News / Halifax

Leah Parsons joins voices calling for review of judge who said 'clearly a drunk can consent'

Mother of Rehtaeh Parsons says Judge Gregory Lenehan should be independently reviewed by someone outside the province.

Leah Parsons in happier times with daughter Rehtaeh Parsons who died by suicide in April, 2013. Rehtaeh died following months of bullying around an explicit photo taken of her when she was intoxicated at a party.

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Leah Parsons in happier times with daughter Rehtaeh Parsons who died by suicide in April, 2013. Rehtaeh died following months of bullying around an explicit photo taken of her when she was intoxicated at a party.

Leah Parsons has added her voice to those demanding a review of the Halifax judge who stated at the end of a sexual assault trial that “clearly a drunk can consent.”

Judge Gregory Lenehan made the comments during Wednesday’s acquittal of cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi, who faced one charge of sexual assault related to a May 23, 2015 incident.

“It’s shocking when I read that you can consent when you’re drunk. Obviously the person was passed out, with urine on her clothing, a witness (police) who actually came across it. That usually doesn’t happen,” Parsons said.

“So for this man to actually walk free after all of that evidence? It is just sickening. Disgusting. It’s sending such a horrible, horrible message to other victims of assault. How are they going to come forward?”

Parsons lost her 17-year-old daughter Rehtaeh in April 2013 following months of bullying related to an explicit photo of her and a boy that was shared around her high school. A review into how police and the Crown handled her case found "errors from start to finish." 

In the years since her daughter’s death, Parsons has travelled throughout Canada and the U.S. to advocate and raise awareness around issues of sexual violence, consent and bullying.

Lenehan is the same judge who oversaw the trial of a teen boy charged with child pornography in relation to Rehtaeh's case in January 2015. The teen was sentenced to 12 months probation.

“So now I see how it would’ve went for Rehtaeh if it was rape charges and it was him as the judge,” Parsons said.

“He obviously has his own perceptions about what is consent, and that is the problem we see everywhere… His mentality is clear. He should definitely be reviewed by somebody independent, somebody outside of this province. It's not good.”

Parsons said change needs to start immediately and must include proper training for police and judges in particular. She believes everyone must be on the same page regarding not only around issues of consent, but how victims behave following traumatic events.

“People are outraged about this (incident) because it’s so blatant, it’s so obvious. I posted about it on Rethaeh’s memorial page (Thursday) and the comments are blowing up because everyone is just so sick of this,” she said.

“How are (victims) going to come forward? It’s terrifying enough knowing you’re going to be interrogated. You’re going to have to live through that, you’re going to be almost interrogated as if you did something wrong. And then to have this result? It just sets us back again and again.”

Help is available for victims of sexual violence:

Sexual Health Nova Scotia issued a statement on Thursday about the Al-Rawi verdict and Judge Lenehan’s comment that “clearly a drunk can consent.”

The organization said it wanted to reach out and remind victims of sexual violence that from their perspective, “clearly a drunk person cannot consent to sexual activity.”

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, support is available at your local sexual health centre. Visit shns.ca to find one near you.

HRM residents can contact Avalon Sexual Assault Centre at avaloncentre.ca.

Women survivors can also access support at their local women’s centre. Visit womenconnect.ca for the location nearest you.

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