News / Halifax

'Sickened:' Swift national reaction to Halifax judge's comments in taxi driver acquittal

Local residents, politicians, victim advocates, law professors and others are weighing in on Halifax Judge Gregory Lenehan's decision.

The reaction following Judge Gregory Lenehan’s decision to acquit a Halifax cab driver of sexual assault, after saying there wasn’t enough evidence to show “lack of consent” from the female complainant despite her high intoxication level among other evidence, has sparked a national conversation on consent and the judicial system, alongside local protests and a petition.

Julie Lalonde, a Canadian women’s rights advocate and sexual-assault public educator, said the decision was “horrifying” to see in a case where there was DNA evidence on driver Bassam Al-Rawi, and the main witness was a police officer who found the cab.

“I don’t know how we can ever expect anyone to get a conviction,” Lalonde said in an interview.

“To me that woman needs to know, and the women in (Halifax) need to know, that his views are not shared by everyone.”

Although Lalonde said keeping judges independent and not political is a “bedrock” of democracy, they are being political when handling sexual assault cases this way and can’t be seen as “neutral.”

“This is a judgement call,” Lalonde said, adding that when looking to reform the justice system it doesn’t involve engineers with tangible limits like physics -- these are people who are “interpreting a law.”

“That’s always going to be subjective,” she said.

Here are some other reactions to Lenehan’s decision:

“When the verdict came down and the wording that Judge Lenehan used - I’m sickened by it, I really, really am. And scared, it’s scary for everybody.” Hannah Munday, Halifax resident and #HaliLadyCab volunteer.

“I am deeply disturbed by the judge’s comments in relation to this case … I am offended by the decision and these dismissive comments are an insult to the thousands of people who have been sexually assaulted.” N.S. PC leader, Jamie Baillie in a statement.

“Statements made by provincial court Judge Gregory Lenehan in his March 1 acquittal of Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi have drawn attention to the misconceptions that still exist around sexual violence … From our perspective, clearly a drunk person cannot consent to sexual activity.” a statement from Sexual Health Nova Scotia

“I will be reaching out to my colleague tomorrow to explore this case. I’m equally outraged.” Joanne Bernard, provincial Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act, Tweeted about reaching out to the justice minister.

“We are reviewing the decision to determine whether there is a basis for appeal. We have 30 days.” Chris Hansen, spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service.

“Apply the law properly, and ensure that legal reasoning and assessments of complainant’s credibility aren’t informed by stereotypes about drunk women.” Elaine Craig, associate law professor at Dalhousie University, in general about how judges should interpret consent law.

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