Nova Scotia

Woman says Halifax taxi driver raped her while she pretended to be asleep

The sexual assault trial of former cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi began in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Thursday, the first day of what is expected to be an 11-day trial.

'I didn't know how to get out of the situation,' complainant testifies at Bassam Al-Rawi's trial

Former taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi arrives at provincial court in Halifax on April 15, 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A Nova Scotia woman who says she was raped in 2012 by a Halifax taxi driver has testified she pretended to be asleep during the attack, which came after she says the man picked her up while she was lost and drunk in the city's downtown.

The sexual assault trial of former cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi began in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Thursday, the first day of what is expected to be an 11-day trial.

This is the second sex assault case to bring Al-Rawi before a Halifax courtroom. Last September, he was found not guilty in a retrial of a case that gained national attention and involved accusations he sexually assaulted a woman in his cab in 2015.

The 35-year-old complainant in the current case, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, testified that on Dec. 14, 2012, she was living and working in Pictou County and came into Halifax that day for a business lunch with co-workers. She planned to stay overnight at her brother's downtown apartment.

After lunch, the group got drinks at Maxwell's Plum where they split brewtenders (small kegs with a spout) and then continued on to a dinner reservation at a Korean barbecue place. They then went to a Mooseheads game, where the complainant said she remembered feeling like the alcohol was taking effect and she decided to slow down her drinking.

The complainant said they then went to the Split Crow pub, and the group split more pitchers although she did not remember how many. At this point, she testified, she was "definitely drunk" and her memory becomes fuzzy.

'I'm too drunk to do this'

She began walking in an attempt to reach her brother's apartment, but soon became disoriented and lost. The complainant said a taxi pulled up and she talked with the driver, who was a Middle Eastern man in his 30s who was clean-shaven. He then drove away and came back a second time.

The complainant testified she does not remember what they talked about, but at some point she got into the cab and remembers driving around the city before they stopped at her brother's address.

She couldn't reach her brother via text, and realized he was not home. The taxi driver said he didn't want to leave her standing in the cold since it was winter, so they drove away. The complainant said she recalls driving on a highway, and then pulling into the parking garage for an apartment building.

When they got to the driver's apartment, she testified, he brought out cannabis and asked her to roll them a joint. She attempted to but couldn't, and said "I'm too drunk to do this." He then rolled it himself, lit it and took a drag, then she took two drags herself.

She said her next memory is being in the bedroom, but she doesn't know how that happened. She said she quickly realized she was in a "bad situation" and didn't want to be there, so she lay on the bed with her clothes on and pretended to pass out.

While she had her eyes closed, she testified, she felt the driver lean over her and lightly slap her face, saying he knew she was awake. He then removed her pants, blouse, bra and underwear.

'I did not want to be there'

Crown attorney Carla Ball asked the complainant whether she said anything throughout this situation, and the complainant said no because she originally hoped he would "leave me be" if he thought she was asleep.

When he removed her clothes, the complainant said she became afraid and felt trapped.

"I realized that my plan didn't work," she said.

The complainant said she then felt him penetrate her vaginally with his penis. Ball asked the complainant if she wanted any sexual contact with the man, and she said no.

She said she thought if she kept not participating, and kept her eyes closed, he would stop. 

 "I did not want to be there," she said.

Threw up several times

She said the driver also instructed her to get on top of him, which she did for a moment before flopping to the side. He also attempted to put his penis in her mouth, she said, but she did not open it.

About 15 minutes after the sexual activity began, the driver stopped and the complainant went to the washroom where she threw up several times, she testified. She then laid down in his bed and fell asleep for a few hours, until she woke up after 10 a.m. on Dec. 15.

When Ball asked why she stayed, the woman said she assumed her phone was dead and she was very drunk, so she felt she couldn't walk anywhere safely. 

"I didn't know how to get out of the situation," she said.

'Experience of unconsensual sex'

After she left, the woman walked to a nearby baby store and asked staff to call her a cab since her phone had died.

While there, the complainant said she felt very hungover and sick. She also felt "dirty," and confused as to where she was. During the drive back downtown, the complainant recognized they were travelling along the Bedford Highway.

The complainant went to a friend's house first, asked to borrow a phone charger, and told him that she'd just had an "experience of unconsensual sex."

Rape kit performed

After she returned home to Pictou County on Dec. 15, the woman was seen on the same day by a sexual assault nurse examiner and was given the morning-after pill. She then reported the incident to local RCMP early the next week.

The woman later looked up the baby store on Google Maps to find out where she had been, and noticed what appeared to be two apartment buildings in the area.

Ball also showed the court video from various security cameras in an apartment building. The complainant and driver entered a parking garage just after 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 15, and she left hours later via a side door around 10:30 a.m.

'Sketchy place'

The complainant was also asked to read through documents containing call and text logs with her brother. Around 3 a.m. on Dec. 15, she texted that she was at a "sketchy place" and then later that a "cab rando picked me up." She added that rando meant random.

The woman said she had never met someone named Bassam Al-Rawi before Dec. 14, and only learned his first name from the investigating officer.

When Ball asked the complainant if she could identify the driver in the courtroom, she said no. The woman said she remembers broad categories of what he looked like, but not a specific description.

Cross-examination to begin Friday

The defence is expected to begin cross-examining the complainant on Friday.

Al-Rawi has faced previous charges related to allegations he sexually assaulted a woman 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 in September.

Al-Rawi was in court Thursday with his wife. The pair now live in Germany.

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