Nova Scotia

Upset, angry and confused: Protesters call for inquiry into cabbie's acquittal

Hundreds of people attended a protest Tuesday afternoon in Halifax, calling for an inquiry into the actions of Judge Gregory Lenehan.

Judge in case 'needs to move forward a few decades and join us,' says protest organizer

People in the crowd say they were in disbelief that Judge Gregory Lenehan said the Crown did not prove the complainant didn't consent. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Hundreds of people attended a protest Tuesday afternoon in Halifax calling for an inquiry into the actions of Judge Gregory Lenehan.

Protesters said they're furious the provincial court judge acquitted taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assault last week. In his decision, Lenehan said the Crown had failed to prove the complainant did not consent.

Organizers of the protest said the acquittal is proof the justice system is built on victim-blaming and they're demanding change.

Here's why some of the participants said they felt compelled to attend the protest:

Daphne Stephen

Daphne Stephen and Mitzi Churchill showed up early. This was the first time Stephen attended a protest. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

"As a mother of two daughters, how could I not be [here]?" said Daphne Stephen, who arrived early and immediately sought out organizers to give them a hug. 

Stephen said the verdict upset her so much that she felt compelled to participate, even though she'd never attended a protest before.

"There's got to be a place where you can be safe. You've got to have people in positions of power like that judge that are fair and unbiased."

Nicole Pettipas

Nicole Pettipas says this has inspired her to learn more about laws so she can push for change. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

"I feel that the decision that Judge Lenehan made, he was able to make because the laws about consent aren't clear," said Nicole Pettipas.

She said the verdict inspired her to learn more about the law. Pettipas said she encourages others to get informed.

"Everybody expected a conviction and when it didn't happen, we all learned that these laws, there's something missing and they need to change."

Cameron Milner and Jessica Jarrett-MacKillop

Cameron Milner and Jessica Jarrett-MacKillop say this case shows why victims are hesitant to report a crime. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Cameron Milner listened intently to the speakers.

"It's a great injustice and it just keeps happening," he said. "Everyone should be here. Man, woman, in between, neither, either. This affects all of us."

Milner said coming together is the only way to bring about change.

"Hopefully the court system will listen and they'll reconsider this verdict," said Jessica Jarrett-MacKillop, who attended with Milner.

"I'm hopeful that at least an inquiry will be started to find out why this judge thought the way he did. I think it illustrated why women choose not to come forward."

Ashley Avery

Ashley Avery is fed up with how sexual assault victims are treated by the courts. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Ashley Avery, who works with victims of sexual assault at the Coverdale Courtwork Society, recited a poem to the crowd. 

"We are asked why we had too many shots at the bar, why we didn't say no, why we got in that car," she said.

Avery said advocates need to demand change.

"Victims' voices are so silenced that they're not coming forward. That's very disturbing and alarming."

Chrissy Merrigan

Chrissy Merrigan says it was time to take action instead of just complaining about the verdict on social media. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

"We were angry," Chrissy Merrigan said of why she and her friends organized the protest. "We were angry, angry women. We were so tired of things like this happening.

"The next step is to get an inquiry for [Judge] Lenehan. If we're wrong, prove us wrong. That's what I'm asking for.... He needs to move forward a few decades and join us."