Nova Scotia

2nd sexual assault trial for former Halifax cab driver resumes

This is the second trial for Bassam Al-Rawi in connection with what happened in his cab early on the morning of May 22, 2015.

WARNING: This story contains graphic and disturbing content

Bassam Al-Rawi appears in Halifax provincial court on Monday. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A Halifax police officer has described finding a sexual assault complainant passed out and mostly naked in the back seat of a taxi when she arrived on scene in the early hours of May 22, 2015.

Const. Monia Thibault told the courtroom at the sexual assault trial of former taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi on Tuesday that she approached the vehicle when she spotted it idling on Atlantic Street in Halifax's south end at 1:19 a.m.

The rear window was fogged up, and as Thibault approached the taxi, she saw a woman sprawled across the back seat, with her feet on the back of the front seats, naked from the waist down, wearing only a pink tank top that was pushed up and partially exposing her breasts, she testified.

Al-Rawi was turned in his seat and was between the woman's legs, Thibault said. He was trying to stuff a pair of black pants and underwear into the front console, and was fumbling with a pair of high-heeled shoes, said Thibault.

1st trial ended in acquittal

The trial, which is in its second day in Halifax provincial court, is the second trial for Al-Rawi in connection with what happened in his cab that day.

The case involves an 11-minute cab ride the woman took from the downtown bar district to the south end, far from her intended destination.

Al-Rawi was acquitted at his first trial in March 2017. That acquittal provoked a national outcry, including street protests and complaints about the conduct of the trial judge after he said in his ruling that "clearly, a drunk can consent."

Thibault testified Tuesday that when she opened the back door, the vehicle smelled of alcohol. She told Al-Rawi she was arresting him for sexual assault and instructed him to "get the f--k out of the vehicle."

Woman was asleep, court hears

She said when Al-Rawi got out of the car, his pants were undone and pulled down. 

"I could see his butt crack," Thibault told the court.

After she handed him over to another officer who had arrived on scene, Thibault said she tended to the woman, shaking her shoulder to wake her up.

The woman realized she was naked and tried to cover herself. Thibault said she helped put on her pants, which were inside out with the underwear still inside, and were "noticeably wet." 

The woman was confused, upset and crying, she testified.

Officer went to hospital

Thibault told the court she accompanied the woman to the hospital, and that the woman, whose eyes were bloodshot and drooping, fell asleep a few times while speaking with her at the hospital.

On Monday, Det. Const. Marshall Hewitt, who was a forensic identification officer with Halifax Regional Police, was the only witness to testify.

He took pictures and collected DNA evidence from Al-Rawi and his taxi. The trial adjourned early Monday to allow the defence time to study new evidence.

In his decision to acquit Al-Rawi, Judge Gregory Lenehan of the provincial court said the Crown failed to produce any evidence the woman had refused consent to sexual touching by the cab driver.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. "[T]here was ample circumstantial evidence that would permit the inference to be drawn that either the complainant did not voluntarily agree or lacked the capacity to do so," wrote Justice Duncan Beveridge.

The CBC's Blair Rhodes live blogged from court. Mobile users can read here.