1. The Bassam Al-Rawi verdict, justice, and men speaking to men
Yesterday, the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association issued a statement on Judge Gregory Lenehan’s verdict in the case of Bassam Al-Rawi, the cab driver Lenehan acquitted of sexual assault. You can read the whole statement here, but here’s the take-away:
A significant amount of criticism in this case has been directed towards Judge Lenehan’s partiality, competence, and his qualifications. There have been references to previous unrelated, and irrelevant, cases over which His Honour has presided, calls for his removal as a Judge, and formal complaints. This type of criticism is unfounded and undermines the discussion that is needed to address the prevention of sexual assault. If the Public Prosecution Service believes that there has been an error of law or an unreasonable verdict the remedy is to appeal to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
Judge Lenehan hears numerous cases everyday. He is consistently encouraging and understanding towards marginalized people, those with addictions, or who are suffering from mental illness. He is always respectful to complainants, accused people, and witnesses. Most importantly, he is fair. He is the type of person that any reasonable, informed member of the public should want as a Judge.
This was followed up by a news release from Luke Craggs, Al-Rawi’s lawyer. According to the CBC, Craggs said that:
Bassam Al-Rawi is being “treated as a guilty man” despite his acquittal.
Al-Rawi was found by police in south-end Halifax with a partially naked passenger passed out in the back seat of his taxi in 2015. Judge Gregory Lenehan ruled last week that while some of the details of the case were “very disturbing,” the Crown failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything nonconsensual happened.
“Since his acquittal, there has been a great deal of public discussion about Mr. Al-Rawi, the trial judge and the criminal justice system,” Craggs said in his statement.
“Some of the discussion is well informed and thoughtful, but much of it is not…. Those most eager to vilify Mr. Al-Rawi seem to be the least eager to gather accurate information. The fleeting gratification of this uninformed public pillorying carries real world consequences for both Mr. Al-Rawi and informed public discourse.”
Oh, so now people who object to the verdict are the “uninformed” villains of the story. It is they who are seeking “fleeting gratification,” and not the guy with his pants down with a naked, passed out woman in the back seat of his car, who he had picked up as a fare just 10 minutes before.
“Fleeting gratification” is exactly what we should be discussing here.
I’m perfectly willing to let justice take its course: I think it likely the crown will appeal Lenehan’s verdict, and while I’m less hopeful the Judicial Council will take meaningful action on Lenehan (why should it start now, after 20 years of non-action on judges?), I do think this and other cases will result in training around sexual assault and consent issues for judges.
The circumstances of the Al-Rawi case seem pretty straightforward to me, and I’m at a loss as to how any reasonable person could rule that the cab driver was not guilty, but maybe I’m just “uninformed” and my criticisms are “unfounded” — like the rest of the ignorant public, I’m just seeking “fleeting gratification.” I never went to law school and I’m not a fancy criminal lawyer. Maybe I should leave it for my betters to debate the ins-and-outs of the legal issues involved here.
I don’t actually believe that. In fact I believe the exact opposite — if the public loses confidence in the justice system, we’ll have no justice at all, so the public has every right to witness, comment on, and protest verdicts of the court. But for the sake of argument, let’s accept the not-guilty verdict: Al-Rawi is not guilty of the legally prescribed crime of sexual assault, as defined by law and case precedent, including all the nuanced court decisions around the issue of consent.
So with a not guilty verdict, what are we left with?
Here are the inarguable accepted facts about Bassam Al-Rawi, who is not at this moment legally guilty of rape: He has been working in a position of trust, as a taxi driver charged with transporting people, including drunk people. He picked up a very drunk woman — so drunk she wasn’t allowed entry into a bar, so drunk she soon passed out and peed herself — and within 10 minutes the woman was naked in the back seat, and he was buttoning up his pants. No one contests that Al-Rawi had sexual contact with the woman.
The not guilty verdict does not change any of those facts.
And those facts reveal despicable behaviour that is simply unacceptable. That behaviour is wrong and immoral and should be condemned by society. Do I really need to spell this out? The “fleeting gratification” from this sexual encounter is perverse, degrading, rude, and yes, court verdicts aside, an expression of rape culture.
While no one should embark on vigilante justice or violence, I have no problem with anyone calling Al-Rawi out on his actions, to his face, at the very least until he accepts some resemblance of personal responsibility and takes action to reform himself.
And there is zero evidence that Al-Rawi has accepted any personal responsibility or is taking action to reform himself. “The judge proved me innocent!” he told a busload of passengers who confronted him, implying that his behaviour was not just not criminal, but also within the acceptable norms of society. Again, such an attitude is what is meant by rape culture.
This morning, Examiner contributor Evelyn Whites tells men to “Man Up“:
While it’s vital for women’s voices to be heard, I’m tired of listening to women (mainly) lament the rise of rape culture, the proliferation of pornography, the everyday hate, bias, violence, and disrespect we suffer at home, on the job, in the streets, in Parliament, in cabs, in alleged courts of law.
I’m ready for men to start calling they brethren on THEY SHIT. Out loud. In public. Under bylined articles. At rallies. At demonstrations. At protest marches. On radio and television broadcasts.
White is right: men must tell other men that behaviour like Al-Rawi’s is wrong.
It was exactly that — a man decrying rape culture — that informed my personal understanding of rape and consent.
It must’ve been around 1990. Such is our culture that boys can grow to men (I was around 27 years old) without even thinking about these issues, but that is the unfortunate reality. I don’t make excuses for my own ignorance, but I’m glad I was educated. That education came from a musician friend of mine, a wickedly good guitarist named Matt Hogan, who wanted to revive rockabilly.
Matt was 10 years older than me, but 20 years wiser. He’d been around the block. He was no prude. He liked to party like the rest of us, and he often had a fawning woman at his side. We would hang out drinking together, and became friends. I don’t actually remember what led up to the conversation, but one day Matt looked me in the eye to tell me about some of the men we associated with: “They’re just getting women drunk to rape them,” he said, and we had a half-hour conversation about drinking, about sex, and (although the word wasn’t used like it is now back then) about consent.
Matt died in 2008. People rightly memorialize him for his music and his larger-than-life personality. But I’ll always be most grateful to him for explaining, as a man to another man, what it means to be a man, what sexual consent is, and what behaviour is acceptable, and what isn’t. I am a better person for it. And now I have those conversations with other men when I can.
The public conversations about rape and consent are essential. Men should be part of those public conversations — there is a demonstration against Judge Lenehan’s decision today at 3pm on Grand Parade — but also men should be talking privately to each other.
2. What the frack?
“Canada’s push to protect 10 per cent of its marine areas by 2020 won’t face opposition from Nova Scotia’s offshore petroleum regulator,” reports Chris Lambie for the Examiner. “But the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board won’t stand in the way of offshore fracking”:
If a marine protected area were proposed in the middle of an area Shell has pledged to spend $1 billion exploring, “it may be in the province’s interest to say, ‘Hey guys, how is this going to effect this company doing work here?’” Makrides said. “We leave that to the governments to push back. Our job is to just be advisors. We have to sort of stay neutral in that sort of stuff.”
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“Despite all its promise for prosperity, the Nova Centre’s delays have become an example of well-intentioned development dragging down a community it was designed and funded to lift up,” reports Josh O’Kane for the Globe & Mail:
The noise, dust, loss of parking and general nuisance of the multiblock, multiyear construction project has diminished traffic for retail and dining all around it, many local businesses say. Ray Wagner says most nearby merchants have endured losses of 30 to 35 per cent in annual revenue versus normal years.
A personal-injury lawyer who’s scaled up his practice to take on broader social justice causes, Mr. Wagner has worked on class-action lawsuits regarding the Sydney, N.S., tar ponds and harassment of women in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The Nova Centre, he says, has created problems for local businesses far beyond a normal construction project. His law firm last week launched the first in a series of filings with Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board (UARB) to seek compensation on behalf of nearby businesses through the province’s Expropriation Act. (The original plan was to work through the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, but he feared that some of the businesses might not survive a lengthy court battle.)
1. Involuntary body behaviour
“Ever since I started writing about topics such as poverty and social isolation middle class people who read my articles sometimes want to talk about one specific concern they have about at least some people living in poverty,” writes Kendall Worth for the Nova Scotia Advocate:
And it has nothing to do with money.
Their concerns relate to “inappropriate” body behaviour and body language by people they know who are living in poverty.
I have talked to people at shelters and drop-ins who have mentioned to me that there have been times in their lives when they got in trouble for performing so-called inappropriate body language in public. Some even have a history of the police being called on them by concerned citizens for that reason.
In a nutshell this type of body behaviour includes gestures that make people around you feel uncomfortable. Examples of this behaviour include:
• Fidgeting in public
• Talking to themselves, in some cases out loud
• Big hand movements that make a person look like they are trying to start a fight with someone.
• Making no eye contact when spoken too
• Bad and unacceptable types of handshakes
• Giving mismatching verbal and nonverbal messages/communication
• Staring into space
• Failing to smile, or giving the wrong type of smile.
• Eye rolling
• Crossing arms defensively
• Evil-looking facial expressions
Middle and upper class people comment to me when they talk to me about this that according them, at least in their opinions “this behaviour is coming from people who are mentally ill who are not taking their medications.”
Worth says such behaviour is almost never criminal in nature, and seems to agree that mental health issues are often at play: “Perhaps people who engage in this type of involuntary body language need some type of help that the drop-ins and soup kitchens where poor people go cannot offer,” she writes.
2. Cranky letter of the day
It is with enormous satisfaction that I read the “Lights so bright” opinion piece (The Guardian, Feb. 28) written by Wendy Jones of Belle River in Tuesday’s edition.
Wendy was referring to the blinding headlights one frequently encounters on the Island. Ms. Jones hit the proverbial nail on the head with her piece, and I would like to take the opportunity to simply reiterate her main points: 1. It is a fact that many drivers are putting lives at risk by using “fog lights” when there is no legitimate need or justification for their doing so. 2. It is a fact that many truck drivers are putting lives at risk because their lights, which are already physically higher than those on most vehicles, are pointing directly in the eyes of oncoming drivers. 3. It is a fact that many drivers with the blue-tinted, high-intensity discharge lights are putting lives at risk because their lights are significantly more blinding to oncoming traffic than are the standard lights seen on most vehicles. 4. Finally, it is also a fact that Transport Canada, in approving or — worse — ignoring the adoption of these lights and practices, is also needlessly putting lives at risk.
Mel Gallant, Charlottetown
City Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — I’ll be late to the meeting (around 1pm), but when I get there I’ll live-blog it via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
Audit & Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — there’s a bunch of stuff on the agenda, but nothing grabs me at first perusal.
Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, Alderney Public Library) — here’s the agenda.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20996 (Wednesday, 7pm, École secondaire du Sommet, Halifax) — more Bedford West rezoning.
Community Services (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — Sarah Kay Granke, Specialist, Sexual Violence Prevention and Supports, will be asked about the Sexual Violence Strategy Progress Report.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Denise Perret, deputy minister of the Department of Health and Wellness, and Janet Knox, CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, will be asked about physician services.
Web Applications (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Some guy named Luke will speak on “Performance Beyond Your Portfolio.” Luke doesn’t appear to have a last name, but maybe you don’t need one when you’re the uber geek:
With over a decade of experience, Luke is no stranger to the ins and outs of the web. He has experience across several different web technologies on both the front end and back end. Luke has worked on and led a number of different, prominent sites and projects for a large list of big international clients, including Cartoon Network, MTV, and Nickelodeon. When he’s not fiddling around on his machine, you can catch him watching Jays games with craft beer in hand and obsessively managing his fantasy baseball teams.
Inequalities in Health (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 409, Centre for Clinical Research) — Mohammad Hajizadeh will speak on “Income-related Inequalities in Health Among Canadian Indigenous Populations: 2001-2012.”
Invictus Games (Tuesday, 4:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — Heidi Petracek will moderate a panel talking about “Dalhousie and the Invictus Games Toronto 2017.” Panel includes Michael Burns, Alice Aiken, Celina Shirazipour, Lewis MacKenzie, Pauline Godsell, Luc Martin, and Luc’s service dog, Trail.
Environmental Racism (Tuesday, 6pm, Room 105, Weldon Law Building) — Dorene Bernard, Stuart C.B. Gilby, Lisa Mitchell, and Ingrid Waldron will talk about “Race, Place, and the Law: Perspectives on Environmental Racism, Grassroots Resistance, and Law and Policy in Nova Scotia.”
Integrity Services Branch (Wednesday, 11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) Ahmed Shalaby and Justin Bayard will talk about,“Integrity Services at Services Canada.”
Don’t Pull Up a Chair (Wednesday, 12pm, Room C266, CHEB) David Westwood, Michelle Stone, and Laurene Rehman will talk about “Staying Active, and Avoiding Inactivity, at Work.” Register here.
The Abominable Crime (Wednesday, 7pm, Room 15 Weldon Law Building) A screening of Maurice Tomlinson’s film, which deals with the effects of the criminalization of homophobia in Jamica, and a panel discussion titled, “Queer as a Crime; International Legal Perspectives,” with the filmmaker and LeZlie Lee Klam.
The Element of Crime (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — a screening of Lars von Trier’s 1984 film.
Women & Media (Wednesday, 6:30pm, McNally Main Theatre Auditorium) — A panel discussion to mark International Women’s Day, featuring Malini Veerassamy MacDonald, Tami Meredith, Gabrielle Morrison, and Collette Robert.
In the harbour
11am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
4pm: Itea, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
8pm: Pagna, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
Erica Butler’s usual Tuesday column will come out on Thursday this week.