Stephen Taweel's sexual assault conviction overturned by N.S. Court of Appeal
Taweel was convicted in 2014 for 1991 sexual assault involving a 14-year-old girl
Nova Scotia's highest court has overturned a sexual assault conviction and ordered a new trial for Prince Edward Island businessman Stephen Nicholas Taweel.
He was convicted in August 2014 for an assault that police and Crown say happened more than 20 years ago and involved a 14-year-old girl.
In a decision released Thursday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal said the original trial judge made serious errors in deciding to convict Taweel and as a result, he deserves another trial.
The victim, who is now a 36-year-old woman, alleges Taweel started a sexual relationship with her after they met on Stanhope Beach in P.E.I. in the summer of 1991. She's from Dartmouth and was vacationing on the island.
The girl told the court that Taweel resumed the relationship when she returned to her home in Nova Scotia, saying they met at least twice in a home owned by his sister.
At his trial, Taweel admitted to the sexual encounters in P.E.I., but said he thought the girl was over the age of 16. Taweel is 57. He was 32 when he first met the girl.
Taweel denied sexual contact in Nova Scotia
Taweel told the court during his trial that he only saw the girl once in Nova Scotia and there was no sexual contact during that encounter.
The charge against Taweel only applied to a sexual assault the girl alleges happened in Dartmouth.
However, the trial judge allowed the Crown to introduce a great deal of evidence about Taweel's activities with the girl at Stanhope Beach. The Court of Appeal said that was a mistake.
"If one were to 'flip' the approach taken in this case to its direct opposite, whereby the events said to have occurred in P.E.I. led to Mr. Taweel's prosecution in that province, one would be hard pressed to understand how the 'Dartmouth evidence' could ever be said to qualify as 'similar,' thus, justifying its admission in a courtroom in P.E.I.," Justice Jamie Saunders wrote for the three-judge panel that heard the appeal.
The Court of Appeal said the trial judge was wrong to consider evidence of the P.E.I. encounters as "similar fact" evidence for assessing Taweel's subsequent meeting with the girl in Dartmouth.
"By employing the 'similar fact evidence' in such a manner, the judge unintentionally did, what he said he would never do," Justice Saunders wrote.
"He ate the fruit of the poisonous tree. That error obliges us to set aside the conviction and order a new trial."