In the News

Taxi Driver Acquittal Rattles Public Confidence

This week’s biggest story is still unfolding. The acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi for the sexual assault of an intoxicated woman, found passed out and mostly naked in his cab, will thankfully be appealed for its legal errors. I won’t attempt to duplicate the excellent coverage of the decision here in the Examiner as well as in other media outlets. I’m grateful a journalist was in the courtroom to document the judge’s oral reasons.

If a case were easy, it wouldn’t need a judge. Society needs judges to be free from public and political pressure when making decisions. If judges were afraid that an unpopular but legally correct decision could cost them their job, they wouldn’t be able to make decisions independently. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Nevertheless, this case has seriously threatened public confidence in the justice system. Many women are even less confident than ever that their sexual assault will be taken seriously if they choose to report it to police, overcome the “unfounded” classification, and go through a trial.

I’m staying tuned. The office of the Chief Judge will have to do something. And I’m hopeful some important legal reforms will result from this case, such as yesterday’s announcement that the province will appoint two special prosecutors for sexual assault cases.

Ten Emails, Nude Photos Sent to U de M Targeting One Female Student

Someone has sent Université de Moncton students and staff 10 emails between February 25 and March 4. The cyberterror campaign appears to target one female student, and some of the emails have contained sexually explicit photographs of her. Students want the university email server shut down. I can’t imagine the horror that woman is living through.

In Court

Christina’s Long Story About Traffic Court

In the evenings, Spring Garden Road Provincial Court transitions from the province’s busiest criminal court to the place where citizens go to fight municipal tickets and argue Small Claims Court cases. It’s a different vibe than provincial court during the day. People going to court in the evening are fighting smaller but important battles.

Last winter, my best friend moved to Ontario, and offered me the use of his beloved 1999 Corolla for her dying weeks. “Yola” had no transmission to speak of, a gas tank you could only fill halfway or it would spill out of a leak in the rusted filler neck, and power steering fluid that also leaked at a pretty good clip.

Around 11:30pm on February 11th, 2016, this car was towed from my Dartmouth street. The Halifax Regional Police contacted the owner, who tried to contact me, who was dead asleep. I was furious when I woke up to seven frantic voicemails and no Yola.

My apartment has no parking space, so I was used to watching the parking ban; it was off. The car had been towed ostensibly for snow clearing, of which there was very little evidence. I took pictures. It took me a few days to get a ride out to Ruggles Towing, by which time I owed them almost $350.

I checked the handwritten ticket on the rain-soaked windshield. It was dated February 10, 2016, at 11:25am — well, 11:25 in 24-hour time. That was impossible; I had used the car that morning to get to tax class, and had parked it overnight in a covered garage during heavy snow. Conspiracy! Slander! I was going to fight it.

My first appearance was in June. The courtroom was full of people grumbling about their tickets. A court clerk, there simply to record our pleas, called the judge-less room to order. Almost everyone called her Your Honour, and she was clearly accustomed to it.

The first litigant was called forward. A husky, middle-aged man, he leaned towards the microphone (the mics only record but don’t amplify). He proudly pleaded not guilty. The clerk asked if he was available March 2 for a court date. Other people waiting their turn for a court date gasped. “Twenty-seventeen?” he asked incredulously. “I’m pretty sure I’m not busy!” One by one we pleaded not guilty and accepted our futuristic court dates.

Last week, I didn’t recognize anyone from June in the courtroom. An actual Justice of the Peace called forward first one young male student, then another. The first pleaded guilty to a ticket for having open liquor, a $492 fine, which the judge discounted about $100 after hearing from the young man. The second pleaded guilty to driving while having a suspended licence, a fine of $1,272.50. Another older man asked for more time to obtain proof of insurance before being charged for driving without insurance, and told the Justice of the Peace he was baffled by his insurance company saying it would take three days to fax it. “I’ve never heard of a fax taking three days,” he said, the JP nodding.

At some point I noticed an officer enter the courtroom and I assumed he was mine. Nine separate parking tickets — including mine — were dismissed by the JP after the Crown, Perry Borden, lead no evidence. I have spoken to another JP since who said they do conduct parking ticket trials if the officer shows up, so I have no idea why mine was simply dismissed.

I spoke to the officer after the courtroom closed. He was polite and helpful, and admitted to getting the date wrong on my ticket. There had been no conspiracy to tow my car for non-existent snow clearing. We chatted about snow and parking bans before I headed home. I’ll next try to obtain a certificate of acquittal for my ticket so I can go after the towing fees in Small Claims.

So that’s my long story about traffic court. I love hearing stories about traffic court — share ‘em if you got ‘em.

Sexual Assault Complainant “Didn’t See the Red Flags”

A young complainant alleges she was violently attacked by her boss, who was also compensating her regularly for sex. Only 17 years old when the attack occurred, the woman told the jury about a frightening attack involving choking and threats to kill her. Other than the violence, the young woman said, “I could go to him. He was on my side,” which will sound familiar to many victims of coercive abuse.

Unfiltered Brewing takes on NSLC

Tuesday saw the hearing of Unfiltered Brewing’s lawsuit against the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, filed in August. The plaintiff says the NSLC is essentially taxing Unfiltered Brewing, something the brewer says is unconstitutional, since the NSLC is not a governing body with the power to tax and hasn’t had that power delegated to them by law. The plaintiff’s lawyer opened his summations by saying, “No taxation without representation.” It was quite exciting. Zane Woodford was there to report the story. Justice Glen MacDougal reserved his decision.


Clearly a Sleeper Can’t Consent

Just to reassure us all that while the law may be unsettled (according to Judge Lenehan) on how drunk is too drunk to consent, the law is super duper clear that you cannot consent to sex while sleeping. In R v Burton, a woman who was asleep on sleeping pills woke up to Burton having sex with her. Justice Arnold did not believe the accused’s version of events, and found the accused had come up with his story once he learned having sex with a person you know is asleep is definitely illegal.

Burton said he thought it would spice things up a bit in his on-again off-again relationship with the complainant. After he was arrested, he told police he wanted a “female opinion” (para 111) — basically, he wanted to phone up a woman friend, and ask her, as so many men have literally asked me, if his conduct was OK. Because he was very sure he had done nothing wrong. At least until he found out it was, I repeat, super illegal. Steve Bruce at Local Xpress covered the decision.

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  1. I just received a ticket last week stating that I was in a bus stop. I was not and when you look at the address on the ticket and google maps, there is no bus stop. I am planning to fight it so good to know that it will be tedious. Maybe I should have just paid the $20 to have it over with.

    1. Don’t pay a nickel if you have evidence contrary to the details on the ticket. Take the time to enter a plea and then wait weeks/months for a trial.