News / Halifax

'I’m mad': Stephen McNeil breaks silence on taxi sexual assault verdict

Nova Scotia's premier had choice words for Judge Gregory Lenehan and the language he used in his decision.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil weighed in on the controversial ‘a drunk can consent’ ruling in Halifax, saying the definition of consent within the Criminal Code needs broader conversation.

TC Media

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil weighed in on the controversial ‘a drunk can consent’ ruling in Halifax, saying the definition of consent within the Criminal Code needs broader conversation.

Since a Halifax judge’s controversial ‘a drunk can consent’ ruling there have been outpourings of protests, anger and disappointment.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil joined the groundswell on Judge Gregory Lenehan choice of words while finding a Halifax cabbie not guilty of sexual assault last week.

“I obviously can’t speak about the particular case, but I can tell you on a personal level the anger I felt, quite frankly," he said in an interview with TC Media on Tuesday. "I cannot even come close to imagining what that young woman and family is feeling. I’m mad, quite frankly, at the system.”

Metro Halifax had twice reached out to McNeil for comment on the decision, including Monday, and he wasn't made available.

Lenehan found Bassam Al-Rawi not guilty of sexual assault March 2. Police had charged the 40-year-old on May 23, 2015, after finding him inside his cab with his pants undone around his waist and his zipper down. With him was a 20-year-old woman, passed out and partially naked. The woman later testified she had been drinking and had no memory of what happened in the cab.

Judge Lenehan ruled the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the woman did not consent, stating “a lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent,” and “clearly, a drunk can consent.”

McNeil says if that’s the benchmark for consent then the law needs review.

“To me there is a bigger, broader issue of consent and what does that mean in the Criminal Code. It’s not just this case – I don’t want to take away from this case, but we’re hearing them across the country.”

McNeil says his government has invested in training staff on how to deal with sexual assault of any kind, making sure they understand the issue and appropriate steps.

“I’ve got two children. It’s a sad commentary at times, if [my daughter is] out she calls home. We have a conversation all the way home. I think these are the kind of things we need to talk about in our community. Our community by and large is safe. I think we always need to be bearing that in mind. We live in a great part of Canada and the globe, but that means when something happens we need to be prepared to deal with it and deal with it appropriately and put in place all the supports that are required for people to deal with it.”

The Crown is now appealing Lenehan’s ruling.

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