Nova Scotia

Former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi found guilty of sexual assault

Al-Rawi was previously acquitted of assaulting another intoxicated female passenger in 2015 after two trials. One of those trials drew national controversy over the judge's comment that 'clearly, a drunk can consent.'

He was convicted of assaulting a female passenger he picked up downtown in 2012

Bassam Al-Rawi arrives at Nova Scotia Supreme Court with his wife and lawyer on Aug. 28, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A former Halifax taxi driver accused of raping a female passenger eight years ago has been found guilty.

Bassam Al-Rawi was charged with sexually assaulting the woman in his Bedford apartment in the early hours of Dec. 15, 2012. He was in court on Friday with his wife, having travelled to Halifax for the trial from Germany where the couple now lives. 

He showed no emotion at the decision.

The victim, whose name is protected by a publication ban, testified earlier in the trial that she drove to Halifax from Pictou County with a group of friends on Dec. 14, 2012.

She testified a taxi driver picked her up while she was lost downtown and later assaulted her while she was highly intoxicated and pretending to be unconscious.

Judge says complainant's memories are reliable

Justice Gerald Moir delivered his verdict in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Friday afternoon.

He said he's convinced Al-Rawi was the taxi driver who picked up the complainant that night.

Moir said the complainant's blurry recollections matched what toxicologists tell us to expect from the memories of a drunk experience.

He also said there were no glaring contradictions in what the complainant said. In the days after the assault, Moir noted the complainant preserved her memories in a spreadsheet to give to police.

Also, in following years, the complainant did not try to fill in gaps or make excuses for behaviour.

The Crown's reaction

Outside court, Crown attorney Carla Ball said the decision sends a strong message to victims of sex crimes.

"The guilty verdict tells the system, tells the community, that when you come forward and you are honest and you tell the truth about violence that happens to you, you can make a difference," she said.

Ball also said this case is a reminder that implied consent does not exist, and people have to make sure they've gotten active consent before engaging in any sexual activity.

"Silence, passivity, ambiguous conduct, is not consent," Ball said.

Ball said Friday's decision was only possible because of the victim's bravery in coming forward a second time, and following her public duty.

The victim reported the assault right away, but Halifax police didn't lay any charges.

She came forward again years later, when she'd heard a taxi driver named Bassam was acquitted of a different sex assault in 2017.

She recognized his name as the man who was a suspect in her case, and felt guilty it might have happened again.

Police reopened her case, and laid a sex assault charge in 2018.

"It is really satisfying to see that someone who has come forward and working so hard to be honest, and is honest, is believed," she said.

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

Ball and Ian Hutchison, Al-Rawi's defence lawyer, each laid out their closing arguments on Wednesday.

The Crown said the complainant's testimony was reliable and unwavering on the main point that she did not want to have sex with Al-Rawi. Two people also recognized Al-Rawi in a video with the woman.

The defence said the woman's memory had convenient gaps, and questioned why she just didn't leave the apartment or bedroom if she didn't want to have sex.

Sentencing is set for Nov. 3 at 9:30 a.m. Al-Rawi surrendered his passport, and agreed to a curfew as part of his conditions. He also agreed not to contact the victim and report to police every Friday.

When asked leaving the courtroom if he had a comment on the verdict, Al-Rawi replied, "No, not yet."

Al-Rawi and 'drunk can consent' trial controversy

This is the second sex assault charge to bring Al-Rawi before a Halifax court.

He faced previous charges related to allegations he sexually assaulted another female passenger who was found unconscious by a police officer in his cab in 2015.

That case garnered significant attention after the original trial judge made the comment, "clearly, a drunk can consent," and acquitted Al-Rawi. 

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, saying the first judge made errors in law, including ignoring circumstantial evidence. Al-Rawi was acquitted again last September.