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Nova Scotia judge's ruling makes the world unsafe for women

Institutions must do everything possible to prioritize the safety of women, or risk completely losing their trust.

Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawiwas found not guilty of sexual assault nearly two years after police found the unconscious woman in the back of his cab.

Jeff Harper / Metro Order this photo

Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawiwas found not guilty of sexual assault nearly two years after police found the unconscious woman in the back of his cab.

An extremely drunk woman cannot consent to sex. Any public servant who continues to believe she can is making the world unsafe for women.

Judge Gregory Lenehan ruled Wednesday that a taxi driver accused in a Halifax sexual assault case was not guilty because a lack of consent could not be proved.

“Clearly,” he said, “a drunk can consent.“

This is not true. Our understanding of consent has evolved but Lenehan’s is woefully out-dated. Consent must be affirmative and ongoing. Consent cannot be compromised. A judge presiding over a sexual assault case should know that.

The taxi driver, Bassam Al-Rawi, was charged after a woman was found in his car. Having entrusted her safety to the driver, a stranger, the complainant's inebriation only maximizes the horror of the situation.

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Now, however, instead of safeguarding her trust and that of other women, some institutions have supported the man charged, and acquitted, in her attack.

The city’s licensing committee, composed of city councillors, voted in August 2015, two months after the incident, to reinstate the driver’s taxi licence with the conditions that he is not allowed to drive between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and has to have a camera in his car. That said, it appears he didn't file the paperwork required to start driving again. He does not work for his former employer, Bob’s Taxi; however, the licence allows him to act as an independent driver and take fares.

The judge’s ruling, too, is a failure to protect women. While the judge acknowledges the moral obligation that the driver had to deliver the complainant home safely, he demonstrates a clear lack of knowledge on consent. “(The complainant) might very well have been capable of appearing lucid but drunk, and able to direct, ask, agree, or consent to any number of different activities,” Lenehan said.

The complainant was found passed out and undressed in the cab while the driver tried to hide her underwear. Toxicology reports shown in court revealed her blood alcohol content to be nearly triple the legal limit.

Again, a vulnerable woman cannot consent.

The councillors who re-licensed the driver must be held to account. So too must Judge Lenehan. (This is the same judge who issued a light punishment to Rehtaeh Parsons’ tormentors.)

An outpouring of complaints are now being sent to the provincial and national Judicial Council. Provincial intervention may be unprecedented in Nova Scotia. It has been at least 15 years since a public complaint against a provincially-appointed judge has been referred to the Judicial Council, said a spokesperson for the provincial law courts to the Halifax Examiner.

Removing the judge is just one step. The entire taxi industry must commit to educating their drivers not to commit sexual assault as well as no longer employing drivers who — conviction or not — have sex with passengers.

Feeling unsafe and left without justice, women in Halifax are already organizing to drive one another around by using a hashtag.

Rape culture is when women who do the right thing, like taking a cab home when they're drunk, have to ask for justice from the wrong person.

From the roads to city councils to the courts of justice, institutions must do everything possible to prioritize the safety of women, or risk completely losing their trust.

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