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
To the Charlottetown Guardian:
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.
Tim, would you agree that there is difference between public criticism/protest of the Judge’s decision (a good thing, in my view) and people petitioninhis removal or discipline? Let’s accept that a decision, in any case, is unreasonable, or contains legal errors, which a Court of Appeal sorts out- what do you think should happen to a Judge? Should enough signatures from the public result in a Judge being fired? I envision major problems with that approach. Judges need to be independent from public pressure in order to ensure fairness…unduly harsh sentences, wrong convictions, we still care about that stuff right?
From what I have read, the decision seems a good one for appeal. I am assuming this is going to be done. Some people are saying you can’t appeal findings of credibility, but I’m not sure if that is an issue here. It isn’t he said/she said anyway, she doesn’t remember a damned thing, which is the whole point of the consent issue, plus there are the circumstances in which the police officer caught the accused red-handed. And you can appeal how the judge applied the law to the facts, of course.
I realize that it isn’t for the accused to have to prove his innocence, but I can’t think of any rational explanation for what the police officer discovered other than a sexual assault in progress. If this isn’t strong evidence, essentially the cop walking in on a rape, what on earth will ever be? What rational being would think that she could possibly have consented to this or anything else in her condition? I’m not sure what legal or factual subtlety I’m missing here. To what else can unconscious people legally consent?
Yes, John Cascadden! The driver should by rights have taken the girl to the hospital. I find it hard to imagine she could get into the cab, pass out, void and give consent in one ten minute period. This decision makes me furious. I know I’ll not be taking a cab anytime soon.
There is “consent” and then there is “competence”. For consent to be valid, it requires the the one giving it to be competent, eh? It is difficult to to believe that the woman who entered the taxi 10 minutes before she was found passed out could ever be considered to competent about anything other than perhaps knowing she needed a ride someplace because she was too intoxicated to use any other form of transport. If a bartender had given this woman a a drink while she was in this condition, the bar’s liquor license would be in jeopardy… whether she asked for the drink or not !!!
Perhaps consent is the wrong test to apply in this incident? I appears that the woman involved was not competent at the time of the incident and that should have been readily apparent to anyone at that time, especially by the taxi driver…. I am sure the police officer did not feel the woman was competent or able to make competent decisions at that time… why does the court need more proof for “consent” when it appears obvious that competency did not exist.
She passed out in less than 10 minutes of getting into the taxi… she should have been taken to the nearest hospital by the taxi driver, if anything…. certainly not prepped for baby making… what kind of first responder training do these taxi divers get?
There is “consent” and then there is “competence”.
Exactly, although I don’t know what standing this has in the Byzantine world of the law.
Back when Fitzgerald Fry was Halifax Chief of Police there were many incidents of assault of females around Dalhousie and SMU. When Chief Fry was asked why his department did not give wider publicity to the dangers to women in that part of the city he said it would affect property values.
as for point 1. We do not have a justice system; we have a legal system. Presumed not guilty unless prosecution can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We do not prove innocence.
This, I think its the crux of the issue here. The police did their jobs, the scientists, the laywers on both sides did their jobs, but the judge made a key error – ‘clearly a drunk can consent’. This is counter legal precedence and should be the basis of an appeal. Of course the defendant in this case is abhorrent, but this isn’t about him any more. It’s about legal system accountability.
Drunks consent to sex every day, even in Halifax.
‘Drunk’ ranges from a ‘buzz’ or tipsy to slurring your words and unable to stand up to downright unconscious. The mere fact that somebody is somewhere on the spectrum of being drunk should not by itself disqualify them from being able to give consent IMHO. In that respect I agree with the judge.
However someone who is so heavily intoxicated they have lost control of their bladder and actually passed out is clearly incapable of making any decision, including consenting to sex. That should be obvious to any prospective sexual partner, including the taxi driver in this case. I don’t understand why the judge didn’t appear to consider the extreme intoxication of the victim.
People who drank enough to believe themselves likely over the blood alcohol limit are doing the right thing to take public transport like buses and taxis. It seems to me the drivers of these vehicles have undertaken a de-facto trust with the passenger(s) – that they will deliver them safely to their destination and not rip them off. I think a driver who has sex with a passenger while on duty is breaching that trust. Inebriated passengers using public transport to go home must not fear they might be at risk from a sexual predator in the front seat.
Acquitted by the court but convicted in the court of public opinion, it seems unlikely this guy will never work in this town as a taxi driver again.
re Lenehan: old boys closing ranks. That’s how it rolls folks.
A friend of mine since childhood and I were talking about the taxi driver case. At one point we lived in Ottawa at the same time for a number of years. This is the gist of the conversation: Why isn’t anyone talking about “race”?
His thinking is that in Ottawa we had heard from several female friends over the years that harassment, assault, and other mistreatment at the hands of cab drivers was common AND that in every story the alleged offenders were/appeared to be middle eastern men. Same with the accused in this case. But no one brings up the drivers origins. Why?
So, is it relevant or not? I’m on the fence. I’m not painting an entire people with the same brush, and I have no doubt that these crimes can be committed by anyone, but personal experience has provided a narrative that could support the argument. Should it be part of this discussion? Very different cultural norms would clash probably daily with a cab driver.
Plenty of white men rape. Plenty of black men rape. Plenty of native men rape. Plenty of Asian men rape…
Race isn’t the issue here. Rape is the issue.
Exactly right tim. For the same reason that this is not about consent , implied or otherwise. This was a rape. Period.
But how many women are raped or sexually assaulted in a taxi ?
A taxi is/was usually regarded as quite a safe place and I have been in. taxis all over the world. For those interested in such incidents in HRM taxis an older Metronews article lists three men.
“MYTH: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to sexually assault women.
FACT: Men who commit sexual assault come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. The belief that women are more often sexually assaulted by men of colour or working class men is a stereotype rooted in racism and classism.”
Maybe the driver’s origins have an effect on their likeliness to rape, maybe they don’t. Maybe middle-eastern men are overrepresented in the cab driving population, so any cab driver who rapes is more likely to be middle-eastern than a rapist in the general population (i.e. correlation is not causation).
But the end of the day, does it really matter whether there is a link or not? Ask yourself: if it could be proven that people of a certain background were more likely to rape, how would that change our response to the issue? Mandatory anti-rape training for everyone from that background? Doesn’t seem fair to single out that population over any other, just because they are x% more likely to rape. Don’t get in a cab with someone from that background? Again, seems pretty damn unfair to those excellent cab drivers who are unfortunate enough to be profiled because they share that background.
Orrrr, we could just conclude that the discussion of background is really a distraction from the issue here: rapists can be found in all populations, and no one should rape, whatever their background. Period.
Lawyers have a tremendous knack for making people dislike them.
One of your best issues yet!
The lawyers can defend and sputter all they like. The rapist got off on a technicality and the judges statment that a drunk can consent is profoundly wrong. The judges ruling comes from a rape culture that basically says if a women is inebriated than “she is asking for it” and she should expect such a thing to happen.
The defence lawyers need to shut up. Period. Save their righteous indignation for a worth while cause and let things go on this. As for the rapists lawyer, no don’t his whiny response was accompanied by a bill to his “client”.