Groups call for removal of ‘drunks can consent’ judge in Nova Scotia

Click to play video: '‘A drunk can consent:’ Backlash mounts against Halifax judge’s comments'
‘A drunk can consent:’ Backlash mounts against Halifax judge’s comments
WATCH ABOVE: A provincial judge is facing ongoing backlash from groups calling for his resignation following a ruling involving a Halifax taxi driver. – Mar 3, 2017

Anger and outrage are growing in the wake of the acquittal of Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi, who was charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger in his cab, with some calling for the removal of the trial judge.

READ MORE: Halifax cabbie found not guilty of sexually assaulting woman who was drunk

Two protests are planned next week in Halifax to press for a review of the ruling by Judge Gregory Lenehan, with organizers also calling for him to be ousted.

“Ideally what we’d like is a review of the judge in general terms and the handling [of] some of his cases, especially the ones that have sexual crimes,” said Amanda Dodsworth, who is organizing one of the protests. “But the immediate part of it is really having the prosecutor’s office appeal his decision.

She said she organized the protest because her own reaction to the verdict.

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“I needed an outlet for my anger and I wanted to find people who needed an outlet for theirs as well,” Dodsworth said.

Chelsea Fougere also organized a protest of her own, calling her event more of a “cathartic ceremony.”

“I think it’s really important to have multiple events and make it clear we’re not going to let this rest,” Fougere said.

Elsie MacIntyre of Halifax is hosting a letter-writing party on Sunday, inviting all those who “wish to write a letter regarding [Lenehan’s] fitness as a judge” to come together to write down their concerns and frustrations together.

“It seemed like a lot of people wanted to write a letter, but we all had different bits of information. So I was thinking, if we’re all going to write letters, if we get together and share what we know, I think the letters would be a lot more powerful,” MacIntyre said.

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READ MORE: Here’s why the issue of consent is not so clear in sexual assault cases

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“It also holds people accountable. A lot of people get enraged that day and don’t actually write that letter. I think if we sit down as a group and discuss the case, discuss the judge, discuss his track record, there’ll be a lot more letters showing up to the Chief Justice.”

In his ruling Wednesday, first reported by Metro Halifax, Lenehan said the Crown didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant didn’t consent to sexual activity with Al-Rawi.

“A drunk can consent,” Lenehan said as part of his ruling.

Al-Rawi was charged after a Halifax Regional Police officer found the young woman passed out, naked from the breasts down in the back seat of his cab.

READ MORE: Alberta ‘knees together’ judge responds: he’s ‘been educated,’ shouldn’t be removed from bench

The decision has sparked a wave of backlash, as well as a renewed discussion around intoxication and consent and sexual assault.

“Absolute best-case scenario – resignation,” MacIntyre said. “I don’t know if that will happen, but at the very least he should never handle a case involving sexual assault again. I don’t think he’s fit to make those kinds of decisions regarding people’s lives.”

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Complaint process underway

The Nova Scotia Chief Justice’s office has received complaints regarding Lenehan, one of which constitutes an official complaint, according to spokesperson Jennifer Stairs. She would not elaborate on the number or nature of those complaints.

Anyone who is unhappy with the judge’s conduct and wants to file an official complaint must follow the Provincial Court Act.

READ MORE: Mandatory sex assault training for judges will fix gap in Canadian justice system: Rona Ambrose

The Crown has 30 days to file an appeal of the ruling, and according to Public Prosecution Service spokesperson Chris Hansen, lawyers are reviewing the decision to see if they have grounds for appeal.

Nova Scotia’s Chief Judge, Pamela Williams, intends to recuse herself from hearing any complaints that may be filed on the decision, citing a personal conflict, Stairs said.

— With files from The Canadian Press 

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