Nova Scotia

Former cab driver charged with sexual assault begins testifying at retrial

Bassam Al-Rawi, who is accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger four years ago, testified about the clothing he was wearing at the time of the alleged incident at his retrial in Halifax provincial court Wednesday.

Bassam Al-Rawi, accused of sexually assaulting passenger, did not testify at first trial

Bassam Al-Rawi appears in Halifax provincial court in January. (Robert Short/CBC)

A former taxi driver accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger four years ago testified on Wednesday in Halifax provincial court about the clothing he was wearing on the night of the alleged incident.

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

Al-Rawi, 43, told the court Wednesday that at the time of the alleged sexual assault he was living in Bedford, owned four taxis, and had a franchise arrangement with Bob's Taxi in Dartmouth. He said he also had contracts with other drivers.

Along with running a taxi business, Al-Rawi was studying to become a commercial pilot and drove one of the cabs on the weekend.

Unbuttoned pants

In photos taken by police after Al-Rawi's arrest, his pants were unbuttoned. Al-Rawi testified he often undid the top button of his jeans since they were tight and it made it more comfortable when he was driving.

He said he would've undid them shortly after he started his shift at 3 p.m. on May 22.

Al-Rawi said he kept his jacket zipped up, so no one could see his pants were undone when he was sitting in the car.

He testified he met the complainant for the first time shortly after 1 a.m. when she flagged him down on Grafton Street, close to Spring Garden Road.

Al-Rawi said it was obvious from the moment the complainant got into the taxi that she was drunk. He said she was also crying at one point.

He said he asked her if she was having boy drama, and she said she was. Al-Rawi testified he complimented her and she kissed him on his right cheek.

Al-Rawi said the complainant said she needed to pee, so he pulled over in two different spots for her to do that. She didn't want to urinate in the first spot because the vehicle was parked under some bright lights.

When she left the vehicle, Al-Rawi testified he noticed that her seat was wet. When she returned, Al-Rawi asked her to take her belongings, but she got back into the car. He then said he asked her to pay the $4.75 fare, and she paid $5.

Court then adjourned for the day, and Al-Rawi's testimony will resume Thursday.

This is the second time Al-Rawi has been on trial for the same incident. He was acquitted in May 2017 — a ruling where the judge's comments that "clearly, a drunk can consent" sparked outrage — but last fall the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.

What the complainant has said

The complainant has testified that on the night of the incident she had about eight drinks on an empty stomach and doesn't remember the 11-minute cab ride from downtown to a street far from her home in west-end Halifax.

Al-Rawi did not testify at his original trial.

On Wednesday, defence lawyer Ian Hutchison questioned Al-Rawi about the training he received before becoming a driver. He also had numerous questions about the technology in the vehicle and how it was linked to the dispatch centre in Dartmouth.

Al-Rawi said he currently lives in Germany with his wife of three years. He said he was born in Iraq and moved to Canada in 2008.

Al-Rawi's retrial began earlier this year, and after an adjournment continued this week. On Wednesday, the Crown presented its last witness, and the defence told the court Al-Rawi will testify in his own defence with the help of an Arabic translator.

CBC reporter Elizabeth McMillan live blogged from court.

With files from Elizabeth McMillan