Nova Scotia

Closing arguments heard in sexual assault trial of former Halifax taxi driver

The Crown and Bassam Al-Rawi's lawyer gave closing arguments on Wednesday. The former Halifax taxi driver is accused of raping a woman in his apartment in 2012, and stood trial for eight days earlier this year before the arrival of the pandemic.

The Crown and Bassam Al-Rawi's lawyer gave closing arguments on Wednesday

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

The Crown and defence differ on how they see the complainant's testimony in the sexual assault trial of former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi.

Closing arguments were made in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Wednesday before Justice Gerald Moir.

Al-Rawi is accused of raping a woman in his apartment in the early hours of Dec. 15, 2012. Wednesday marked the 11th day of his judge-only trial.

Crown attorney Carla Ball made her closing argument first and said the complainant did not consent to sex with Al-Rawi.

She said the Crown proved Al-Rawi committed the offence. Video evidence showed the complainant, a woman in her mid-30s whose name is protected by a publication ban, with Al-Rawi in his building's underground garage and hallway.

Video evidence

The complainant recalled the taxi driver got water bottles from the trunk, and in the video the driver with her is also shown popping the trunk of his car. Ball said the complainant was also able to identify herself, her hair and her clothes in the video.

Ball said Al-Rawi is about six feet tall, and the man in the video appeared around that height. The Crown also said the complainant's recollection of how many flights of stairs she went down the next morning matches Al-Rawi's third-floor apartment.

Two people testified they recognized Al-Rawi in the video with the complainant: the building manager and his former roommate. Ball said this is effective evidence because they knew him and saw him regularly.

Ball said the most crucial piece of identification evidence came from Al-Rawi's video statement with police. Al-Rawi volunteered that they arrived at his place around 3 a.m. AT. Ball said he told police "she slept in my place" and "I remember this girl," adding "I probably had sex with her if she slept in my place."

Ball went over the credibility of the complainant's statement, how she made repeated calls to a friend, texted her brother and placed a six-minute call to him while in a taxi. The call ended at 2:27 a.m., according to the phone's call log.

Ball noted the complainant's brother did text her the address where he was at a party around 2:31 a.m. The woman was still in the cab then, which was right before they pulled into the apartment's underground garage.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The complainant said she was anxious to get to her brother, but she assumed they would soon return back to the city so she wasn't scared.

Even through the complainant went willingly with Al-Rawi into his apartment building, it doesn't prove she consented to sexual activity whatsoever, Ball said.

The Crown suggested the woman didn't run away from the apartment because she thought she was with a nice guy who would take her home.

"It's not her job to stop him from raping her," Ball said.

In conclusion, Ball said the complainant was out to celebrate with friends, was taken home by an on-duty taxi driver and sexually assaulted.

Ball asked for Al-Rawi to be found guilty.

Al-Rawi's lawyer's closing argument

Al-Rawi's lawyer, Ian Hutchison, pointed out time diminishes memory and recall from witnesses, and it had been eight years since the alleged incident.

Hutchison said Al-Rawi's identity in the case was not admitted. In his police statement, the photo Al-Rawi looked at in 2013 of the complainant was not entered as evidence and the police officer did not testify.

He argued there's no way to know if the correct photo was shown to Al-Rawi in the police interview.

Police interview

Al-Rawi also went back and forth with police about whether he knew the person in the photo. He said if he saw her on the street, he wouldn't stop to say hello. Al-Rawi also said he would not take advantage of someone who was asleep.

Hutchison said Al-Rawi was "all over the map" in his interview with police as to whether he knew the complainant.

He also brought up the lack of forensic evidence linking Al-Rawi to the complainant's rape kit.

A sexual assault nurse testified on forensic evidence. Swabs were taken from the complainant and her clothes, but the defence said nothing was admitted showing Al-Rawi touched her at all.

In response, Ball said a lack of forensic evidence was irrelevant and the Crown had proved their case without it.

Video evidence not entirely clear

Hutchison said the complainant did not identify Al-Rawi as the person responsible for the crime as she sat in court with him, raising doubt about his identity as the man who assaulted her.

The video evidence did not show crisp images and did not depict colour. Hutchison said faces in the video can't be seen.

He said the testimony of the building manager should be taken with caution because the manager originally identified Al-Rawi to police as "Abdul." Not knowing his first name shows he didn't know him well, Hutchison said.

Hutchison also pointed to holes in the complainant's memory. For example, the complainant said the man with her had short hair and was in his 30s, while the manager said Al-Rawi was in his 40s and bald. The complainant also remembered a one-bedroom unit, but Al-Rawi lived in a two-bedroom unit.

There are also issues with the roommate's ability to identify Al-Rawi, Hutchison said. The roommate said he was only in the apartment to rest, watch TV and eat with Al-Rawi. He said the roommate wasn't around often.

Defence says complainant's testimony not credible

Hutchison said the complainant's testimony was sometimes confusing, inconsistent, contradictory, biased and inaccurate. He said her testimony was not credible or reliable, and does not prove she didn't consent.

At one point, the complainant got on top during the sexual activity when she was asked to, but quickly flopped to the side after less than 10 seconds.

Hutchison said that points to conscious consent, but Ball said the act was motivated by fear, which is not true consent under the law.

Verdict expected Friday

Police did not originally lay charges in the case.

Hutchison said the complainant contacted the media and police again in 2017 after Al-Rawi's acquittal in another sexual assault case. He said she assumed Al-Rawi must have been the same person, since she was told that in her case a suspect was named Bassam.

The woman testified about feeling guilty the same man might have hurt someone else. She came before the court not as a neutral person, but upset and with a specific view, Hutchison said.

Hutchison also questioned how intoxicated the complainant actually was that night, saying she remembered an "awful lot" for someone who was said to be quite drunk.

Her memories were selective, and Hutchison said she did not recall anything to undermine her story of a sexual assault, whether that be how she entered the bedroom or what her and the driver talked about.

Court resumes on Friday at 12:30 p.m., when Moir is expected to deliver a decision.

With files from Haley Ryan