend's event at the brewery and more drinks at Boomer's, where they spent some time dancing. She also testified that after leaving Boomer's at one point, the bouncer refused to let the complainant back in.

The witness testified Monday her friend was emotional and started crying outside the bar. She said the complainant was upset others didn't want to keep drinking and was slumped over against a wall at one point.

On Tuesday, the witness identified herself and her friend in security video that showed a section of a Grafton Street sidewalk at around 12:30 a.m.

The witness said she hadn't seen her friend that intoxicated in a number of months and hadn't seen her cry when drinking since they were in university.

Cross examination

Under cross examination by defence lawyer Ian Hutchison, the witness agreed her friend lost inhibitions that night after she started drinking. The witness said she kept the complainant's phone for part of the night because her friend didn't want to lose it.

She agreed when Hutchison said the complainant seemed upset about the witness's new relationship and at one point told her to go off and be happy. She said she was frustrated with her friend's behaviour, but wasn't worried about her well-being enough to call police.

Hutchison asked: "If you had any concerns about complainant's physical or mental well-being, you would call police?"

"Of course," the witness replied.

Friend's husband testifies

The friend's husband, who was her boyfriend of about three months back in 2015, also testified Tuesday afternoon. He said he had only met the complainant a handful of times before they ended up at Boomer's.

Crown prosecutor Jennifer MacLellan asked him to identify himself on a still image from the surveillance video that showed him talking to a cab driver.

The man testified he was checking if the cab would take the complainant and encouraged her to get a ride home. He said she refused and then stormed off.

Both the man and the woman told the court they lost sight of the complainant after she walked quickly down Grafton Street.

Sexual assault nurse

The Crown's final witness was a sexual assault nurse examiner who testified she was called to the QE II emergency room in Halifax early on May 23, 2015, and found the complainant on a stretcher.

Ruth Campbell said she described the complainant in her notes as "calm and teary eyed at times." She said over a three-hour period starting at 2:45 a.m., she conducted a head-to-toe exam and collected blood and swabs from the woman.

The Crown expects to wrap up its case Wednesday morning.

About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past 10 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca