1. The crises in our taxi industry and justice system
“A Halifax taxi driver found with an intoxicated, unconscious, mostly naked woman in his cab and her DNA on his mouth has been acquitted of sexual assault by a judge who said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the woman’s ‘lack of consent,'” reports Haley Ryan for Metro:
Judge Gregory Lenehan ruled that Bassam Al-Rawi was not guilty of sexual assault in Halifax provincial court on Wednesday after he stood trial last month for a May 23, 2015 incident.
The complainant was found by police in Al-Rawi’s cab around 1:20 a.m., passed out after a night of drinking and being turned away from Boomers, a downtown bar. Her belongings were spread around the car as she lay in the backseat with her feet up on the two front seats, only a shirt partially covering her breasts. Her pants were also damp because she urinated on herself.
Al-Rawi’s pants were partially undone and sitting lower on his body, the court heard. As police approached, they saw his seat was reclined and he attempted to hide the woman’s pants and underwear.
“I have struggled to determine what all this evidence proves,” Lenehan said in his decision.
“Judge Gregory Lenehan delivered the verdict Wednesday, saying that while some of the evidence was concerning and ‘very disturbing,’ the Crown failed to prove that the woman did not consent to sexual activity,” continues Steve Bruce, reporting for Local Xpress:
The judge said the testimony of the toxicologist showed the complainant might very well have been capable of appearing lucid despite her level of impairment, “and able to direct, ask, agree or consent to any number of different activities.”
“A lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent,” Lenehan said.
“Where the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt (her) lack of consent, I am left with no alternative but to find Mr. Al-Rawi not guilty.”
This is a two-pronged crisis: both for the taxi industry and for justice.
On the taxi side, consider that after his arrest the Appeals Committee of Halifax council (consisting of male councillors Brad Johns, Matt Whitman, Steve Adams, Russell Walker, and David Hendsbee, and female councillor Gloria McCluskey) voted unanimously to allow Bassam Al-Rawi to continue to drive, with some conditions:
THAT the Appeals Standing Committee allow the appeal of Bassam Al-Rawi, that he be restricted from driving from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and that a camera be placed in the taxi he is driving, and that these conditions are pending the conclusion of the court case against him.
Everyone has the right to be transported in a taxi without fear of assault. The effect of the Appeals Committee vote and Judge Lenehan’s decision is that women are being told that they are fair game for sexual assault in taxis.
The taxi industry, to its credit, has condemned Al-Rawi. Bob’s Taxi fired the driver on his arrest. And Dave Buffett, head of Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association, was outraged at the committee’s decision. “I think for anybody in the industry or anybody who takes a cab from time to time it’s, very, very disturbing,” he told Metro.
I drove cab for five years in California. Most customers were people just going about their day: seniors going to doctors appointments, businesspeople and families travelling to and from the airport, the carless going to the grocery store. But a portion of the business was difficult. People ran without paying the fare. Some customers were violent (a buddy of mine, a fellow driver, was shot). And there were the intoxicated: the guys so drunk they didn’t know where they lived. A forlorn women drunkenly talked about committing suicide. One man told me of his plan to murder his ex-wife. People regularly threw up in the back seat, costing me time and money to clean up. Asshole frat guys would act as if I were their buddy, have me drive them all over town, and then argue about the fare. And there were women who called a cab because they were drunk and wanted a safe ride home. I dealt with crying women. Women who were fleeing drunken fights with their boyfriends. And yes, flirtatious and even sexually aggressive women, so drunk they didn’t know what they doing.
But driving taxi isn’t some stupid porn video. It is a profession. A driver is tasked with a huge responsibility, the safety of his passengers and the other people on the streets. Drivers should be well-paid, highly regulated, and act as professionals: courteous and behaving as a public servant. When customers are difficult, drivers should bring in the police. I had an hour-long interview with the cops about the man who said he was going to murder his ex-wife (the cops took no action, but that’s another story). I took people I was very worried about to the hospital emergency room. Sometimes, not knowing what to do with an especially drunk person, I’d take them back to where I picked them up, and find a responsible person to care for them.
We seem to have entered some wild west territory, however. We want taxi service on the cheap, doing away with zones and the other price support systems so that drivers get paid shit. And everyone wants Uber so drivers will get paid even shittier. On the regulatory side of things, we’ve disbanded the taxi commission, and despite the best efforts of city bureaucrats trying to keep bad drivers off the road, the Appeals Committee has some absurd notion of free enterprise that excludes any ability to discipline drivers or revoke their privileges.
In a sensible world, taxi service would be a part of a broader transportation system, filling in the gaps, especially after the bus system shuts down. But we’ve had a series of alleged sexual assaults from drivers on their customers, and the regulatory and justice systems seem incapable of responding appropriately. We’ve reached a point where I can’t recommend that women take a cab alone. If you do find the absolute need to take a cab alone, before getting in photograph the roof light, send the pic to a friend, and tell the driver you’re doing so.
Should Al-Rawi start driving cab again, I’ll publicize the company he’s driving for and his roof light number. But that’s no way to police drivers. This is a crisis. Women are being assaulted, and the response fails them in every regard. Council should hold an emergency meeting to address a complete systematic reform of the taxi regulatory system.
On the justice side of things, consider that Lenehan, the judge who found Al-Rawi not guilty, was the same judge who in 2014 kicked Willow Brooks out of his courtroom because Brooks was breastfeeding her four-month-old son Angelo. Reported Francis Campbell for the pre-strike Chronicle Herald:
“I started to breastfeed my baby and the judge just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t breastfeed in the courtroom. I don’t have a problem with you breastfeeding. Just don’t do it in the courtroom.’ I took my baby and went into the waiting area.”
Brooks said the judge’s words took her by complete surprise and her immediate reaction was to do as he asked.
“It was embarrassing… I’ve never been asked to leave anywhere before for breastfeeding.”
The provincial Human Rights Act says that women have the right to breastfeed a child in public areas, including restaurants, retail stores and shopping centres, theatres and so forth, and that women should not be prevented from nursing a child in a public area, nor asked to move to another area that is more “discreet.”
The judge who dealt with Sack’s case in provincial court on Oct. 14 has been identified as Gregory Lenehan.
Lenehan was also the judge in the Rehtaeh Parsons case.
And, Lenehan was the judge in the preliminary hearing for Christopher Garnier, who is accused of killing Truro police officer Catherine Campbell. It’s unclear if Leneham will be assigned the case when it goes to trial in November.
We appear to have a judge with some dated and regressive views of female sexuality.
A few months ago, I was curious about how the province deals with wayward judges, so I asked the courts for all the decisions issued by the provincial Judicial Council. Like its federal counterpart, the Council is charged with reprimanding judges who act inappropriately. After some back-and-forth on email, here’s how court spokesperson Jennifer Stairs responded to my request:
I got a call from Chief Judge Williams before her flight back to Halifax. She was following up on the note I sent her earlier in the week regarding Judicial Council.
She tells me that it’s been at least 15 years since there was a public complaint against a provincially appointed Judge that was referred to the Judicial Council. That’s going back before our Court’s website even existed. So there is nothing online that I’m aware of.
The complaints we do receive often turn out to be vexacious or from people who are unhappy with the decision of a Judge, rather than his or her conduct. In most cases the Chief Judge is able to look into and deal with the matter herself, without getting the Judicial Council involved.
Chief Judge Williams noted that at the end of every year, she has to report to the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia in the form of a letter on any complaints from the past 12 months and how they were dealt with. Those records and any correspondence back to people who filed complaints are not available to the public, only rulings of the Judicial Council.
I don’t know if the Council is supposed to deal with a matter like Lenehan’s decision — a complaint may be considered “vexacious or from people who are unhappy with the decision of a Judge, rather than his or her conduct” — but it’s evident that our judicial system likes to deal with things privately, without the pesky public getting involved or being informed.
A private and secretive disciplinary system is one that’s ripe for abuse. I suspect the rot goes much deeper than even Lenehan’s abhorrent decision.
2. Who is Lyle Howe? (Part 2)
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3. Bombs in the Basin
“The floor of Bedford Basin is still littered with ammunition scattered by the explosion of a military magazine more than seven decades ago,” reports Chris Lambie for the Halifax Examiner:
The July 1945 blast started when a barge at the Bedford Magazine jetty caught fire and blew up.
“We know, for sure, that there’s thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition that were dumped in the Basin that never got recovered,” John McCallum, an explosives expert and chemistry lecturer at the Royal Military College, told a group of oceanographers Tuesday at Dalhousie University.
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1. Canadaland and Atlantic journalism
Tomorrow, Jesse Brown brings his Canadaland to Halifax for a live taping. Brown will be talking with me and King’s College journalism prof Terra Tailleur. (Come! It’s at the Marqueee. The 10 bucks for entry all goes to CKDU. I’ll wave my hands and say outrageous stuff to Brown, then we’ll all hang out and sell you T-shirts. It’ll be great fun.)
Today, Parker Donham interviews Brown for The Coast, asking, among other things, “What the fuck do you know about Atlantic journalism?” I thought Brown had a pretty good answer to that question.
2. Politicians on social media
“[M]ost of your politicians — followers of the crowd to the end — are all over social media,” notes Graham Steele. “The problem is that few of them do it well, especially when controversy hits.”
3. Cranky letter of the day
Two Saturdays in a row, I froze my ass off waiting for the number 1 bus for an inordinately long time. I complained to 311 three times, and got one phone message back from Blain Dhooge, customer service advisor for Metro Transit, until an email landed in my inbox yesterday after I wrote to the mayor and councillor Waye Mason.
In this email, Dhooge quoted a representative of the Operations Department of Metro Transit as saying: “With the Macdonald Bridge closure on the weekends, no shuttle buses and the routes 1, 10, 52, and 61 forced to detour over the MacKay bridge — the schedule adherence for the route 1 is literally out the window. This past Saturday, 7 standby buses were out and were used most of the day dealing with change-offs and maintenance issues. Due to the lack of available buses and manpower, until the bridge closures are over, schedule adherence for the route 1 will continue to be a mess on weekends.”
Dhooge continued, “I know that these delays are very frustrating. The bridge closures have created a lot of challenges for our service, and we have been trying to accommodate the closures as best as possible. Unfortunately with the Bridge Commission continually extending the bridge closures, it has been pushing our ability to provide efficient service to its limits.”
So the answer is to blame it on the Bridge Commission? That’s great and all, especially since this phase of The Big Lift ended on the weekend, and with it the closures — at least for a few weeks. But I wonder if Halifax took public transit seriously, this wouldn’t be happening.
Anna Quon, Halifax
No public meetings.
No public meetings.
Law Amendments (Friday, 9am, Province House) — Bill No. 75 – Accessibility Act.
Mount Saint Vincent
Sex, Drugs, and Lockup (6pm, Auditorium A, Seton Hall) — “hear the real life stories of a sex worker who has many years in the industry,” reads the student-run event listing on Facebook. “Everything from working the streets to being a madame in her own parlour. Get real stories of their tools of the trade and the Industry its self. Joining our sex worker will be young members of the community who have been involved in the justice system. Hear the stories of everything from petty theft and juvenile detention to maximum security and half way houses. Ask question with people who have lived through these walks of life.
Feminist Intervention (Friday, 12:30pm, Room 2021, Marion McCain Building) — Louise Carbert will speak on “Historiography and Hagiography of Feminist Intervention into Canada’s Constitution.”
Chemistry (Friday, 1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226) — Jason D. Masuda will speak on “New Main Group Chemistry Involving Carbon, Phosphorus and Aluminum.”
Passage to India (3:30pm, Friday, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Gordon McOuat will speak on “JBS Haldane’s Passage to India: How Postcolonial Knowledge Went the Other Way.”
Refugee Symposium (Friday, 10am, Theatre A, Burke Building) — Keynote speakers include Katie Tinker, Rohini Bannerjee, Catherine Baillie Abidi, and Russell Daye, with a showing of After Spring, a documentary that focuses on the Syrian refugee crisis. To sign up contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Irish Literature (Friday, 7pm, Room 225, the building named for a grocery store) — Philip O’Leary speaks on “What Should I Read? Proposing a Canon for Literature in Irish.”
In the harbour
0:15am: Atlantic Cartier, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
5am: NYK Nebula, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
11am: Toscana, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I’ve got a bunch of running around to do today, and then preparation for tomorrow’s show. Maybe someone can answer me this: How come Local Xpress, the publication of striking Chronicle Herald reporters, supported in part by the reporters’ union, keeps running op-ed pieces written by the anti-union Atlantic Institute of Market Studies?