Nova Scotia

Ex-taxi driver accused of assault says woman never passed out in his cab

Bassam Al-Rawi was arrested after police said they found a woman unconscious and partially naked in the back seat of his cab in Halifax's south end in May 2015.

Bassam Al-Rawi says he never touched the woman he's accused of sexually attacking in his cab

Bassam Al-Rawi in Halifax provincial court in January. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A Halifax taxi driver accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger told a court Thursday she did not pass out in his car, contrary to what a police officer testified.

Bassan Al-Rawi, 43, is testifying at Halifax provincial court before Judge Ann Marie Simmons.

He was arrested in May 2015 after a police officer said she found a woman unconscious and partially naked in the back seat of his cab in Halifax's south end. The complainant's identity is protected by a publication ban.

In January, Const. Monia Thibault testified that when she looked into the parked taxi, the driver was turned to the back seat and positioned between the complainant's legs. Thibault said the woman was unconscious and naked from the waist down with her legs up against the front seats.

Al-Rawi told the court Thursday his body was facing forward when the officer approached, but his head was turned toward the back.

Defence lawyer Ian Hutchison asked him if the complainant lost consciousness in his taxi.

"Absolutely not," Al-Rawi answered.

Hutchison asked him if he touched her for a sexual purpose. "Never. It didn't happen," he said. "I did not touch her."

Al-Rawi told the court that he'd been dealing with a drunk, unruly passenger. He said he planned to return her to the downtown area where he'd picked her up.

He said the passenger had gotten out at Inglis and Brussels streets to urinate and left the door open. He said he then noticed a wet spot on her seat, which meant he would have to dry it before accepting any other passengers.

He said he didn't want her to get back into his car, but did not stop her when she returned after urinating. She crawled through the front seats and sat in the back, he said.

She appeared to be lowering her pants, he testified, but said he didn't look and the police car arrived at about that time. 

He said he did not remove any of the passenger's clothing. 

Al-Rawi said the passenger's feet were not raised, but were on the centre console between the front seats.

Hutchison asked Al-Rawi about the police officer's comment that he was fumbling with his hands between his legs when police spoke to him. Al-Rawi said the passenger had kicked off her shoes and one had fallen into his lap, so he pushed it out of the way. 

He said the officer swore "throughout" and that made him "very afraid." He said he got out of the car and an officer handcuffed him.

Al-Rawi began his testimony Wednesday. He told the court the complainant flagged him down around 1 a.m. in the city's downtown.

She was drunk, Al-Rawi testified, and said she was upset after seeing a man she loved with another woman that night. Al-Rawi said he complimented her and she kissed him on the right cheek.

Following his arrest, police took photos showing Al-Rawi's pants unbuttoned. Al-Rawi testified his jeans were tight and he often undid the top button to make them more comfortable while driving.

Crown asks why he didn't get directions

Crown prosecutor Carla Ball questioned Al-Rawi in the afternoon.

She asked him why he didn't get a destination address from the complainant. He said he did ask her twice, but she didn't give him one.

"You never insisted she tell you her general direction?" Ball asked.

"I did not think I had to insist," he answered.

"You weren't concerned for your own safety?" she asked.

He said he was not concerned.  Al-Rawi said if someone threatened him with a weapon, refused to pay the fare, or didn't listen to him, he would contact police, or call 911.

He said he would call 311 first as it's connected to the taxi commission.

He agreed with the Crown that the passenger appeared to be intoxicated. Ball asked him why he let her back in after she got out to pee. She said he could have locked the doors. He said as her belongings were still in the car, that would have been theft.

The Al-Rawi trial will resume next month, with dates set for May 23, 24, 30 and 31.

This is the second time Al-Rawi has been on trial for the same incident. He was acquitted in May 2017 — a ruling where the judge's comments that "clearly, a drunk can consent" sparked outrage — but last fall the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.

With files from Elizabeth McMillan