Passenger 'deserved' better from Halifax police: Judge Gregory Lenehan in acquitting taxi driver
Houssen Milad was found not guilty of sexual assault in Halifax provincial court on Thursday.
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A Halifax judge has acquitted a former taxi driver of sexually assaulting his passenger, ruling that while he believes the complainant was assaulted the Crown did not prove the assailant’s identity - and the police investigation created a “disservice” to both the complainant and community.
Judge Gregory Lenehan found Houssen Milad not guilty of sexual assault in Halifax provincial court Thursday, saying the Crown hadn’t come “anywhere near” proving Milad’s identity as the perpetrator, and GPS evidence of the map showing his cab’s route was markedly different from the complainant’s drive.
Milad testified he had never seen the complainant before the court case, and Lenehan said he could understand why.
“There is no reason, based on what the Crown presented as evidence, to doubt Mr. Milad. It does not appear (the complainant) could have been his passenger,” Lenehan said.
During a two-day trial in August related to an incident in the early hours of June 4, 2016, the 26-year-old complainant said she was taking a Yellow Cab home from the corner of Argyle and Blowers streets around 1:30 a.m. when the driver kissed her head and told her she was cute. She said he also groped her buttocks before dropping her off.
Lenehan also acquitted former cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assault this March. That decision is being appealed by the Crown, and a review committee is investigating his handling of the case following complaints.
The complainant appeared a truthful and reliable witness, Lenehan said, and he accepted she was indeed sexually assaulted that night - “there can be no doubt about it” - but questioned whether it was Milad who victimized her.
Lenehan said Crown attorney Robert Kennedy had only presented circumstantial evidence in support of Milad being the driver who assaulted the 26-year-old complainant - like her testimony the driver told her his name was Houssen, he was from Libya, he had dark hair and an accent, had been in Canada for 12 years, and handed her a business card with the name H.Milad which she turned over to police.
Those details matched Milad’s own life, besides the fact that at the time of the incident he would have been in Canada for about 10 and half years, Lenehan said, but those details could have been known by many people.
Lenehan also said the card was “only a lead” for police to then look into who else could have gotten one of the cards, or which other Yellow Cabs picked up fares in the Argyle Street area at the time.
The route itself that the complainant remembers taking was so different from the GPS map of Milad’s cab, Lenehan said, that “it was obvious” to him the exhibit didn’t support the Crown’s theory that Milad was the assailant as they went in opposite directions around the Halifax Citadel.
The complainant said they took Spring Garden Road, South Park Street and then Quinpool Road out to the rotary then off Herring Cove Road into her neighbourhood via a side street.
The GPS map showed Milad’s cab also starting on the corner of Argyle and Blowers, but then going down Barrington Street and up Duke Street and Cogswell to Quinpool. After going through the rotary, he ended at a road more than half a mile from the complainant’s street.
Although the Crown had suggested that Milad turned off the meter before continuing onto the complainant’s street, Lenehan said it’s unlikely someone who was that “devious” would readily hand over their own business card.
“It would appear the driver did not care about the business card, maybe because it did not identify him … I do not know, I am speculating, which is all the Crown has done,” Lenehan said.
Lenehan also asked “Did anybody think to check?” why there was no evidence of a debit transaction from police, to see if the complainant’s fee went to Milad or someone else.
“The lack of any real critical analysis amounts to a disservice to (the complainant). She deserved to have her complaint given a more thorough investigation. Her assailant was discoverable,” Lenehan said.
“It is also a disservice to the community as a whole. Everybody has an interest in seeing that persons responsible for committing crimes are identified, caught, and held accountable, and that was not done in this case.”
Defence lawyer Tom Singleton told reporters outside court that Milad, who burst into tears at the decision, was “extremely relieved” as he’s had to put his life on hold for the past year.
Singleton said he felt the police “botched” the investigation, and the public may never know how Milad’s card came into the complainant’s hands unless police reopen the investigation and “find out who did it.”
“The climate in Halifax over the past year or so with taxi driver cases has been such that Crown attorneys probably felt under a lot of pressure to pursue these cases aggressively,” Singleton said.
“The problem here was the evidence that the Crown had was inadequate, and the result of a tunnel vision approach by the police.”
Halifax Regional Police spokeswoman Const. Dianne Penfound said in an email she couldn’t comment on a court ruling, but “it’s our responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation, and at the same time, ensure we treat victims with compassion, dignity and respect throughout the entire investigative process.”
Milad’s taxi licence is currently suspended pending a verdict, and now the city can request a court transcript and review the judge’s decision, said HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott.
"While the outcome of the trial and evidence provided at the trial will form part of our review, it should be noted that at all times we consider the safety of our citizens in determining whether a driver is a good fit to be behind the wheel of a taxi,” he said.